The AFC West made some major changes this off-season making it the toughest division in football. Every team believes they are super bowl contenders, and rightfully so. This division has superstar quarterbacks, dynamic play-makers, elite pass rushers, and just about anything else you can think of. So who will come out on top? Will every AFC West team make the playoffs? Let’s take a look at what each team lost and gained, and how their season will unfold in this AFC West preview.
AFC West Preview
4. Denver Broncos
Key loses – WR DaesSean Hamilton, QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant, DE Shelby Harris, P Sam Martin
Key additions – HC Nathaniel Hackett, QB Russell Wilson, NT DJ Jones, OLB Randy Gregory, CB K’Waun Williams, OLB Nik Bonitto, P Corliss Waitman, TE Greg Dulcich
Re-signed – LB Jonas Griffith (1-year), OLB Malik Reed (1-year), RT Calvin Anderson (1-year), ILB Josey Jewell (2-years), DE DeShawn Williams (1-year), RB Melvin Gordon (1-year), SS Kareem Jackson (1-year)
Extensions – QB Russell Wilson (5-year, $245 million)
The 2021-22 season for the Denver Broncos saw the departure of longtime pass rusher Von Miller. While Miller went to LA and won another ring, the Broncos struggled. They went 7-10 after starting the year 3-0.
It was the last year quarterback Drew Lock had to impress Broncos fans and the organization, as they made a major trade for Russell Wilson. Adding Wilson wasn’t enough, as they brought in outside linebacker Randy Gregory to replace Miller as primary pass rusher. However, in this division, Denver could still miss the playoffs.
The offense struggled last year, finishing 19th in total offense. That should change drastically this year with Wilson under center. Going from Lock to Wilson is the biggest QB upgrade by any team this off-season.
First year head coach Nathaniel Hackett will have some fun working with this offense. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon are back to be the double-headed monster in the backfield. They rank in the middle of the league with offensive line, but if center Lloyd Cushenberry III can improve again, they can be a borderline top-10.
Wideout Jerry Juedy will look to make a jump with Wilson running the offense. We will have to wait and see if he can stay healthy. Overall, this offense should be ranked in the top 10 with Wilson, at worst top 15.
The defense ranked eighth last year in total defense, and I believe it got better. With pass rushers Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb, they should have no issue getting to the quarterback. Safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons lead the secondary with sophomore CB Pat Surtain III looking to make a leap in 2022.
The linebacker corps is the concerning part of this defense. Josey Jewell showed signs of being a run-stuffer, but coming back from an injury is never easy. Jonas Griffith and Alex Singleton have not proven to be reliable linebackers. This makes it interesting to see if Hackett can maximize the corps talents. This defense should finish around the top 10 again.
I have the Broncos going 10-7, tied for last in the division with the Raiders. They will go 3-3 in the division, splitting with each team. If this team was in any other division, they would probably be the favorite, but with the stacked AFC West, finishing at the top will be a tough mission.
3. Las Vegas Raiders
Key loses – 2022 first and second round picks, DE Yannick Ngakoue, WR Bryan Edwards, OG Richie Incognito, WR Zay Jones, CB Casey Hayward, QB Marcus Mariota, CB Trayvon Mullen Jr.
Key additions – HC Josh McDaniels, WR Davante Adams, CB Rock Ya-Sin, OLB Chandler Jones, DT Bilal Nichols, LB Jayon Brown, RB Zamir White, OG Dylan Parham
Re-signed – DT Johnathan Hankins (1-year)
Extensions – QB Derek Carr (3-years, $121 million), DE Maxx Crosby (4-years, $98 million), WR Hunter Renfrow (2-years, $31.7 million), Devante Adams (5-years, $141 million)
Raiders fans had an interesting year last year. Even with Henry Ruggs and Jon Gruden leaving the team for off-the-field issues, they still made the playoffs. Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia was able to get the team to rally and win their last four games to finish 10-7.
As the fifth seed, they lost in the first round to the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-19. With a new head coach and plenty of new talent, the Raiders are looking to make a bigger splash and finish first in the AFC West.
Derek Carr loved this offseason. He signed an extension, and they brought in superstar wideout and former college teammate Davante Adams. Adams may be the best receiver in the league, and he is now next to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller.
The NFL’s 11th ranked offense last season got even better, so I would expect Derek Carr to have his best season yet. The only question on offense is the run game. They finished 28th in rushing last season, and the new regime doesn’t seem confident in Josh Jacobs. Combine that with one of the worst offensive lines in the league, it’ll make Raiders fans yell at their TV anytime they see a hand-off.
The defense of the Raiders is an interesting one. They finished 14th in total defense last season, but didn’t excel against either the pass or run. Adding Chandler Jones across from Maxx Crosby makes for a ferocious pass rush.
A major concern is the linebacker corps. Bringing in Jayon Brown to work next to Denzel Perryman is an upgrade, but I would still put this group of linebackers in the bottom 10 of the league.
The linebackers are bad, but the secondary might be even worse. Losing Hayward and Mullen leaves the Raiders with Ya-Sin and Nate Hobbs as their best corners. Their safety duo is above average, but with weak corners, they could get exposed a lot. This should be a middle of the road defense, with the chance of being one of the worst in the league.
I believe the Raiders will go 10-7, 3-3 in the AFC West. This team has the offense to contend, but the defense will hold them back. They are a dark-horse team to make a run, but I do believe they will make the playoffs.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
Key loses – 2022 second round pick, OG Oday Aboushi, OT Bryan Bulaga, TE Jared Cook, CB Chris Harris, RB Justin Jackson, DT Linval Joseph, OLB Uchenna Nwosu
Key additions – OLB Khalil Mack, CB J.C. Jackson, DL Sebastian Joseph-Day, DL Austin Johnson, TE Gerald Everett, LB Kyle Van Noy, CB Bryce Callahan, P J.K. Scott, OG Zion Johnson, S J.T. Woods, RB Isaiah Spiller, LB Troy Reeder
Re-signed – WR Mike Williams (3-years), K Dustin Hopkins (4-years)
Extended – SS Derwin James (4-years, $76.5 million)
The 2021-22 season did not go as anticipated for the Chargers, as they finished 9-8, good for third in the AFC West. A crushing loss in OT against the Raiders in Week 18 ended their season while simultaneously sending Las Vegas to Cincy for the playoffs.
Justin Herbert is back though, and the expectations for this Chargers team are through the roof. Adding studs on the defensive side is giving them hope that maybe this is their year. However, in a tough AFC West, it will be easier said than done.
The offense finished fourth in total yards last year, and it is expected to be just as good. Wide receiver Mike Williams is back to help out Herbert, but I don’t see him as the x-factor on this offense. The major concern for the Chargers last season on offense was the run game. They were 21st in the league even with superstar Austin Ekeler.
While Ekeler is dual-threat back in a pass heavy offense, they may need more production on the ground. They have a borderline top 10 offensive line, and head coach Brandon Staley will need to scheme up how to utilize the ground game better. It should be another big year for Herbert and company as they look to be elite again.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers struggled last year. The pass rush will be elite with Mack and Joey Bosa, but that is not the worry. They finished 30th against the run last year and they are hoping Sebastian Joseph-Day can help plug up the middle.
The secondary has some elite play-makers in Derwin James and JC Jackson. Funny enough, Jackson might not be the biggest piece they added in the secondary. Bryce Callahan is the new slot corner and is elite in that spot. With Asante Samuel Jr. now being a sophomore, this secondary is looking like it could be top 5.
The linebacker group is one of the worst in the league. Kenneth Murray can’t cover, and Drue Tranquill hasn’t shown to be reliable. That will hurt them a little bit, but I still expect them to finish around the top 10.
The Chargers are looking to make the playoffs for the first time with Herbert, and I have them doing that. I have them at 11-6 overall, 3-3 against the AFC West. The toughest division in the NFL could hold them out of the playoffs, but I believe they have too much talent to not get there.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Key losses – WR Tyreek Hill, SS Tyrann Mathieu, DE Melvin Ingram, CB Charvarius Ward, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Mike Hughes, WR Demarcus Robinson, DT Jarran Reed
Key Additions – WR Juju Smith-Schuster, WR Sky Moore, SS/FS Justin Reid, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, RB Ronald Jones, CB Trent McDuffie, DE George Karlaftis, DE Carlos Dunlap, CB Lonnie Johnson
Re-signed – LT Orlando Brown (franchise tag)
The Chiefs lost in the AFC Championship game last season after beating the Buffalo Bills in one of the best playoff games ever. They went 12-5, finishing first in the AFC West and second in the conference. There’s not much that needs to be said about how good they are and can be, but it will be interesting to see their offense without Tyreek Hill.
They traded Hill to the Dolphins this off-season and replaced him with Juju Smith-Schuster. They still have Patrick Mahomes so it shouldn’t matter too much, and Chiefs fans should be ready for another fantastic season.
We all know what Patrick Mahomes is capable of, and he showed it again last year. He led the Chiefs to the third-ranked offense in the league. Although, as mentioned, they lost Tyreek Hill. The speedster was replaced in the draft by Skyy Moore and Smith-Schuster. While Hill is seen as a generational player, the Chiefs should be just fine.
The rushing attack looks to be a little bit better with Ronald Jones in the mix with Clyde Edwards-Helaire this season. After finishing 16th in rushing, if the run game can improve, we could see Kansas City finish atop the offensive leaders. A great offensive line will help that, and I’m eager to see the Hill-less KC offense.
The defense last year for the Chiefs was embarrassing. Finishing 27th in total defense and having one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Carlos Dunlap and rookie George Karlaftis should see some snaps rotating in to give guys a break. After finishing towards the bottom of the league in sacks, they will need those guys to step up.
While the young linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay struggled early last season, they ended with some promising performances. I expect this group to take another step and become one of the better corps in the league.
The secondary is interesting, as Trent McDuffie comes in now. Adding Reid to take Mathieu’s spot is a great move, but I’m not sold on the secondary as a whole. There are a lot of questions about this defense, but I expect them to finish better than last year as a mid-tier defense.
The AFC West champs are looking to win it again, and I believe they will. I have them finishing 12-5 again, with a record of 3-3 against the AFC West. This is the closest this division has been since Mahomes has taken over, but they’ll be perfectly fine — barring an injury.