Playmakers, stability make Chargers AFC West favorite in 2018

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- After a season of upheaval, maintaining continuity this offseason should help establish the Los Angeles Chargers as the favorite in the AFC West, with rest of the division going through significant changes.

The Oakland Raiders have a new coach (Jon Gruden) and the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos have new offensive coordinators and new quarterbacks.

"It can't hurt," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. "I don't know if it's an advantage, but it can't hurt to have some consistency going into this year. How you handle that makes a big difference."

The Chargers had to deal with a season of change last season, hiring Lynn and relocating from San Diego to Los Angeles. So far during the offseason it's been status quo, as Lynn retained offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

And the Chargers have most of their impact players under contract heading into the 2018 season, including quarterback Philip Rivers, receiver Keenan Allen, running back Melvin Gordon, cornerback Casey Hayward and edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

After getting off to a disastrous, 0-4 start last season, the Chargers finished 2017 winning nine of their last 12 games and barely missing the playoffs.

However, the Chargers have lost eight straight to the Chiefs, the AFC West champion the past two seasons. The Chargers have not won an AFC West title since 2009.

"To me, when I'm making decisions in the draft and free agency, a lot of times the chiefs come to my mind," Lynn said. "Does this help us beat the Kansas City Chiefs?"

The Chiefs appeared to do the Chargers a favor by trading quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins and cornerback Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams.

A San Diego native, Smith played some his best football as a pro against the team he rooted for growing up. Smith completed 72 percent of his passes, finishing with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions against the Chargers as Kansas City's signal caller since 2013.

Peters had four interceptions in six games against the Chargers -- all wins. The Chiefs will start second-year pro Pat Mahomes at quarterback in 2018. They also moved running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to offensive coordinator after Matt Nagy took the head coaching job with the Chicago Bears.

Gruden returns to the Raiders as a head coach after nine years working as an analyst for ESPN's "Monday Night Football". Like the Chiefs, the Raiders are a team in transition, with new offensive and defensive coordinators and with Gruden attempting to re-establish a winning culture for the Silver and Black.

The Raiders finished 6-10 last season, and since 2003 Oakland has had one winning season.

"That's really special," Gruden said about being back in the AFC West. "I remember being here and seeing Marty Schottenheimer across the field and Mike Shanahan, Junior Seau and the Chargers. I'm just thrilled to be back in the AFC West, but with the Raiders.

"It's been really cool. Not many people get a chance to go back and do it a second time. It's a neat story for me, but I want to take advantage of the opportunity and I know I have a lot to prove."

The Broncos also took a step back last season, finishing 5-11 -- their first losing record since 2010.

Second-year head coach Vance Joseph will have a new offensive coordinator (Bill Musgrave) after firing former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy midway through the 2017 season.

The Broncos also are looking for a new quarterback after Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler failed to secure the job last season. They also moved on from one of the best cornerbacks in the league (Aqib Talib), trading him to the Rams.

"It's a strong division," Joseph said. "You look at the Chiefs who have won every game in the division for two years, that football team is hard to beat, especially at home.

"Oakland has a good staff with Coach [John] Gruden. That's an experienced football coach with a big-time quarterback. The Chargers I think started 1-4 or 1-5 and won seven or eight straight with Philip Rivers and Lynn out there. It's a tough division. In my opinion, you've got in the division two or three teams that are capable of making the playoffs every year. With that being said, it's always going to be a challenge to win the division."