Teams (Total Division Championships):
- Denver Broncos (15, five in last ten years)
- Oakland Raiders (15)
- Los Angeles Chargers (15)
- Kansas City Chiefs (11, four in last ten years)
In this series the goal is to briefly address the recent history of each NFL Division, and then give a general projection for each team for the upcoming season. If you disagree with me feel free to leave a comment saying why. I’ll tell you right now I have this division shaking out exactly the same as it did last year. How exciting is that.
Overall the AFC West breaks down into being one of the more balanced divisions throughout NFL history, if only because of the recent results. Only Kansas City is behind in terms of first place finishes and they seem poised to run the table for at least a couple of years. Here’s a ranking of where I expect each team to finish, and an explanation of why.
- Kansas City Chiefs
There’s no surprise here, Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs offense led them to the first overall seed in the AFC last year, and they shouldn’t be slowing down. Unfortunately, their first-ranked passing attack was only countered by how bad they were on the other side of the ball. They ranked a somewhat-respectable 9th in total points allowed, but it only got worse from there. The defensive unit seemed entirely unable to get off the field, giving up more first downs than any other team, and more total snaps and yards than 30 of them.
Mahomes, great as he is, will certainly regress next season. If he puts up the same numbers again, I’ll seriously start to question the validity of stats as a whole. The offense might not be able to bail out the team by scoring 35 every Sunday, especially since they’re still dealing with the loss of Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs are aware of this and actively working to improve the defense, signing S Tyrann Mathieu and making 10+ other defensive acquisitions. Trading Dee Ford and cutting Justin Houston and Eric Berry were questionable moves to a lot of people, but I’ll reiterate that it’s nearly impossible for the D to end up being worse than it was last year. With a new DC and a revamped roster, it’s hard to see them finishing 31st in overall Defense again (And if they do, it may only cost them another win or two). A more balanced attack could only be a good thing in my eyes, and I expect a similar result as last year. The Chiefs remain the team to beat in the AFC.
Projected Record: 12-4, with losses vs IND, @LAC, @NE, ???
- Los Angeles Chargers
It is hard not to like the Los Angeles Chargers. Off the top of my head, the worst thing about them is that they play in LA. You have to feel bad for them based on how things have gone recently; in the last 9 years, the Bolts have 5 second-place finishes in the division, and a third place where they lost on a tiebreaker. This team had to watch Denver dominate during the Manning era and now they’re stuck behind a KC team that saw their QB sling it for 5000 yards and 1 million touchdowns in his first season. It just doesn’t seem fair. The bright side is that they are stacked with talent, if a little bit unbalanced in some areas. Philip Rivers continues to be elite despite being in the twilight of his career, Melvin Gordon may be one of the most underrated backs in the league (though injuries may be an issue), and second-year S Derwin James should again be one of the best parts of the defense in 2019. This team could go far.
I picked the Chargers to win the division last year, and I want to do it again here. Sadly, they’re still stuck behind the Chiefs. I fully anticipate that they’ll beat KC once during the year, but it’s only going to matter in the playoffs. And if the Chargers wanted to win that big game, I think they had to be more aggressive in the off-season. They re-signed who they needed to, but they didn’t really do much else. This team got completely exposed by New England in the Divisional round, and I don’t see any reason that it wouldn’t happen again. HC Anthony Lynn gained valuable postseason experience last year, but he’s running out of time before the backbone of this team is gone. They still tied KC’s record last year, and I think they could do that or better this year–their schedule is not exactly the hardest in the league. But right now, I can only see them making a deep playoff run by relying on everyone else getting worse, not themselves improving
Projected Record: 12-4, with losses vs An AFC South Team, @CHI, @KC, probably Denver again
- Denver Broncos
The Broncos are clearly the least relevant team in this division right now. I just wanted to get that out there. I’m sorry if you’re a Broncos fan but whatever weird-ass strategy Jon Gruden is employing in Oakland right now is 10x more entertaining than watching John Elway sign every tall dude that walks by. Joe Flacco is not going to fix this team. I guess he’s the most reliable quarterback they’ve had in a while but I don’t even think a quarterback is really what they needed. This team is just in a tough spot right now and it could take a couple of years for them to figure things out. If they were in a weaker division, they’d be in much better shape. They have the ability to hang around in any game, and that can’t be understated. In fact, it could be the most important thing about this season for Denver. A win against Kansas City or LA could change the entire layout of the playoffs, as it did last season. Obviously it would mean very little for the Broncos but at least their presence would impact the league as a whole.
The bright side here is that Philip Lindsay was really fun to watch last year and Royce Freeman isn’t a bust yet either. Having two good young running backs can only be a good thing for the future, and hey, Von Miller is still hanging out in Denver for now too. Joe Flacco is good for at least one more win than last season, and I expect most of the Broncos games to be enjoyable to watch, even if Denver often ends up on the wrong end of the score. They’re good for a couple of upsets too, but again, nothing too meaningful.
Projected Record: 7-9 (Pure Mediocrity), wins against one of KC/LAC, vs DET, @MIN
- Oakland Raiders
I’m pretty close to just leaving this one open to discussion. Who knows anything that’s going on with this team? Clearly Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock don’t. Even if the Raiders don’t know it yet, this is a two-year minimum reconstruction plan. I don’t care how well Mayock drafts here, there would need to be a tremendous amount of improvement from the rest of the roster that I just don’t see happening–and that’s just to get back to being .500. Their schedule also happens to be the hardest in the league by win percentage, so I just can’t see them even approaching third place in this division to be honest. It’s impossible to grade the future of the Raiders right now because it’s all down to who they pick in the draft and how this next year plays out. However, they’ve done an impressive job setting up this rebuild so far, and it’s going to be fun watching them figure it out from here.
There is one thing I am relatively sure of as far as the Raiders are concerned. Derek Carr and Antonio Brown are going to be a deadly combination. It might not matter at all in most of their games this year, but I think they’ll win about 4 or 5, and literally all of those will be due in some way to Carr and Brown. If the Raiders take a QB in this draft, I will be absolutely shocked. Carr is still young, he has the experience, he’s still improving, and he quietly had an impressive season last year when the roster featured very little talent overall. If Oakland can get this guy a decent running back to work with and surround him with linemen that are slightly better than turnstiles, there’s no reason that he couldn’t be top five in a couple of years, especially with Antonio Brown on the team. The biggest problem with Antonio Brown is hoping he can last a year or two without getting angry, roasting his QB, and blaming everyone in a five-mile radius for his team’s losses.
Projected Record: 5?-11, yeah we might as well give them 5, wins vs DEN, vs DET, vs CIN on a hail mary, @NYJ