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AFC West Q&A: Who will win the division and how many teams will make the playoffs?

Who will win the AFC West and how many teams from the division will make the playoffs?

Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: There are plenty of personnel folks in the league who believe the Chiefs are poised for a step back from last season's 12 wins. They have significant questions of age on defense and they expended an awful lot of their draft capital this April to secure quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. The Raiders will have to fight lame-duck status in Oakland and no matter how many times they say it won't be a problem, it will certainly be a problem. If they handle it, they can, and should, win the division. That is an enormous if, however. Yet if Derek Carr stays healthy and the Raiders play with at least some consistency in their secondary, they are positioned to lead the way. The Chargers are vastly improved, but if Russell Okung can't play better than he did last season with the Broncos, left tackle is a spot that is going to be an issue.

Put all of that together and if the Broncos can do some work in the first half of their schedule, especially before they have three consecutive road games -- Oct. 22, Oct. 30 and Nov. 5 -- the division's best defense could power a run for the title for the sixth time in the past seven years. In the end, three teams in this division should make the postseason if the Raiders can solve playing in front of fans who are angry to see them go.

Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs reporter: The Raiders will be the popular pick, and perhaps they should be. But for that to happen, they'll need to figure out a couple of things. The first is to play better defense against all opponents. The Raiders allowed 375 yards and 24 points per game last season. If they don’t trim those numbers, it's going to be difficult for them to win the AFC West. The second is to figure out a way to beat the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have won five straight games against Oakland, with an average margin of victory of more than 12 points. The final margin hasn't been under six points in any of those five games. The Chiefs have defended Carr better than any other Raiders opponent. They, for instance, intercepted him three times in the fourth quarter of a 2015 game in Oakland to rally for a victory. The Raiders last season averaged more than 26 points in the regular season, but they didn't score a combined 26 in both of their games against Kansas City.

So the Raiders have some things to prove before I'm ready to declare them the best in the AFC West. I'll stick with the defending division titlists, the Chiefs, to win again. But the Raiders will make the playoffs as the AFC West's second and only other postseason participant.

Eric D. Williams, Los Angeles Chargers reporter: If they stay healthy, the Raiders should earn the AFC West crown. The Raiders have the most talented quarterback in the division and are strong up front on both sides of the football. However, the Achilles' heel of the Raiders is the pass defense. Oakland allowed a league-high 61 passing plays of 20 or more yards last season. The Raiders brought in assistant head coach John Pagano, the Chargers' former defensive coordinator, to help rectify the issue. Oakland also drafted cornerback Gareon Conley in the first round. So, we'll see how Oakland’s new-look secondary performs in 2017. The Chiefs and the Chargers will compete for a wild-card berth.

Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders reporter: This all comes down to how and if Carr can solve his Kansas City woes. The quarterback's first career win came versus the Chiefs in an Oakland rainstorm at night, after an 0-10 start in his rookie season of 2014. But since then, Carr is 0-5 against the Chiefs. Carr, meanwhile, is 4-2 against the Chargers and 2-3 against the Broncos. More impressive, though, is his 4-0 mark against the Chargers the past two seasons and going 2-1 against the Broncos.

It's this simple, really: If Carr beats the Chiefs, the Raiders win the division. If he cannot beat them, Kansas City repeats. Both teams, though, will be in the playoffs again. And while it feels as though the Broncos are rebuilding, they are merely reloading and can make a push for the division with a year of experience for quarterback Trevor Siemian. If the Chargers, who blew six fourth-quarter leads a year ago, can regroup under coach Anthony Lynn, they also can surprise.