AFC West Preview

Photo by Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Chargers

The AFC West is perhaps the best division I have ever seen on paper. While I can’t exactly remember the divisions from when I started watching football 30 years ago, I can’t imagine coming across one that was better. It seems that every single roster is loaded from top to bottom. Every AFC West game this year in the NFL is must-watch TV! We get to see three elite QB’s go head-to-head multiple times a year, plus Derek Carr is no slouch either! As Jim Ross used to say about wrestling: this is going to be a slobber knocker!

It was tough to come up with a division winner for the AFC West. It will probably come down to some very lucky plays and (unfortunately) who can stay healthiest. These division games will be playoff-like atmospheres, and they will most likely be must-win games.

Below, I rank the teams from my least favorite to my personal favorite for division champs. Ok, I can’t wait anymore. Let’s dive into this powerhouse of a division!

Denver Broncos (2021 Record: 7-10; AFC West Standing: 4th)

2022 Draft Picks:

Round 2, pick #64 overall: Nik Bonitto (OLB)

Round 3, pick #80 : Greg Dulcich (TE)

Round 4, pick #115: Damarri Mathis (CB)

Round 5, pick #152: Delarrin Turner-Yell (S)

Round 5, pick #162: Montrell Washington (WR)

Round 5, pick #171: Luke Wattenberg (C)

Round 6, pick #206: Matt Henningsen (DE)

The Denver Broncos did what they had to do to get a real NFL QB on their roster this off-season. They haven’t had a real one since Peyton Manning last took the field in 2016! As I have said already, this division is a monster, and you’re not going anywhere without a Pro Bowl-caliber QB on your roster.

They certainly have enough offensive firepower and defensive playmakers to make a stand in this division. I predict Jerry Jeudy is going to break out in a big way this year. His route running is superb, he has decent size, and he has a great football IQ for his position. Courtland Sutton is also a very good NFL WR who has already shown nice flashes with the likes of Drew Lock. They may have the best RB room in the division as well.

Defensively they have a very solid DL and a great secondary. Asante Samuel Jr. looked great last year and they have one of the best safeties in the league in Justin Simmons. They signed DJ Jones who will contribute well on the DL as well as a solid pass rusher in Dre’Mont Jones. This could certainly be a very underrated unit this year!

Key Concerns:

  • WR3 could be cause for concern. The Broncos had one of the best WR3s in the league in Tim Patrick, and someone will need to step up after his season-ending injury. It wouldn’t be a big deal if you lost your 3rd WR in any other division, but in this division, it is a big loss.
  • Can rookie HC Nathaniel Hackett not hurt his team in games that are projected to be super close? That’s a tall order in a division with absolutely no room for error, and it’s a huge question mark.
  • My last major area of concern is QB Russel Wilson. Can he hang with the arms of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert? It remains to be seen. Many think Wilson has started to regress, and I’d have to agree with that assessment.

Path to the Playoffs:

  • Russell Wilson would have to outperform the other AFC West QBs—Derek Carr, Justin Herbert, and Patrick Mahomes—by a decent margin.
  • They would have to sweep one of the teams in this division and go .500 vs the rest. On top of that, the Denver Broncos can’t be upset by any inferior teams. I believe they’d also need to beat both the Los Angeles Rams in week 16 and Baltimore in week 13. Both of those games are away.
  • The Broncos would also need to stay clear of the injury bug for the rest of the season on offense. They can’t afford to lose any more playmakers.

’22 Record Prediction: 11-6

Las Vegas Raiders (2021 Record: 10-7; AFC West Standing: 2nd)

2022 Draft Picks:

Round 3, pick #90: Dylan Parham (G)

Round 4, pick #122: Zamir White (RB)

Round 4, pick #126: Neil Farrell (DT)

Round 5, pick #175: Matthew Butler (DT)

Round 7, pick #238: Thayer Munford Jr. (T)

Round 7, pick #250: Brittain Brown (RB)

The Las Vegas Raiders made one of the biggest moves of the entire offseason when they traded for Davante Adams. The Packers received a first and second from the Raiders in the 2022 draft. Nobody (including me) saw that coming. It was one of the more surprising trades in league history. Adams immediately boosts this offense by quite a bit and instantly becomes the best WR in this division. In the AFC West, this could just make the difference between a 1st place finish and a 3rd place finish.

The Raiders offense now has TE Darren Waller, WR Hunter Renfrow, RB Josh Jacobs, and of course, the aforementioned WR Davante Adams. That is as elite as you get for skill position players that you have in the building. Renfrow is one of the best route runners in the business; the man can’t be covered 1-on-1. The same can be said for Adams; triple teams fail against him. The same can be said for Waller; the man can roast a CB for the Lord’s sake. How do you cover all these players? Oh, and when that isn’t enough they have a perennial 1,200-yard running back crashing the gate and cracking some skulls. Good luck!

Key Concerns:

  • Derek Carr is a good QB but he’s going to have to play at an elite level in order to win the AFC West. There’s a good possibility that he is the worst QB in the division. That could be their Achilles; heel. I happen to think he can play elite with these weapons, but I don’t think he is close to the other three QBs in this division on talent alone.
  • Their secondary is shaky, especially when considering who they will have to cover. Hobbs and Rock Ya-SIn are going to have their hands full trying to cover this AFC West firepower. They better pray that DE Maxx Crosby and their big pick-up DE Chandler Jones can get to the QB quickly.
  • Can Josh McDaniels prove he can be a good head coach? I have my doubts, and Denver fans do too!

Path to the Playoffs:

  • Derek Carr has to have the best season of his career.
  • The Raiders would have to at least split with all division rivals and have an exceptional AFC conference record. They have no room for error. They also need a division record of 3-3 or better.

’22 Record Prediction: 12-5

Kansas City Chiefs (2021 Record: 12-5; AFC West Standing: 1st)

2022 Draft Picks: 

Round 1, pick #21: Trent McDuffie (CB)

Round 1, pick #30: George Karlaftis (EDGE)

Round 2, pick #54: Skyy Moore (WR)

Round 2, pick #62: Bryan Cook (S)

Round 3, pick #103: Leo Chenal (LB)

Round 4, pick #135: Joshua Williams (CB)

Round 5, pick #145: Darrian Kinnard (G)

Round 7, pick #243: Jaylen Watson (CB)

Round 7, pick #251: Isiah Pacheco (RB)

Round 7, pick #259: Nazeeh Johnson (CB)

Another big move that was almost as surprising as the Raiders’ trade for Adams was when the Chiefs sent WR Tyreek Hill to Miami for 5 draft picks! Chiefs fans will say they’re not worried about it, but they are lying to themselves and to you. Tyreek Hill was an absolute monster for them since Mahomes took over for Alex Smith, and that’s putting it lightly. Hill put up 6,630 yards and 56 TD’s while in KC. That’s not replaceable, so it will be interesting to see what this team looks like in the 2022 season.

At the end of the day, the Chiefs still have a future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid, as well as a future Hall of Fame QB. If that’s not enough, TE Travis Kelce is also Canton-bound. They remain in good hands. KC also added WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (MVS), RB Ronald Jones,  S Justin Reid, and DE Carlos Dunlap. On top of their free agent additions, they added WR Skyy Moore, LB Leo Chenal, and DE George Karlaftis through the draft. They were some busy beavers this off-season and if I am being honest they are a bit overwhelming to project.

Both MVS and his teammate JuJu have looked good so far in the off-season. It’s a situation I am sensitive to thanks to my participation in fantasy football, so I have been paying attention. WR Mecole Hardman has appeared to look better as well. WR Skyy Moore has been moved all over the formation, and even MVS is catching the ball, for once. I am mildly concerned with their offense but I just think it’s going to look different, rather than worse. We shall see if it’s good enough to win them this division; it’s going to be extremely close!

Key Concerns:

  • They won’t have time for a rookie learning curve with the key rookies I already pointed out, especially Skyy Moore, who needs to come out on fire. JuJu will also have to acclimate to Kansas City very quickly, and MVS will have to catch what comes his way, The winner of the AFC West will have to score a lot of points.
  • Mahomes will kind of have to prove himself without his cheetah. Will the absence of Hill have any effect on Mahomes? He will have to learn to win in a different way with this WR core.
  • Can the defense stop the good teams this year after it was roasted alive by good teams last year? They made a few additions but I am not sure it’s going to be enough. Time will tell.

Path to the Playoffs:

The Chiefs’ division record is going to be huge. Those are very tough games. On top of that, they need to outperform at least 2 teams out of the AFC North, as well as Miami and either the Titans or the Colts. I think they will be able to earn a Wild Card spot.

’22 Record Prediction: 12-5

Los Angeles Chargers (2021 Record: 9-8; AFC West Standing: 3rd)

2022 Draft Picks:

Round 1, pick #17: Zion Johnson (G)

Round 3, pick #79 JT Woods (S)

Round 4, pick #123 Isaiah Spiller (RB)

Round 5, pick #160: Otito Ogbonnia (DT)

Round 6, pick #195: Jamaree Salyer (OL)

Round 6, pick #214: Ja’Sir Taylor (DB)

Round 7, pick #236: Deane Leonard (DB)

Round 7, pick #260: Zander Horvath (RB)

If it wasn’t for the fact that I believe they will be in direct competition with my beloved Buffalo Bills, I’d secretly have a crush on the Los Angeles Chargers. They have 2 WRs in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams that could outperform anybody’s top 2 in the league. They have one of my favorite RBs in Austin Ekeler, who can do it all for you and is a huge safety valve for a young superstar QB. They can hang with anybody.

The reason I have the Chargers taking the crown over the other talented teams is because of their defense. They added LB Khalil Mack, were already rocking DE Joey Bosa on Sundays, and have a fantastic secondary that boasts Asante Samuel Jr. outside and Derwin James at safety. Their other safety Nick Adderly is solid as well. This team is going to be hard to beat!

Key Concerns:

  • The Chargers don’t have a ton of depth at WR or RB. I like rookie RB Isiah Spiller, but he’s a huge step-down from Ekeler. Palmer is a solid WR3 for a team, but I am not sure he is ready to take on the better CBs in the league.

Path to the Playoffs:

  • They can’t falter at any point this season thanks to divisional competitiveness and are going to have to win the games they are favorites in. You can’t lose more than 4 games without your division record coming into play, and I’d try to avoid that.
  • If Herbert can level up again at QB, I am sure the coaching staff would be grateful. They will need him to play damn near perfectly. That’s a lot of pressure and lofty goals for a very young QB. Can he handle it?

’22 Record Prediction: 14-3

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Written by Scott Acquard

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