2018 NFL preview: AFC West outlook

The NFL is back, and the AFC West promises to provide plenty of intrigue as all four teams appear evenly matched entering the 2018 season.

Two high-profile moves dominated the division this offseason. The Kansas City Chiefs decided to trade veteran quarterback Alex Smith, giving the keys to Patrick Mahomes II. The Oakland Raiders also brought back Jon Gruden as head coach.

Here's what to look for in the AFC West this season:

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Case Keenum, QB, Broncos

After nearly leading the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl last season and putting up impressive numbers following the injury to Sam Bradford, Keenum gets a chance to end Denver's quarterback problems. He possesses decent arm strength and solid accuracy.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders usually make quarterbacks look better, so the offense could really click if Keenum continues last year's form.

IMPACT ROOKIE:

Derwin James, S, Chargers

Los Angeles likely figured it had no chance of snagging James with 17th overall pick in April's draft, but the Florida State star fell a couple spots.

Hard-hitting and organised in the secondary, James should be an instant upgrade for the Los Angeles Chargers. James should start at free safety right away, giving the team another playmaker to build on their already third-ranked turnover differential from last season.

COACH IN THE HOT SEAT:

Vance Joseph, Broncos

Joseph was appointed head coach after just one season as an assistant. Some wanted him gone last season — his first in Denver — when the Broncos went just 5-11. But Joseph was awarded another chance with a veteran quarterback and key upgrades on defense.

He will have to show he understands how to lead a team this year for a franchise that always expects to be in the playoffs.

KEY MATCHUP:

Chargers at Chiefs, Week 15

The two teams also meet week one, but the late-season matchup could be key in deciding the division champion. Kansas City decided to gamble with Mahomes moving forward, but he has the talent and help around him to make this team competitive. Having Andy Reid as coach doesn't hurt either.

Meanwhile, Philip Rivers is back leading the Chargers with an impressive supporting cast, including Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon. All four teams in this division could make the playoffs, but these two may have the best chance.

PREDICTED FINISH:

Chargers: 11-5

Chiefs: 9-7

Broncos: 8-8

Raiders: 5-11

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