Is The AFC West Really So Tough?

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The AFC West got a lot of hype this offseason. On top of the Chiefs, who have gone to 4 straight AFC Championship games and won 50 regular season games in those 4 seasons, the Raiders, Chargers, and Broncos all made major additions in free agency. The Broncos, commonly considered to be a quarterback away, traded for a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Russell Wilson. The Chargers already had a young stud quarterback, but made major additions to their subpar defense by signing cornerback J.C. Jackson and trading for pass rusher Khalil Mack. The Raiders suddenly find themselves as the team with the best worst quarterback in the NFL (i.e. or the quarterbacks who are the worst in their division, he’s the best) in Derek Carr, but added arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Davante Adams and a star pass rusher of their own in Chandler Jones.

This seems like the formula for a historically good division, but have the Chiefs’ rivals really closed the gap?

Los Angeles Chargers

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For as long as I can remember, the Chargers have been a perennial offseason favorite, but they always disappoint. For all the hype around Justin Herbert, his Chargers teams have managed to be painfully mediocre so far. He has more losses in his 2 seasons as a starter as Mahomes does in his 4. Sure, his defenses haven’t been great, but it’s not like Mahomes has been blessed with elite defenses either.

And Herbert himself has gotten a lot of hype, but statistically hasn’t been truly elite. Sure, his ANY/A+* has been a quite good 108 and 109 his first two seasons. But Derek Carr has exceeded that mark 3 times in his 8 seasons, so it’s not like he’s been some spectacular, sure-fire Hall of Famer. That means he’s going to need a good team around him if the Chargers want to pass the Chiefs.

*ANY/A+ is a passing metric from Pro Football Reference that’s similar to passer rating, but statistically better reflects actual quality of play. The + means it’s adjusted so that 100 is league average.

That wasn’t the case in 2021, as the Chargers defense was 29th in the NFL in points allowed and failed to make the playoffs despite only needing a tie against the Raiders in the last game of the season. Their major additions are obviously aimed at improving that weakness, but will they really be that much of an improvement?

Khalil Mack is not a sure thing. He will be going to Canton someday and has played well recently, but at 31 years old coming off a season ending foot injury, there is no guarantee that he’ll come in and dominate. He will likely be an improvement over Uchenna Nwosu, but will it be a significant upgrade?

J.C. Jackson has the opposite problem. He was one of the top corners in the NFL last year in his 4th ad final year of his rookie deal in New England, but was mostly mediocre before that. It’s not unheard of for a player to have one great year in a contract year, get paid, then never be heard from again. You also have to wonder how much of his play was due to playing under Bill Belichick, who is the greatest defensive coach of all time. If he’s so great, why did the Patriots not try harder to keep this supposed young stud?

Overall, the Chargers had a lot of space to close if they want to keep up with the Chiefs, but two guys might not be enough. Herbert himself will need to take a big step if the Chargers truly want to contend.

Las Vegas Raiders

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Unlike the Chargers, the Raiders actually made the playoffs last year. And you could argue their additions were more impressive, as Adams is arguably the best at his position and many consider Chandler Jones to be better than Khalil Mack at this point. Jones, however, is even older than Mack so could face a similar decline, and of course Adams put up huge numbers with Aaron Rodgers, who is quite a bit better than Derek Carr.

But the biggest problem with the Raiders is that they weren’t actually all that good last year. Despite their 10-7 record, they had a negative point differential due to their combined 89-23 deficit in 2 games against the Chiefs and a 32-13 drubbing at the hand of the Bengals. On the flip side, their only multi-score wins were relatively narrow 11, 10, and 9 point victories over the Eagles, Broncos, and Steelers respectively. Not to mention, they were 4-0 in overtime games (which you’d expect to regress to the mean). If the NFL didn’t have overtime (which is actually a real possibility in the future) the Raiders would have had a losing 6-7-4 record.

Point differential is one of the best predictors of future results. In every sport, analytics have consistently shown that point differential is better at predicting future outcomes than actual record. Even with some nice additions, it’s still possible (if not likely) that the Raiders have a worse record in 2023 than they did in 2022.

Denver Broncos

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If I had to pick one team that’s most likely to knock off the Chiefs in the AFC West, I’d have to pick the Broncos. While I had them rated the lowest in the most recent power rankings, They have much more potential to be scary good with Russell Wilson.

The problem, as I pointed out in those rankings, is that the Seahawks with Wilson really weren’t any better on offense than the Broncos with Bridgewater. I’ve always believed Bridgewater is criminally underrated, and Wilson was injured for most of last year, so I’m not all that shocked by it. But this should be very concerning for Broncos fans. For this trade to work out, their passing offense needs to dramatically improve. Even if Wilson is an upgrade, they’re not going to go very far if the improvement is minimal.

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05/23/2022 5:34 pm

open thread or no open thread?

I got info and I don’t want to throw it here if there is a new thread in 5 minutes

Reply to  Steve_Chiefs
05/23/2022 5:36 pm

Open thread. it’s not on the front page, but listed as “archived.”

Some guy named Nasrani is there having a conversation with himself.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nasrani
Reply to  Nasrani
05/23/2022 5:36 pm


05/23/2022 5:08 pm

I’m much more worried about Denver’s adding Wilson, than I am about the other two adding their defenders and WR. And I swear I had that opinion before I read this post. I’m just surprised – shocked, even – to find even one person who agrees with me about that.

I had not really registered that the Raiders were 4-0 in OT. That’s insane. I wonder how many times that’s happened.

Reply to  Berserker
05/23/2022 5:26 pm

The question is – which Wilson are they getting? The one that almost beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, or the one that was injured for most of last year?

Reply to  Nasrani
05/23/2022 5:33 pm

Well, injury can change everything any time. I didn’t keep track, did Wilson’s injury(ies) seem random, or more like somebody who’s getting old?

Reply to  Berserker
05/23/2022 5:35 pm

I honestly didn’t keep track either, but did notice that it derailed Seattle’s season entirely.

05/23/2022 4:56 pm

an excellent post worth more discussion

I love the question marks

Chargers D
Raiders O

excellent points Tony to think about

Reply to  Steve_Chiefs
05/23/2022 5:14 pm

Chargers and Raiders – if you can hit, intercept, or otherwise disrupt those two QBs, they lose their cool and fold. Denver’s new QB is a much meaner competitor.

Not really worried about defensive additions to any of those teams. Well, at least not in head-up games against KC. I am worried it could help them add a couple wins against other teams that they wouldn’t have had, which will make the division race tougher. But in Chiefs games, Mahomes and Reid are the trump cards against any defense. Either Mahomes or Reid have a bad day (or half) all on their own, or no defense will stop them.

Reply to  Berserker
05/23/2022 7:07 pm

kinda like last season, esp the second half of the AFCCG … amirite? amirite?

zulu trader
05/23/2022 4:01 pm

Vegas has Chiefs heavy favorites to win afc west

05/23/2022 2:16 pm

The Raiders have to make it past the jail on the way to their training facilities, not to mention Davis’ own legal troubles in the front office, before they can seriously contend for anything.

Chargers’ medical staff have to prove they won’t puncture another lung before they can move on from their injury curses.

If Wilson can stay healthy, the donks might actually make some noise behind a decent line and talented WR room.

Reply to  Maw423
05/23/2022 2:30 pm

They all have steep hills to climb compared to the Chiefs. I never look at a rookie coach as someone who will immediately start winning, so I just don’t have faith in the broncos doing much to scare the Chiefs, even with Wilson at QB.

At least the chargers have the same coach/qb as last year and they have some talent. I think they’ll be our biggest threat.

Reply to  Maw423
05/23/2022 3:13 pm

Decent line? Hmmmm. Not really

05/23/2022 1:12 pm

an old Plymouth! sweetness …

ok, my not-so-hot-take on the AFC West

Broncos have a decent Defense and now they have a real, actual QB … unsure about the rest of the Offense, but Wilson has to make their O a little bit better … the offset to that (or, perhaps additional boost) is a new HC and GM and all that: time will tell if they’re actually a little better overall or a few games better (in which case they MIGHT even break their 13 or whatever game losing streak to KC) … this seems to be the team with less dysfunction than the Chargers or Raiders, so they could well make the playoffs

Chargers have Herbert and he has a ton of potential, they had a pretty decent draft and their Offense should be solid … Mack isn’t gonna help a Defense that can’t defend, but they’re overall a young team so they’ll shoot outta the gate fairly well, but look for them to fade in the end

Raiders are always a mystery, but as Marty always said: the Raiders are gonna Raider … they’ll be in contention and should hit .500 but they aren’t going anywhere, even if they make the post-season

all that said: I’d like to think KC added more than enough talent on both sides of the ball that the AFC West is a “lock” but it isn’t (because Any Given Sunday, etc) … nothing is guaranteed, but with Reid and Mahomes and Spags (and his shiny new DE and CB and S and LB) it just “feels” like the Chiefs have “reloaded” more than the “Loyal Opposition”

1) Chiefs
2) Broncos
3) Chargers/Raiders
4) Raiders/Chargers

Reply to  upamtn
05/23/2022 2:11 pm

The Broncos had a good defense with Vic Fangio. It would not be surprising if the D takes a step back with the new regime.

Reply to  ws76
05/23/2022 2:27 pm

Exactly. New coaches have to prove themselves before I can place them over a future hall-of-fame coach, Andy Reid.

zulu trader
Reply to  MasterChief
05/23/2022 3:53 pm

and Patrick Mahomes

Reply to  upamtn
05/23/2022 4:59 pm


nice take Up’s

Reply to  Steve_Chiefs
05/23/2022 7:08 pm

thank ya, Steve

05/23/2022 12:36 pm

I’m not afraid of Carr and I don’t think Denver will be all that much better with Wilson. LA worries me the most, but we are still better. These teams will all be facing future hall of famers Reid and Mahomes. I just don’t see our AFC West dominance fizzling away just yet.

My way too early guess:

  1. Chiefs
  2. Chargers
  3. Raiders
  4. Donkos
zulu trader
Reply to  MasterChief
05/23/2022 3:53 pm

that’s the order I see

05/23/2022 12:35 pm

zulu trader
Reply to  ChiefDog
05/23/2022 3:54 pm

August, a month to look forward to

05/23/2022 12:12 pm

Good analysis, i look forward to the games

zulu trader
Reply to  vvet818
05/23/2022 1:05 pm

Good write up Tony

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