There is little doubt the Chiefs are the cream of the crop and the favorites for their sixth straight AFC West title. The rest of the division has talent, yet there seems to be a glaring hole on every roster. Let’s have a look to see what noise they might bring this season.
Los Angeles Chargers 12-5
The team I’m predicting to make the biggest jump in all of football is the Los Angeles Chargers. I feel that Justin Herbert is the real deal and the AFC West will have two top-five quarterbacks for many years to come. Like the Chiefs, the Chargers went out and revamped their offensive line to protect their superstar asset; signing Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, and Oday Aboushi and then drafting Rashawn Slater with their top pick. Offensive line play wasn’t the largest weakness for the Chargers but doubling down on your investment is always a smart move.
Where the Chargers are going to need to make the biggest leap is on the defensive side of the ball, new head coach Brandon Staley should have some vital input in that. The resigning of Michael Davis and drafting of Asanti Samuel Jr. bolster up a secondary that has all the pieces to be really good. The Chargers possess one of the better inside out pass rush duos is Jerry Tillery and Joey Bosa. The big weakness on this defense is the linebacker core and really that has been hindered by injuries and inexperience over the last couple of seasons.
Offensively the Chargers will go as far as Justin Herbert will take them. The weapons aren’t great but are very serviceable. Mike Williams, Kennan Allen, and Jarred Cook will present matchup problems all season. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are a good running back duo if they can stay healthy. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi joins the staff after spending the last five seasons as the quarterbacks coach in New Orleans all these things coupled with the aforementioned offensive line additions should spell good things in Los Angeles.
Denver Broncos 9-8
In a previous article I predicted the Broncos to go 7-10, I think I was just salty because last season I predicted them to take a big jump and they didn’t. I really do like the roster construction and the fact that John Elway is out as General Manager can only help things. Like everyone in the AFC West, the chance to play four games against NFC East opponents can help add some wins to the season total.
It’s hard to understand how an offense with so much talent on paper underperformed so spectacularly. Injuries played a part in some of it, but the lack of development from Drew Lock is the giant elephant in the room. General Manager George Paton has brought in veteran journeyman Teddy Bridgewater to add competition and there are the ever swirling rumors that Denver is a top destination of disgruntled Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The passing numbers should be really good with weapons Courtland Sutton, Jerry Judy, Tim Patrick, Noah Fans, KJ Hamler, and Albert Okwuegbunam. Melvin Gordon, rookie Javonte Williams and Royce Freeman will split carries for the Broncos and provide one of the better rushing attacks in the AFC.
Defensively is where the Broncos can be really good. They spent a lot of capital in bolstering the secondary, and when you play Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert four times a year you should. Signing Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby along with resigning Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson and drafting Patrick Surtain II were all really good moves. If the front seven can provide a consistent pass rush the back end of this defense can be great. As good as this roster can be, the Broncos will go as far as the quarterback play can take them.
Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders 7-10
I understand the Raiders for stretches look like a competent football team. Also at times Derek Carr looks like a good quarterback. There is even times where Jon Gruden doesn’t look like he stole a whole bunch of money from the Davis family, and for some reason that seems to be twice a year when they are playing the Kansas City Chiefs. The roster construction looks to be built solely on competing with the Chiefs. The problem lies in the fact the Raiders have 15 other games to play outside the two with Kansas City.
The Raiders knew they needed to get better defensively so early in free agency they added Yanick Ngakoue, Soloman Thomas, Quinton Jefferson, and Karl Joseph. All seem like solid moves and can be valuable down the stretch but none of them makes this writer think they have gotten significantly better. They also spent a lot of draft capital on defense, especially in the secondary on second rounder Trevon Moehrig, third rounders Macolm Koonce and Divine Deablo, fourth rounder Tyree Gillespie, and fifth rounder Nate Hobbs. There is definite trend in the AFC West of making sure you have secondary depth.
Offensively the Raiders took a step backwards especially on the line, trading Gabe Jackson, Trent Brown, and Rodney Hudson. Most everyone is the NFL thinks the Raiders took a massive reach with first round pick Alex Leatherwood, I didn’t quite mind the pick and if they believe he’s their left tackle for the future, why not make the move. The loss of Nelson Agholor only hurts if there is no development from Henry Ruggs. Adding John Brown gives Derek Carr another deep threat, the problem for Derek Carr will be his ability to stand in the pocket. Hopefully moving from Rodney Hudson to Nick Martin won’t be a drop off but the other moves along the line are significant and could vastly effect the production of workhorse back Josh Jacobs. Kenyon Drake was a good offseason move, yet like previously state I have concerns about production because of the offensive line. I feel I may be generous in a seven-win prediction for the Raiders.
The wild wild west will only be as wild as the level of quarterback play. The future of this division is strong — if the Chargers could be more consistent on the defensive side of the ball, if the Broncos could shore up quarterback play and defensive line, if the Raiders could get out of their own way with personnel decisions. I know a lot of ifs, the Chiefs have far less concerning ifs and that is what separates them. That and some other worldly quarterback named Patrick Mahomes.