Quarterback or premier pass-rusher? Our roundtable takes a look at who will be the top player this season in the AFC West.
Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: If Jon Gruden can still dial up the big plays after an extended sideline absence, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr could give the division an MVP run, as could Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. But the only former Super Bowl MVP in the division, Von Miller, is poised for big things. The Broncos already have proved that a dominant Miller in a swirling, speed-first defense is a successful Super Bowl formula. For the Broncos to duplicate anything close to the 2015 run, the offense has to be far more opportunistic and far less turnover-prone -- the Broncos were second in the league in turnovers last season. Also, Bradley Roby has to be able to replace Aqib Talib at cornerback in the team's secondary. If rookie Bradley Chubb is the impact pass-rusher the Broncos hope he can be, he will force opposing offenses into the kinds of decisions in pass protection that should free Miller. Miller is still at the peak of his football powers and would be the centerpiece of one of the league's best defenses if the Broncos can give him just a little more room to work after a '17 season filled with double- and sometimes triple-teams.
Eric Williams, Los Angeles Chargers reporter: Kareem Hunt, Derek Carr, Case Keenum and Keenan Allen are all candidates, but my pick is Philip Rivers. The 36-year-old signal-caller had a solid season last year, but he should put up even better numbers in his second season under head coach Anthony Lynn. The Chargers added veteran center Mike Pouncey, who will make Rivers' job easier at the line of scrimmage, identifying fronts and picking up blitz coverages. And even without Hunter Henry due to a season-ending knee injury, Rivers still has plenty of playmakers at his disposal, including Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler and a healthy Mike Williams. Finally, the Chargers face just two defenses this year that finished in the top 10 in points allowed last season -- Rivers and the Bolts should light up the scoreboard in 2018.
Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs reporter: Quarterback play from the two incumbents (Philip Rivers of the Chargers and Derek Carr of the Raiders) and the two newbies (Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Case Keenum of the Broncos) will be fascinating and probably determine the course of the division race. But none of those players will post classic MVP numbers. Skill players at other offensive positions won't either, though Travis Kelce will be even more interesting to watch in Kansas City with Mahomes at QB. So we'll look to the defensive side, where premier pass-rushers such as Khalil Mack of Oakland, Von Miller of Denver and Justin Houston of the Chiefs could have big seasons. But none of those players will be a part of a division championship team. Joey Bosa of the Chargers will.
Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders reporter: With so much change in the division -- Denver and Kansas City have new quarterbacks in Case Keenum and Patrick Mahomes, while Oakland has a new QB whisperer for Derek Carr in Jon Gruden -- let's strike a blow for consistency. The seemingly ageless Philip Rivers appears only to get better with, well, age. After griping about the Chargers' move from San Diego to Los Angeles and its accompanying commute, "Old Man" Rivers responded by leading the top-ranked passing game in the NFL. He passed for 4,515 yards, the fourth most of his 14-year career, and had 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, his fewest picks since 2009. Rivers is more than the AFC West's senior statesman under center -- the No. 4 overall pick of the 2004 draft also became the ninth member of the NFL's 50,000-yard passing club last season. Maturing weapons such as receiver Keenan Allen and running back Melvin Gordon will make Rivers, who turns 37 in December, only more dangerous.