Free agency is mostly done. The draft has been wrapped up in a tight bow. We've hit the portion of the NFL calendar where over the next several months the void will be filled mostly by large men running around in shorts, sans pads.
The gap in the process leaves the door open for prognostications and little else. Waves of predictions will flow over the barren landscape like rain pummeling a dry plain. Most of those guestimations will be made by media personalities paid to keep the clicks and eyeballs rolling in during the NFL's downtime.
Sometimes, however, the smoke comes from a more notable source; one that stops and makes you reconsider whether it's simply a scorching thought to gain attention. Such a take took place recently when Denver Broncos general manager John Elway gave his assessment of the AFC West following the draft.
"It's the wild, wild West. I thought the Chargers did a really nice job with the draft," Elway told reporters in Omaha, via The MMQB's Peter King. "They've got the settled quarterback, even though the Raiders do too. Looking at it, [the Chargers] may be the ones to beat. As I stand here, looking at it, the Chargers might be the team to beat."
It's hard to argue with Elway's assessment in mid-May.
The Chargers have a proven franchise quarterback, weapons at receiver, a workhorse running back and an improved offensive line. Los Angeles also boasts what could be the best defense in the NFL in 2018, with a dynamic pass-rushing duo and a deep group of lockdown corners. The addition of rookie safety Derwin James gave the Chargers D playmakers at every level.
Surely, those positives are what Elway sees on paper.
Each of the other AFC West squads has bigger questions.
How will Case Keenum improve the Broncos offense? Is Denver's offensive line fixed? How will trading Aqib Talib change the secondary? Will the combination of Bradley Chubb and Von Miller mask any other defensive questions?
Will Patrick Mahomes live up to the hype in K.C.? If there are growing pains with the young QB, can the rest of the offense overcome those mistakes? Will the revamped defense improve after jettisoning so many big, aging names? Can Kendall Fuller replace Marcus Peters? How will Eric Berry return from injury?
What will Jon Gruden's Raiders look like? Will the coach's old-school approach work in 2018? Will their addition of aging veterans work in the short term? Can Derek Carr bounce back from a down 2017? Ditto for Amari Cooper? Will the defense be any better than the last several bad seasons? Will the chances the Raiders took during the draft pay off?
The past few offseasons, the AFC West has been considered the best division in the NFL. The big changes this year have thrust it into a different light. It's anyone's best guess how it will shake out in six months. Even John Elway is just projecting in May.