The AFC West has the potential to be one of the toughest divisions in the NFL this season, as all four teams have their sights set on playoff berths in 2020. The Kansas City Chiefs figure to be massive favorites, but expect the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders to be in the Wild Card mix come December.
The Chiefs are currently -400 to repeat as division champs, which makes them the biggest divisional favorites in the NFL. It will be incredibly tough for any of the aforementioned teams to dethrone Kansas City this season, as Patrick Mahomes and company have their eyes set on defending their Super Bowl LIV victory over San Francisco back in February.
How ‘Bout Them Chiefs?
The tides have turned in the AFC, as the Chiefs have officially surpassed the Patriots as the class of the conference. Kansas City followed up their first Super Bowl win in 50 years with a solid offseason that featured several under-the-radar re-signings.
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland and defensive tackle Mike Pennel headlined this group, as general manager Brett Veach is now tasked with negotiating a long-term deal with Pro Bowl defensive lineman Chris Jones. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on the 25-year-old All-Pro this past offseason, and the two sides are working towards a deal that would reportedly pay Jones $100 million over the next five seasons.
This particular negotiation is especially tough for Veach, given the fact that Mahomes’ extension is also lurking in the distance. Mahomes is all but guaranteed to receive the biggest contract in NFL history next March.
The Chiefs will likely run away with the division regardless of the improvements their contemporaries have made, as there’s simply no stopping this rampant offense in 2020.
Big Year for Drew Lock
The Broncos could surprise some people this season, as they have the foundational pieces in place to contend for a playoff spot. Vic Fangio did an admirable job in his first season as head coach and has this franchise trending upward in 2020.
Second-year quarterback Drew Lock will be the ultimate deciding factor in whether or not this team will compete for a Wild Card berth, as the offense was fortified with an abundance of talent via the draft and free agency this offseason. General manager John Elway used serious draft capital to ensure his young quarterback was surrounded with plenty of help this year, as first-round wide receiver Jerry Jeudy will be the perfect complement to breakout star Courtland Sutton.
Elway wasn’t gun shy when it came to getting ample support for Lock, as three other rookies — wide receiver KJ Hamler, center Lloyd Cushenberry, and tight end Albert Okweugbunam — should all contribute in some fashion in Fangio’s offense. Furthermore, free-agent acquisition Melvin Gordon will go a long way in transforming the Broncos running game, as he will likely split time with Peyton Lindsay and Royce Freeman.
Couple that with a star-studded defensive group featuring the likes of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the edge, and you’ve got a quality postseason contender for next season. If Lock can continue to make strides in his second year as a quarterback, the Broncos will be in great shape for 2020 and beyond.
Go Chargers, Go
The Chargers are flying under the radar so far this offseason, as veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor is expected to be the Week 1 starter in Los Angeles. First-round rookie quarterback Justin Herbert will likely begin the season on the bench as he continues to get familiar with the offense.
Taylor will bring stability to an offense that underachieved last season — mostly due to Philip Rivers’ struggles with turning the football over. Taylor is merely a game-manager in most people’s eyes, but he’s someone who won’t make the big mistake and will keep the offense on the field in third-down situations.
I like the makeup of this Chargers offense next season, as they already possess one of the league’s strongest playmaking groups. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and Austin Ekeler will all play significant roles in coach Anthony Lynn’s offense this season.
Moreover, Los Angeles already boasts an incredibly formidable defense. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense is absolutely stacked from top to bottom and figures to be a top-five unit in 2020. The Chargers’ secondary is loaded with talent, as free-agent cornerback Chris Harris Jr. will line up across from Pro Bowler Casey Hayward next season, while All-Pro safety Derwin James patrols the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram figure to play a huge part in this defense, as they will be well-equipped to get after the quarterback given the lockdown coverage in the secondary. The Chargers appear to be in good shape to make the playoffs as long as Taylor can keep this offense on the field in third-down situations.
Sin City Raiders
Last but not least, Jon Gruden’s Raiders come into their inaugural season in Las Vegas with a cosmic aura unparalleled to the rest of the league, as Gruden’s group hopes to capture the contagious energy of their new host city this season. A rather intriguing storyline, the Raiders figure to be one of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL, as there is a series of unknowns on both sides of the football.
Quarterback Derek Carr is reportedly on thin ice with this coaching staff, as he’s been highly unimpressive under Gruden’s tutelage. The two have butted heads on several occasions, and many believe their relationship is inevitably coming to a close after this season.
Marcus Mariota was a surprise free-agent signing for general manager Mike Mayock, as the quarterback room is now crowded with talent. Expect various red-zone packages for Mariota, as he possesses the speed and playmaking ability to be a dynamic weapon for Gruden’s offense.
However, this offense will likely depend heavily on second-year running back Josh Jacobs, who rushed for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III will help provide a deep threat for Carr and will nicely complement the likes of Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow.
On the other hand, the Raiders defense is in serious need of a makeover, as they ranked near the bottom of the league in every major defensive category. Defensive end Maxx Crosby was the lone bright spot for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense, as first-round rookies Clelin Ferrel and Jonathan Abram failed to make an impact in limited time last season.
I don’t believe this team is good enough to compete in what has become one of the toughest divisions in football, as the Raiders currently have the worst odds to win the AFC West at +1000.
- Kansas City Chiefs: 12-4
- Denver Broncos: 9-7
- Los Angeles Chargers: 9-7
- Las Vegas Raiders: 5-11
Kansas City should be a shoo-in to repeat as division champs, but expect an incredibly competitive race for second place between Denver and Los Angeles next season, as it wouldn’t surprise me if the AFC West wound up with three playoff teams in 2020.