AFC West Preview

During the last offseason, the AFC West was expected to be the king of all divisions. Then the season started and anything that could have happened did. Russell Wilson took a nosedive in Denver with the Raiders coming apart at the seams in what has been an all-too familiar story. The Chargers were dealt the injury bug once again. It all turned into the Chiefs remaining intact and dominating, going 14-3. Winning their seventh straight AFC West before winning the Super Bowl over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chargers won 10 and earned a wild card spot, while the Raiders and Broncos were downright embarrassing, combining to go 11-23.

It’s abundantly obvious that the Chiefs remain the overwhelming favorites in the division and conference. It starts at the top with future Hall of Fame coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Nothing needs to be said about the accomplishments of those two. Numerous offensive weapons include Travis Kelce, Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. On the ground, Isiah Pacheco ran for over 800 yards and averaged an impressive 4.9 per attempt. The Chiefs averaged 29.2 points per game last season and could easily surpass 30 points per game this season.

Defensively, the Chiefs allowed only 21.7 points per game and have improved significantly over the past few seasons. Although they allowed 33 touchdown passes, the Chiefs were very good against the run, giving up only 107 yards per contest. There is major problem to start the season with Chris Jones (15.5 sacks last season) still holding out. The Chiefs will have to get a solid effort across the board from the likes of George Karlaftis, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, and Mike Danna. In the secondary, the Chiefs had to replace Juan Thornhill, who led the team in interceptions with three. Kicker Harrison Butker looks for rebound from a season in which he hit only 7-of-12 from beyond 40 yards.

The Chargers will look for continued development from quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for 4739 yards and 25 touchdowns and ten interceptions. Running back Austin Ekeler led the team in both receptions and yards rushing. The Chargers will need more from a solid wide receiver trio of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Joshua Palmer.

Defensively, the Chargers should be difficult to throw against. Last season they allowed only 200 yards per game and took down opposing quarterbacks 40 times. Defensive end Morgan Fox anchors the defensive line and led the team in sacks with 6.5. The problem for the Chargers has been the interior of the line against the run, allowing an eye-opening 146 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry last season. Kicker Cameron Dicker converted 21-of-22 field goal attempts last season, putting the Chargers in good position from 50 yards in.

The good news in Denver is the potential impact of new head coach Sean Payton, who had ten double-digit win seasons in 15 years with the Saints. Russell Wilson returns under center after a season in which he threw for 3524 and 16 touchdowns, but was intercepted 11 times. Seattle had no 1000-yard receivers and only Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton had over 60 receptions. Javonte Williams takes over as lead running back with Latavius Murray now in Buffalo. There are numerous questions remaining about a team that averaged only 16.9 points per game last season.

The Broncos were much better on the defensive side of the ball, allowing only 210 yards per game through the air, 107 on the ground, and 21.1 points per game. The problem is that the team’s top three pass rushers have all left for greener pastures. Dre’Mont Jones is in Seattle, DeShawn Williams is in Carolina, and Bradley Chubb is now in Miami. The secondary remains largely intact with Justin Simmons leading the way with six interceptions last season. Kicker Wil Lutz is coming off his worst NFL season after hitting 23-of-31 last season with the Saints.

The Raiders bring up the rear in the division. Jimmy Garoppolo takes over at quarterback. He passed for 2437 yards and 16 touchdowns in 11 games last season with the 49ers. Davante Adams, who caught 100 passes for over 1500 yards and 14 touchdowns is the primary target. Josh Jacobs had all but 38 carries by running backs last season, totaling 1653 yards. While the stars are present, the health of Adams and Jacobs is key for the Raiders chances on the offensive side of the ball.

The biggest problem on defense for the Raiders was the lack of producing turnover, intercepting only six passes with a –8 turnover differential. In addition, the pass rush was nearly non-existent. Defensive end Maxx Crosby has 12.5 of the team’s 27 sacks. In the secondary, Nate Hobbs, Marcus Epps, Tre’von Moehrig, and Marcus Peters will be tested. Kicker Daniel Carson has one of the biggest legs in the league, hitting 11-of-13 from beyond 50 yards.

Look for the Chiefs to control the division and advance at least to the AFC championship game. The Chargers should have the edge over Denver for second in the division with a wild card berth possible. An 8- or 9-win season for the Broncos should be considered a success, while the Raiders look to avoid embarrassment in the division.