AFC West: Ranking top 2019 storylines by team

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Perhaps the most polarizing division in football is the AFC West. Two Super Bowl contenders… and the Raiders. We rank the top stories for 2019 by team.

A few weeks ago, ESPN published their list of the most important storylines of 2019 for each team, which asked their staff of team beat writers to define what the biggest storyline is for each team in the upcoming season. As the offseason continues and we get nearer to the 2019 NFL regular season, let’s tackle these stories division by division — today concerning the AFC West — and answer two questions.

1. Which team has the best story? (“Best” means whatever you want it to mean.)
2. Which story is least likely to become a dominant tale of the season?

Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem, debate the AFC West in today’s NFL Sports Debate.

AFC West

Denver Broncos – Can the offense be the best since Peyton Manning retired?
Kansas City Chiefs – Can the defense carry its fair share?
Los Angeles Chargers – Can it reach the Super Bowl?
Oakland Raiders – How will Antonio Brown vibe with Derek Carr?

Best Storyline

Todd Salem: For how interesting these four teams are expected to be, the dominant storylines left me wanting more. The best story has to go to Los Angeles, even though the storyline itself is incredibly boring. “Can fill-in-the-blank-good-team win the Super Bowl?” is not a well thought out subheading. It is essentially the question that is being asked of every contender every single season. Throwing added value onto the Chargers for being led by Philip Rivers as he approaches the end of a Hall of Fame career adds something but not much.

Instead, this is the best story because LA might actually be the best team in the league. Last year, it was the only club to rank inside the top 10 in both Dffensive and defensive DVOA from Football Outsiders (Indianapolis finished exactly 10th in both). People don’t consider Rivers a failure; it has been bad luck, bad special teams and superior opponents that have led to playoff flame-outs. Is this the year it all comes together in the Chargers’ favor?

Dan Salem: The story in Los Angeles is certainly exciting, but the best story belongs to Kansas City. The Chiefs were great last year, but their defense could not keep up. Perhaps the offense takes a step back, but more importantly, can the defense improve and push this team closer to a championship? The only way the Chiefs compete with the AFC elite is by having a better defense. That makes this the story to watch this season. The Chargers will run away with this division if Kansas City can’t muster a better defense.

As an aside, my attempts at a reverse jinx must be noted. Los Angeles is my home and I’d love for the Chargers to get over the hump. I’d love them to be the best team in the AFC. Picking their story as the best would be the ultimate jinx. Can’t do it.

Least Likely Storyline

Todd Salem: The success or failure of Kansas City’s defense should be a worthwhile storyline all year. We assume we know how good the offense will be. But without Kareem Hunt and perhaps Tyreek Hill, is this the high-powered group we expect in 2019? Asking whether the defense will carry its share implies some level of excellence from the offense that may not be there anymore.

Oakland’s story is similarly misleading. Brown was elite even when he wasn’t getting along with anyone in the Pittsburgh locker room. A better question for the Raiders is if Carr is actually an above-average quarterback, or if the roster is on the proper path to improvement.

But both have some gusto behind them, unlike Denver’s story, which is my pick for least likely to become dominant. Do you know how low the bar is for “best Denver offense since Manning left”? The team has ranked 19th or worse in points per game in every season since Manning’s final full season. And his partial 2015 was still above any subsequent season. Even reaching that mark of best since 2015 won’t put the Broncos on anyone’s radar.

Next. Ranking top AFC South 2019 storylines by team. dark

Dan Salem: I agree that Denver’s story is irrelevant. They had to come up with something, so why not peg the Broncos to improve. But the story with the least legs is in Oakland. Brown is a great player and will continue to be great, no matter if he “likes” his new quarterback. The Raiders are still rebuilding, so the pressure is off a little bit. Carr is playing for his job, which usually motivates players to be better. All of this equals a dead story.