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NFL Preview 2019: Biggest question for AFC West teams as training camp nears

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NFL Preview 2019: Biggest question for AFC West teams as training camp nears

The AFC West promises to be chock-full of excitement and intrigue during the upcoming 2019 season.

Reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs look to repeat as division champs, while the Chargers hope to knock them off and give Philip Rivers a home game or two come playoff time.

You can't forget about Jon Gruden's Raiders, who have the offensive firepower to be a threat on any given Sunday. The Denver Broncos brought in Joe Flacco, so that's ... something?

None of AFC West hopefuls are without their warts, though, so let's take a look at the biggest question facing each team as we head toward September.

Oakland Raiders

With all the talk surrounding the offense, can the defense be decent?
Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs, Hunter Renfrow. You've heard all the names.

On paper, the Raiders should put up a lot of points this season. Unfortunately, the Raiders' defense was abysmal in 2018, and if it doesn't improve this season the Raiders won't be able to leave Oakland on a high note. 

The Raiders haven't finished better than 20th in points allowed since 2006, and they gave up an NFL-worst 29.2 per game last season.

In comes a host of new names, from Clelin Ferrell and Johnathan Abram to Vontaze Burfict and Lamarcus Joyner, looking to help Paul Guenther do what he did in Cincinnati and build a top-10 defense.

If the Silver and Black can get good contributions from the rookies, improved health in the secondary and some semblance of a pass rush, they just might make 2019 interesting.

Kansas City Chiefs

What will Patrick Mahomes do for an encore, especially if Tyreek Hill isn't around?

We still have no idea if the NFL will punish Tyreek Hill for the child abuse scandal that has dragged on throughout the offseason. With the NFL, it's impossible to tell when a decision will be made. But if Hill is suspended or if the Chiefs decide he should no longer represent their organization, that would be a massive loss for Kansas City and the reigning NFL MVP. Yes, the Chiefs drafted Mecole Hardman out of Georgia and still have Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins, but the loss of Kareem Hunt -- who was released toward the end of last season -- and Hill would be hard for Andy Reid and Co. to regroup from.

If Hill enters the season on the team, there's every reason to expect Mahomes and KC to put up massive offensive numbers yet again.

Los Angeles Chargers

Can the Chargers maximize final years of Philip Rivers?

We're going to ignore Melvin Gordon's holdout because, unlike Le'Veon Bell a year ago, Gordon gains nothing by sitting out for an entire season. If the Wisconsin product chose to sit for the entire season, he would just have to play the fifth and final year of his rookie contract next season. So, I'm going to bet he's going to play.

On to the more pressing issue for the Chargers: time. Philip Rivers now is 37 years old and has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the past 10 seasons. But not everyone is Tom Brady, and eventually, Father Time will come for Rivers.

The Chargers have put a solid team around him, but were thoroughly steamrolled by Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round last year.

Heading into 2019, the Chargers once again are loaded with talent, especially if Gordon comes around. But they will need to figure out who will fill Tyrell Williams's role after he left for the Raiders in free agency, and they'll have to hope their linebacking corps can stay healthier than it was a season ago. There's also a question surrounding their offensive line, which fell off toward the end of 2018. Can 2017 first-round pick Forrest Lamp win a starting spot and live up to his promise?

The Bolts are loaded with talent but have some questions to answer, and are running out of years with Rivers playing at a high level to answer them.

[RELATED: Which AFC West rookie will have biggest impact in 2019-20?]

Denver Broncos

Is Joe Flacco still elite a starter?

Other than falling headfirst into Peyton Manning and a Super Bowl title, John Elway has been abysmal at finding quality signal-callers in the Mile High City.

Case Keenum wasn't the answer, so Elway decided to deal for the once-elite, always-elite Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco.

Flacco looked washed a season ago when he threw for just 2,496 yards and 12 touchdowns before going down with a right hip injury and subsequently losing his job to rookie Lamar Jackson.

The 34-year-old Flacco now will have to look over at second-round draft pick Drew Lock. While the Missouri product doesn't figure to overtake the veteran this season, if the Broncos struggle and fall out of the playoff discussion early, it wouldn't be surprising to see Lock take over.

Raiders set to use rest of Khalil Mack trade assets in 2020 NFL Draft

Raiders set to use rest of Khalil Mack trade assets in 2020 NFL Draft

The Raiders traded Khalil Mack just before the 2018 regular season and didn’t get anything in return to help that year’s roster. That was a main reason why that season went up in smoke and put the Raiders’ decision under fire.

It will start looking a bit different next month because the bulk of assets exchanged will be used either to acquire NFL draftees or as trade chips.

As a reminder, the Raiders traded Mack, a 2020 second-round draft pick and a conditional 2020 fifth-round draft pick that is now a seventh-round draft pick to Chicago for first-round draft picks in 2019 and 2020, with a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2019 sixth-round draft pick.

The Raiders used the Bears’ 2019 first-round pick to acquire running back Josh Jacobs. That’s not a bad deal even as a straight swap, but there’s a lot more to account for when evaluating this deal.

Following where the 2019 sixth-round pick would require heading down a rabbit hole leading to Wonderland, so let’s just say it was traded to the Jets along with Kelechi Osemele for an asset that started a series of 2019 in-draft trades that helped acquire several members of an excellent draft class, including Trayvon Mullen and Hunter Renfrow.

Here’s what the Raiders have yet to use from the Mack trade:
2020 first-round draft pick (No. 19 overall)
2020 third-round draft pick (No. 81 overall)

Here’s what the Bears have yet to use from the Mack trade:
2020 second-round draft pick (No. 43 overall)
2020 seventh-round draft pick (No. 223 overall)

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Using those selections will give us a clearer picture of what the trade looks like, even though it’s imprudent to evaluate draft picks until they’ve played a few NFL seasons.

Raiders fans should have some level of confident coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will do the right thing with extra assets considering how well last year’s draft went, the Jacobs pick in particular.

This year’s No. 19 overall draft pick is an important one, likely producing the other headline name in a deal that will be remembered alongside shipping Mack to Chicago and the Jacobs pick.

[RELATED: Mack an All-Decade Team snub]

Our latest NBC Sports Bay Area mock draft has the Raiders taking Alabama safety Xavier McKinney at No. 19, while Gruden and Mayock could be looking for a cornerback or a defensive tackle at that spot. It’s also a trade chip that could get the Raiders into the second round, where they currently don’t have a selection.

The Jacobs pick made fans feel a lot better about the Mack trade, especially with 2019 fourth-round draft pick Maxx Crosby proving a formidable edge rusher with 10 sacks as a rookie. Using their assets correctly might even make the Raiders come out ahead, or darn close to it, with young players on the roster and money Mack would’ve demanded spread out among several other veteran free agents who are good but not at Mack’s elite level.

Khalil Mack, Shane Lechler among ex-Raiders on NFL's All-Decade Team

Khalil Mack, Shane Lechler among ex-Raiders on NFL's All-Decade Team

Khalil Mack was the Raiders best player over the past decade. It’s hard to argue that, even with Charles Woodson making Pro Bowls in his last 30s.

The Silver and Black drafted him No. 5 overall in 2014, and he thrived in the four seasons before being traded to the Chicago Bears. He had 41.5 sacks in that span and was one of the NFL’s elite edge run defenders.

He made the Pro Bowl three times and was a first-team All-Pro twice as a Raider, including one year where he earned the distinction at two positions. He also won the NFL’s defensive player of the year award in 2016, when the Raiders made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Mack was an obvious choice for the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2010s, which was released by the league on Monday morning.

Mack wasn’t the only former Raider on the list. Punter Shane Lechler was rightfully included, though he played just three years for the Silver and Black in that decade. The Raiders’ first-round pick in 2000 was a fixture in Oakland from that time through 2012, when the native Texan left to play for Houston.

Oakland icon and former Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch also made the list, largely for his exploits with the Seattle Seahawks. He was with his hometown Raiders in 2017 and 2018 after coming out of retirement and returned to Seattle last year for their playoff run.

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All-decade kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson spent a year with the Raiders in 2017.

Center Rodney Hudson is the only Raider with a strong argument for inclusion ultimately left out. He’s at least equal to Alex Mack and Maurkice Pouncey, possibly better in some eyes, and may be the NFL’s best pass-blocking center.

[RELATED: Raiders must do better with No. 12 draft pick]

While Woodson was well past his prime in the 2010s, the future Hall-of-Famer made three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2011. He was featured on the NFL’s All-2000s roster but could well have been included here. Eric Weddle, Eric Berry and Earl Thomas were the safeties named to the all-2010s team, and it’s hard to justify taking any of them off the list.

Here's the complete All-2010s team:  

OFFENSE
WR –
 Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones
TE – Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce
T – Jason Peters, Tyron Smith, Joe Staley, Joe Thomas
G – Jahri Evans, Logan Mankins, Zack Martin, Marshal Yanda
C – Alex Mack, Maurkice Pouncey
QB – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers
RB – Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson
Flex – Darren Sproles

DEFENSE
DE –
 Calais Campbell, Cameron Jordan, Julius Peppers, J.J. Watt
DT – Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh
LB – Chandler Jones, Luke Kuechly, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Bobby Wagner, Patrick Willis
CB – Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman
S – Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle
DB – Chris Harris, Tyrann Mathieu

SPECIAL TEAMS
P –
 Johnny Hekker, Shane Lechler
K – Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker
PR – Tyreek Hill, Darren Sproles
KR – Devin Hester, Cordarrelle Patterson

COACHES
Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll

NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco contributed to this report.