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AFC West preview: Is this the year someone surpasses the Broncos?

Time to take a division by division look at the teams the 49ers will not play. We start with the AFC West.

Over the last two weeks, we put together a look at each of the San Francisco 49ers 13 opponents with a little help from SB Nation’s network of bloggers. Each person answered a few questions, providing a nice, basic rundown to help preview training camp. We got through that on Monday with the Seattle Seahawks. You can find the rest in our opponents section on the site.

Since we still have two weeks until the 49ers report to training camp, I thought why not use the 18 non-49ers previews to take a look at the rest of the league. The 49ers will not play the 18 teams outside of the playoffs and preseason, but it is always interesting to know more about the rest of the league. And so, we’re going to look at each division over the next five days, combing four team previews for each post. We started with the AFC North and AFC South, and now move on to the AFC West.

The big story in the AFC West is the retirement of Peyton Manning. He struggled big time in his final season, but his departure is still a big deal. And considering the Denver Broncos could not re-sign Brock Osweiler, their quarterback situation is a mess. The one bit of upside is the team appears close to getting Von Miller signed to a mammoth contract extension.

The Broncos still have a stout defense, but the AFC West is as wide open as any division. The Kansas City Chiefs hung close last year, and will look to take another step forward. The Oakland Raiders are viewed by many as one of the “offseason winners” this year. That is not really a good predictor of next season success, but there is no denying the Raiders are turning into a very talented team. And while the Chargers were a disaster much of last season, they should be able to rebound following their defensive additions this offseason.

Denver Broncos

Notable free agent additions: OT Russell Okung, OT Donald Stephenson, QB Mark Sanchez

Notable free agent departures: DE Malik Jackson, QB Brock Osweiler, ILB Danny Trevathan, S David Bruton Jr, others

Trades: Traded up in First Round of NFL Draft for Paxton Lynch

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

QB Paxton Lynch (1st Round) - Not expected to contribute, but one sure hopes he surpasses Sanchez on the depth chart sooner rather than later.

RB Devontae Booker (4th Round) - Seems to be a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme.

FB Andy Janovich (6th Round) - Again, another perfect fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone scheme.

P Riley Dixon (7th Round) - As the punter, he’ll see some major action as a rookie.

Biggest offseason addition: Paxton Lynch - With all of the turmoil the defending Super Bowl champions faced from the onset of free agency, it was the drafting of Lynch that seemed to calm the waters some. The kneejerk reaction to the loss of a few good players has begun to give way to the reality that the Broncos didn’t really lose any of their great ones.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Von Miller. Any rational person knows that a contract will get done by the July 15th deadline, but the drama is slowly eating away at the fan base. TMZ is now even stalking a drunk John Elway for updates on the Von Miller situation.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: With the Broncos drafting two safeties in Justin Simmons and Will Parks, it would appear 2016 could be the final year we see the No Fly Zone in all its glory. The Broncos had three big time players needing extensions in Emmanuel Sanders, Brandon Marshall and Darian Stewart. Elway got Marshall signed and has stated over and over he wants to lock in Sanders long term. However, he has not once mentioned Stewart as guys he wants long-term. It sure looks like this will be his final season with the Broncos.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: Aqib Talib shot himself (maybe) in the leg. Talib’s people are in lockdown mode, so it would appear there will be no formal charges of any kind. Whether the NFL takes action against Talib is another matter, but he’ll at least be playing at some point in 2016.

Kansas City Chiefs

Notable free agent additions: RT Mitch Schwartz, WR Rod Streater

Notable free agent departures: CB Sean Smith, S Tyvon Branch, QB Chase Daniel


Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: The Chiefs could end up having one or two starters (G Parker Ehinger, CB KeiVarae Russell) the first year with a bunch of role players or those replacing someone else down the line. DT Chris Jones, WR Demarcus Robinson and WR Tyreek Hill could have a regular role on the team in the first year too.

Biggest offseason addition: RT Mitch Schwartz

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: In the short-term, it will be replacing Justin Houston, who is likely to miss part of the season coming back from February ACL surgery. In the long-term, can the Chiefs take the next step on offense? They’re on the doorstep after a divisional round loss last season to the Patriots. What they lacked was explosiveness on offense. RT Mitch Schwartz will help solidify the line while Jamaal Charles’ return hopes to add that explosiveness that was lacking last season.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: How old is too old on defense? Key players like Tamba Hali (32) and Derrick Johnson (33) are up there in age. No Justin Houston early on or Sean Smith, now with the Raiders.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: RB Jamaal Charles and CB Phillip Gaines are coming back from an ACL tear early on last season. They should be ready. Justin Houston is likely to miss part of the regular season after he’s coming off of ACL surgery.

Oakland Raiders

Notable free agent additions:

OG Kelechi Osemele, LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson

Notable free agent departures:

S Charles Woodson (retirement), DE Justin Tuck (retirement), OL J’Marcus Webb



Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

S Karl Joseph (D-1), DL Jihad Ward (D-2), LB Shilique Calhoun (D-3), RB DeAndre Washington (D-5)

Biggest offseason addition:

OG Kelechi Osemele - He fills a glaring need the team had at the guard position. They now have one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL with him, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson. Osemele can also be the backup left tackle as he was in Baltimore in case 33-year-old Donald Penn wears down as it seemed he was late last season.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp:

Derek Carr has the same coaching staff for the first time as a pro along with the same receivers. I mean everyone is back -- his top four wide receivers as well as his top three tight ends, and even starting running back. That continuity should allow him to take another step forward in his development.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:

The rebuilt secondary with the addition of Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson along with rookie Karl Joseph. Smith and David Amerson make up a very stout starting cornerback duo, with TJ Carrie and DJ Hayden battling for the nickel job. Nelson is reunited with Jack Del Rio who drafted him in Jacksonville. He led the league in interceptions last year and takes over for Charles Woodson. Nate Allen returned on a one-year deal after heading to IR twice last season, but he isn’t expected to start. Quite a different story for the secondary than last year’s weak group.

Notable injuries heading into training camp:

Those who weren’t seen in offseason practices were Denico Autry, Roy Helu Jr, and Reggie Nelson. Their statuses are uncertain. All others are expected back for camp.

San Diego Chargers

Notable free agent additions: NT Brandon Mebane, CB Casey Hayward, WR Travis Benjamin, S Dwight Lowery, OG/C Matt Slauson

Notable free agent departures: TE Ladarius Green, CB Patrick Robinson, S Eric Weddle

Trades: None

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: DE Joey Bosa will start at the 5-tech in the base defense, TE Hunter Henry will see a ton of time in 2 TE sets, LB Joshua Perry will challenge Manti Te’o for playing time

Biggest offseason addition: OG/C Matt Slauson

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Not football-related, it’s still “will this be the Chargers’ last season in San Diego?” Slightly more football-related, it’s “will Joey Bosa get signed in time for training camp or will he continue to holdout?”

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: The return of Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator should see a return to the quick passing game that allowed Philip Rivers to flourish previously.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: OG/C Chris Watt will miss time due to surgery (roster spot could be threatened). RB Melvin Gordon is still recovering from offseason surgery (though appears on schedule)