Our NFL preview continues with a look at the AFC West. Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs are the heavy favorites to run through the division, but there is no horrible team here. The Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos are quietly putting pieces in place to make a playoff run of their own. Here’s what we see:
1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
2019 RECORD: 12-4
KEY ADDITIONS: Ricky Seals-Jones (TE)
KEY LOSSES: Kendall Fuller (CB), Emmanuel Ogbah (EDGE), Damien Williams (RB, opted out)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “Stay Healthy + Stay Hungry = Stay on Top”
The Chiefs have largely avoided the Super Bowl hangover that had afflicted past championships. Instead of resting on their laurels, the team took care of business – most notably locking up franchise QB Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year deal worth $503 million. With Mahomes, the Chiefs’ offense will be lethal, even with RB Damien Williams opting out of the season due to the pandemic. With Tyreek Hill at WR and Travis Kelce at TE, Kansas City isn’t lacking in weapons. The defense isn’t going to scare opponents, but it’s just good enough: Bottom line: In a division where the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos aren’t sure of what kind of QB play they will have, the Chiefs will roll on with the best QB in the NFL. Barring injuries, a return trip to the Super Bowl is likely.
2. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
2019 RECORD: 7-9
KEY ADDITIONS: Cory Littleton (LB), Nick Kwiatkowski (LB), Marcus Mariota (QB), Raekwon McMillian (LB), Henry Riggs (WR)
KEY LOSSES: DeAndre Washington (RB)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “New Stadium + New Talent = New Hope”
Many Hawaii fans were happy to see Marcus Mariota traded to Las Vegas – otherwise known as Hawaii’s unofficial ninth island – but if Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has his way, the former Saint Louis star will never have to see the field. The hope and expectation is that incumbent starting QB Derek Carr will return to his 2016 form, when he was a league MVP candidate. If he does, the offense could be explosive, with speedy rookie receiver Henry Ruggs complementing RB Josh Jacobs’ ground game. The defense, meanwhile, added depth and talent, finally addressing the unit’s abysmal linebackers corps. The Raiders have a new home and a promising future, but it is probably too early to consider them a playoff threat.
3. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
2019 RECORD: 5-11
KEY ADDITIONS: Justin Herbert (QB), Brian Bulaga (OT), Chris Harris (CB)
KEY LOSSES: Melvin Gordon (RB), Russell Okung (OT), Philip Rivers (QB)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “Stellar D + Iffy QB = Wait and See”
Tyrod Taylor is the incumbent starting QB, but how long will he be able to hold off Justin Herbert? The rookie from Oregon has all the tools to be a big-time QB, but without the benefit of preseason games, he’ll have to develop his game while watching the dependable Taylor. It may be just as well, because LA’s porous O-line doesn’t inspire much confidence in protecting the QB. On the bright side, the Chargers still have an elite receiving unit in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and (if he can stay healthy) TE Hunter Henry. Defensively, the Chargers are young and talented, led by Pro Bowl edge rusher Joey Bosa. In the end, it will all come down to quarterback play, and right now that position is too much of a question mark to envision the Chargers making the postseason.
4. DENVER BRONCOS
2019 RECORD: 7-9
KEY ADDITIONS: Melvin Gordon (RB), A.J. Bouye (CB)
KEY LOSSES: Chris Harris (CB), Shelby Harris (DT)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “Drew Lock + Draft Stock = Tick Tock”
Drew Lock went 4-1 as the starting signal caller last season, but it remains to be seen if he is the long-term answer at QB. Head coach Vic Fangio will likely give the second-year QB all the time he needs to prove himself, and the Broncos gifted him with some new weapons, including veteran RB Melvin Gordon and rookie WR Jerry Jeudy. Second-year TE Noah Fant should also improve on a successful rookie campaign. On defense, Bradley Chubb needs to bounce back from an injury-shortened year, and Von Miller had perhaps his least effective year as a pro. Couple that with an unforgiving schedule (one of the league’s toughest) and this could be a disappointing season for the Broncs. They’re definitely just a few pieces away, however, so watch out for this team in the years to come.
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