Melvin Gordon sees Chargers as AFC West favorites

The Los Angeles Chargers had a renaissance season in 2018.

The Bolts won more than nine games (12-4) for the first time since 2009 and made their first postseason appearance since 2013.

Winning 12 games wasn't enough to claim the AFC West, as the Kansas City Chiefs matched that record and took the division on a tiebreaker. This season, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon expects the team to make another leap.

"We're the team to beat," Gordon said, via ESPN, when asked if the Chiefs were again the team to beat in the division. "We're just special, and I definitely feel we have the best team in the NFL. You just have to walk around with that confidence."

Gordon later admitted, "The AFC West is no joke," but he's clearly confident in his squad.

The fifth-year veteran is entering the final season of his rookie deal and is seeking a contract extension. Gordon sat out OTAs for the past three weeks, but says he will report to mandatory minicamp (June 11-13). He is set to make $5.6 million in 2019.

The Chargers haven't won the division since 2009, which was LaDainian Tomlinson's final season in San Diego.

Kansas City has ruled the AFC West for the past three seasons and should be dangerous again with MVP Patrick Mahomes entering his second year as a starter. The Chiefs also added two impact players -- defensive end Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu -- to a defense which ranked 31st in yards allowed. But they lost linebackers Dee Ford and Justin Houston, so the defense could remain a weakness.

Denver and Oakland continue to rebuild in 2019, but the Broncos could be a darkhorse challenger for the Chargers and Chiefs. The Broncos (6-10 last year) traded for quarterback Joe Flacco -- a former Super Bowl MVP -- and already employ another one in linebacker Von Miller. New head coach Vic Fangio ran the No. 3-ranked Chicago Bears defense in 2018, so perhaps Denver could recapture some magic from the late-Peyton Manning years where the defense carried the team.

Jon Gruden is back for year two of his second stint in Oakland after the Raiders limped to a 4-12 record in 2018. The Raiders added three first-round picks in the 2019 NFL draft -- defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs and safety Johnathan Abram -- but their biggest acquisition came via trade. Gruden traded for former Steelers wideout Antonio Brown to give quarterback Derek Carr a much-needed No. 1 option. The Raiders should improve in 2019 as well.

There clearly won't be many easy wins in this division, but the Chargers should be fighting the Chiefs all year for the crown. Philip Rivers is a year older, but he's coming off an MVP-level season (32 touchdowns, 4,308 yards) and shouldn't drop off much at all. He has ample weapons at his disposal, including Gordon, wideout Keenan Allen and tight end Hunter Henry, who is healthy after tearing his ACL last May. Defensive end Joey Bosa, 23, and safety Derwin James, 22, lead a young defense that was top 10 in passing and rushing last year. The best player that the Chargers lost in free agency was wide receiver Tyrell Williams, who was Rivers' No. 2 or 3 wideout for much of the year.

Maybe Gordon is on to something.

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