Latest AFC West preview

Are the Chiefs a lock to win the AFC West?

By: Andy Davies

How do you stop the league’s best quarterback, tight end, one of the league’s best coaches as well as the best quarterback and wide receiver duo in the league? This is the dilemma facing the Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers this season as they try to stop the Chiefs from winning their sixth straight AFC West.

Can either of these three teams surprise this season and dethrone Kansas City? Or will the Chiefs be too strong?

Here is a preview of the AFC West.

Denver Broncos (2020 Record: 5-11. Missed out on playoffs)

Another year and it’s another new starting quarterback for the Broncos. Free-agent signing Teddy Bridgewater is the new QB1 after the failure of Drew Lock. This time last year, Lock was seen as the future of the franchise after an encouraging end to the 2019 season. However, he threw for 2,933 yards, 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2020. He showed some flashes in this year’s preseason but head coach Vic Fangio decided to go with Teddy. Lock can make those bigger and more exciting throws but is also likely to throw more risky balls. Bridgewater is the safe option and is only two seasons removed from going 5-0 as a starter for the New Orleans Saints in 2019. Fangio is on the hot seat and feels that Bridgewater is more likely to keep him in a job.

Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy didn’t set the world alight during his rookie year last season. He will hope to see an improvement on last year’s 856 yards and 3 touchdowns. Courtland Sutton’s return will be welcomed with open arms after missing the entirety of 2020. The Broncos will hope no more of their wide receivers will play snaps at quarterback after Kendall Hinton ended up playing in the position after an injury crisis in Denver.

Defensively, they will hope to have both Bradley Chubb and franchise legend Von Miller on the same field. Miller missed all of last season due to injury and has since resigned, along with safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons. Miller and Chubb last played together in week 4 of the 2019 season and all Broncos fans will hope for injuries not to be a factor in 2021. Cornerback Kyle Fuller arrived in Free Agency to replace the outgoing A.J. Bouye and another cornerback was added in this year’s draft. Alabama’s Patrick Surtain was taken ninth overall, with running back Javonte Williams selected 35th overall to replace the outgoing Phillip Lindsay.

Their schedule begins with games against the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, which presents the chance of a 3-0 start. They then face the Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh Steelers, Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Washington Football Team, and Dallas Cowboys. As well as two games against the Chargers and Chiefs, this presents a challenging schedule.

Teddy will be reliable. Their defensive lineman will perform provided they stay healthy and the secondary is quite going under the radar. However, the Chargers and Chiefs will simply be too strong.

Prediction: 3rd in AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (2020 Record: 14-2. Lost in Super Bowl 55)

The Chiefs reached a second consecutive Super Bowl last season but this time they didn’t end up celebrating in the confetti. They were beaten 31-9 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 56.

Reaching their third straight Super Bowl will be the aim but they will hope to win it this time around. 

The main takeaway from their loss to Tampa Bay, along with the brilliant Buccaneers defense, was the absence of starting offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz and Fisher were both released this offseason, the latter being their first overall pick in 2013. The Chiefs went on to add guards Kyle Long and Joe Thuney in Free Agency as well as trading for Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown. Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif also returns after missing last season to work as a doctor during the pandemic. Centre Creed Humphrey was taken in the second round and Trey Smith was drafted in the sixth round, someone who is making a lot of positive noise this offseason. The Chiefs may have let go of two important parts of the offensive line, they have added depth and arguably have a better offensive line room than they did when last season ended.

Running back Damien Williams, who scored two touchdowns in their Super Bowl 54 win, was also released. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins left for the Ravens, with Cornell Powell drafted in the fifth round to fill the gap. With tight end Travis Kelce, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, this trio is exceptional. Kelce and Mahomes are the best in the league at their respective positions. Only Stefon Diggs (1,535) recorded more receiving yards amongst all wide receivers and tight ends than Kelce (1,416), who was fifth for touchdown receptions (11). Meanwhile, Hill recorded 1,276 yards and 15 touchdowns. Mahomes has already won an MVP, Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP. Before the Buccaneers loss, he had yet to lose a game as a starter by more than 8 points. He has 114 touchdown passes, 14,152 passing yards, and just 24 interceptions during his young NFL career. He is the future of the league. He’s simply the best in the league.

The Chiefs were 20th in rushing yards allowed and 14th in passing yards allowed. This is not an amazing defense for a team that has played in three consecutive AFC Championship games and two Super Bowls, despite safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive tackle Chris Jones. Linebacker Nick Bolton, who was taken in the second round, will hope to improve a linebacker position that has often been seen as one of the Chiefs’ weaknesses. Despite this, Kansas City will be determined more than ever. Hill spoke of the team’s desire to get back to the Super Bowl, something that should heavily frighten all the other AFC teams.

“I’ve been grinding my tail off ever since that loss. I take losing hard. Pat, Kelce, Tyrann and Chris want to get back to that stage. I know they’re grinding as hard as I am. We were embarrassed on national television and we do not want to go back to that route again. We will be back.”

This hunger that they appear to have will take them far this season and back on the winner’s podium in February.

Prediction: 1st in AFC West and Super Bowl 56 Champions.

Las Vegas Raiders (2020 Record: 8-8. Missed out on playoffs)

The Raiders got off to a 6-2 start last season before a poor end to the season once again let them down, going 2-6 down the stretch. This is the second consecutive season that the Raiders have let themselves down in the second half of a season after they finished 7-9 despite a 6-4 start in 2019.

They finished 7th on passing yards and 14th on rushing yards. Defensively, only six teams allowed more passing yards than the Raiders, who finished last season 24th in rushing yards. It is clear to see where the issues lie.

On the offensive side of the ball, running back Kenyan Drake has come in during this offseason during Free Agency to backup Josh Jacobs. Wide receiver John Brown has also arrived to boost this offense after impressing for the Buffalo Bills in 2020. Speaking of offense, this feels like the one offseason with Gruden as head coach where Derek Carr’s position as QB1 is not under threat. He had a good 2020, with 4,103 yards and 27 touchdowns thrown for as opposed to the 9 interceptions he threw.  Henry Ruggs is another receiver who struggled last season in their rookie year. He recorded just 452 yards and 2 touchdowns.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders have added defensive end Yannick Ngakoue who is on his third team in two years, defensive tackle Solomon Thomas and cornerback Casey Hayward during Free Agency.

During this year’s draft, the Raiders took offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood in the first round and safety Trevor Moehrig in the second. This led to confusion from the fans and media as many had Leatherwood in the second and Moehrig in the first when they did their mock drafts. This is yet another draft pick made by head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock during their time together with the Raiders that led to some head-scratching. Taking Clelin Ferrell fourth overall in 2019 also gained these two some public criticism.

Their schedule features games against the Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Washington, Browns, Indianapolis Colts as well as two games against the Chargers and Chiefs. The Philadelphia Eagles, Giants, Cincinnati Bengals and two games against Denver offer the chance for some wins but the Raiders will ultimately struggle thanks to this along with a roster starved of talent and consistency.

Prediction: 4th in AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers (2020 Record- 7-9. Missed out on playoffs)

The Chargers are an intriguing one. With quarterback Justin Herbert, who won Rookie of the Year last season after his impressive rookie year, the franchise seemingly have their guy. After sixteen seasons with Phillip Rivers, the Chargers couldn’t reach a Super Bowl. Herbert now gives fans hope once again reaching the big game, one they have played in just once before, losing 49-26.

Herbert has only had one season and he more than anyone else, is probably aware that teams will have more tape on him going into the season. Robert Griffin’s NFL career is a major example of this. How will he perform with fans back in the stadium? He is yet to experience a 3rd down play late in the fourth quarter on the road with the home fans trying their best to put him off his game. However, he seems to have all the credentials to make his pro career a successful one. He seems to lead by example on the field, has a cannon arm and the mobility that a modern-day quarterback appears to require.

Keenan Allen is someone that often gets overlooked, but his stats don’t lie. He has recorded 7,397 yards and 42 touchdowns since being drafted 76th overall by the Chargers in 2013. Tight end Hunter Henry will be a big loss but free agency addition Jared Cook will be a more than capable replacement.

The Chargers have also looked to protect their guy. One of the league’s best centres in Cory Linsley arrived this summer via Free Agency after seven successful seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Along with the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft Rashawn Slater, the Chargers have two exciting additions to their offensive line. With the horror injury to Joe Burrow, who was far from protected during his rookie year last season, the Chargers would likely have seen this and not wanted the same to happen to their QB1. With the issues Trevor Lawrence had in the preseason when it came to lack of protection, this further proves that the Chargers are doing the best they can for Herbert. 

Defensive back Asante Samuel was selected 47th overall. He was taken with presumably the intent of improving the secondary of a team that lost by five points or less on six occasions in 2021. The Chargers went to overtime on three occasions, only winning one. New heach coach Brandon Staley takes over from Anthony Lynn, who was fired after the conclusion of the 2020 season. He made good waves as the Rams’ defensive coordinator last year as the team had the number one defense.

The Chargers are in a good place, with the only questions surrounding whether their new head coach will transform well into being a head coach and if they can hold on to games. They are a team for the future and could well find themselves in the playoffs this season. However, it is too early for it to be anything more than that.

Prediction: 2nd in AFC West

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