OPEN CAMP: July 28, Missouri Western State University, St. Joseph, Missouri.
LAST YEAR: Won at least 11 games for third time in four years and captured first AFC West title since 2010. Earned first-round playoff bye, then lost to Steelers 18-16 despite holding Pittsburgh without touchdown. It was fifth straight divisional-round loss for Kansas City, which hasn’t played for conference championship since 1993.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Bennie Logan, RB C.J. Spiller, rookie QB Patrick Mahomes III.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Jeremy Maclin, DT Dontari Poe, RB Jamaal Charles.
CAMP NEEDS: Chiefs return largely intact with few jobs open to competition. Biggest battle will be at RB, where Spiller joins veterans Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West and rookie Kareem Hunt in fight for carries. Kansas City also needs to identify WR pecking order after cutting Maclin midway through offseason in much-needed money-saving maneuver.
EXPECTATIONS: Chiefs believe they can compete for another division title, but will face one of league’s toughest schedules. QB Alex Smith could be in final season in Kansas City after arrival of first-round pick Mahomes. Derrick Johnson should be back from season-ending Achilles tendon injury and fellow LB Justin Houston should be 100 percent after his injury trouble. They should anchor rapidly aging defense trying to make one more Super Bowl run.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 29, Napa Valley Marriott, Napa, California
LAST YEAR: Ended 13-year playoff drought by winning 12 regular-season games and making postseason as wild-card team. Season got derailed late when QB Derek Carr broke leg in the second-to-last game of regular season. Oakland lost season finale to miss out on division title and lost playoff opener at Houston when offense struggled without Carr. Khalil Mack won Defensive Player of Year award in third season for biggest highlight on suspect unit. Following season, team announced planned move to Las Vegas for 2020, but will remain in Oakland for at least next two seasons.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Jared Cook, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, OL Marshall Newhouse, LB Jelani Jenkins, defensive assistant John Pagano, rookies CB Gareon Conley, S Obi Melifonwu, LB Marquel Lee.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Latavius Murray, LB Malcolm Smith, LB Perry Riley, DT Dan Williams, OL Menelik Watson, OC Bill Musgrave.
CAMP NEEDS: Filling holes at inside linebacker top task this summer after departures of Smith, Riley. Position has been weakness in recent years, but GM Reggie McKenzie did little this offseason to address it besides signing Jenkins and using fifth-round pick on Lee. Pagano was hired as defensive assistant to help coordinator Ken Norton Jr. improve communication on back end of defense. Other main position battle will be at right tackle, where Newhouse has inside track over Austin Howard and Vadal Alexander.
EXPECTATIONS: Sky high after more than decade of struggles finally turned into winning football. With healthy Carr, Mack and WR Amari Cooper leading way, Raiders expected to be among top AFC contenders as team hopes to deliver title to Oakland before move to Las Vegas. Lynch was lured out of retirement for chance to play in hometown and could provide power running game behind powerful offensive line to take pressure off Carr. Biggest questions are on defensive side. Team spent top two draft picks on Conley and Melifonwu in hopes of bolstering secondary that allowed NFL- worst 61 completions of at least 20 yards last season. Getting inside pass rush to take pressure off Mack and Bruce Irvin on outside would also be big help.
DENVER BRONCOS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 29, UC Health Center, Englewood, Colorado.
LAST YEAR: Broncos followed Super Bowl 50 win with stumble that ended five-year reign as AFC West champs. Trevor Siemian beat out veteran Mark Sanchez and first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch to win QB job as Peyton Manning’s surprise successor. He started strong but held onto the ball too much behind porous O-line and paid price, missing 2 1-2 games with injuries. Lynch went 1-1 but performed poorly as old coaching staff declined to mold offense to better suit his skills. Denver’s dominant defense finally cracked under pressure of carrying inadequate offense and never got chance to lead Broncos on another playoff run; Denver missed playoffs by one game. Opponents found weak link in defense, handing ball off rather than risk letting LB Von Miller and ”No Fly Zone” secondary wreck their game plans. Miller had great season but was held without sack over final month, lost NFL Defensive Player of Year award to Oakland’s Khalil Mack by one vote.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LG Ron Leary, rookie LT Garett Bolles, RT Menelik Watson, NT Domata Peko, DL Zach Kerr, rookie WR-KR Isaiah McKenzie, rookie TE Jake Butt, rookie WR Carlos Henderson, RB Jamaal Charles, rookie RB De’Angelo Henderson, OLB Kasim Edebali.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OLB DeMarcus Ware, RB Kapri Bibbs, LT Russell Okung, CB Kayvon Webster, RB Justin Forsett, NT Sylvester Williams.
CAMP NEEDS: Broncos need to settle on starting QB ASAP so that WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas can get into rhythm in Mike McCoy’s souped-up offense. They also need to see if Charles is still factor after he missed most of last two seasons before getting cut by Chiefs. If he is old self, he adds dynamic option. If not, he could be gone by cutdown day.
EXPECTATIONS: For second straight season, Broncos are NFL oddity: They have legit championship aspirations even though they have big questions at quarterback. Despite offseason injuries to Peko, Shaq Barrett and Adam Gotsis, Broncos again expect defense to lead way. But this time they’re counting on much better support from revamped O-line, new offensive coaching staff and restocked wide receivers corps for whichever QB wins starting job.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 30, Jack Hammett Sports Complex, Costa Mesa, California.
LAST YEAR: Bolts bade farewell to San Diego in tremendously frustrating season ending with coach Mike McCoy’s firing after nine total wins in last two seasons. Chargers were last in AFC West for second straight year, missed playoffs for third straight season. Lost last five games to fade from playoff contention despite solid defense and talented offense led by Pro Bowlers Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon. Midseason OT win at eventual NFC champion Atlanta was highlight. Rivers threw career-high 21 interceptions under constant pressure because offensive line struggled. Rookie DL Joey Bosa was immediate hit as pass rusher and physical presence, winning top defensive rookie honors. CB Casey Hayward emerged as star with seven INTs, and edge rusher Melvin Ingram was solid again. Uncertainty of franchise future undoubtedly played some role in Chargers’ inconsistency, but new coach Anthony Lynn must fix rest of problems.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Lynn, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, LT Russell Okung, rookie WR Mike Williams, RB Kenjon Barner, rookie OG Forrest Lamp.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OT King Dunlap, LB Manti Te’o, CB Brandon Flowers, G D.J. Fluker, WR Stevie Johnson.
CAMP NEEDS: Change-of-address cards. Los Angeles Bolts move 83 miles north from Chargers Park to begin new lives in Orange County, where they’ll be based for training camp and regular season. Along with move, new coaching staff means plenty of work to do in camp. Lynn is longtime running backs coach who loves smash-mouth running game. That means Gordon has chance to improve on standout sophomore season and become top-shelf NFL ball carrier. Rivers has extraordinary selection of targets if everybody stays healthy. Chargers used three draft picks on offensive linemen to bolster struggling unit. Bradley is moving Bolts to 4-3 lineup, putting Bosa and Ingram as bookend pass rushers. MLB Denzel Perryman expected to be key to scheme. During preseason, Chargers must get comfortable in tiny new home stadium in Carson, which could provide unique home-field advantage if it’s rocking.
EXPECTATIONS: Despite franchise upheaval, Chargers seem likely candidate for improvement. LA is loaded with talent on both sides of ball, but underachieved amid massive injury problems last two seasons. Finished 2016 with 21 players on injured reserve and led NFL in man-games lost to injury. If Rivers gets more time to throw behind Okung and young offensive line, he’ll have plenty of talented receivers, including first-round pick Williams. If Chargers could get into playoffs in first LA season, they would get huge leg up on new crosstown rival Rams, who seem years away from contention.
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