On January 31st, the Denver Broncos traded for Sean Payton to fill their head coaching vacancy. Denver is sending a first-round pick in 2023 and an early pick in 2024, as was reported first by Ian Rapoport with NFL Network.
Payton is now coming out of a short retirement and will try and resurrect a Broncos franchise that has sputtered in recent years. The deal has been agreed to by both parties, per Rapoport.
Broncos’ 2022 Season
Denver had a disappointing season in 2022. Expectations were high after making a massive trade for Russell Wilson. The Broncos, who seemed to be just a quarterback away from contention, appeared to be on the cusp of doing just that.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. The Broncos started off strong at 2-1, then sputtered into a downward spiral shortly after. Disappointing performances from Wilson and new head coach Nathaniel Hackett would lead the Broncos to a 5-12 record.
The Short-Lived Nathaniel Hackett Era
The hire of Nathaniel Hackett brought excitement to Colorado’s capital, but it turned out to be short-lived. Hackett was a hot commodity last off-season after leading a successful offense in Green Bay and helping Aaron Rodgers earn back-to-back MVP awards.
Hackett had a rough performance in Week One, as poor clock management led to a loss to start the season. Nathaniel and his team weren’t able to shake those struggles as the season progressed. Hackett’s demise came the day after Christmas, after a brutal loss to the Rams left Denver at 4-11.
Then, Jerry Rosburg took over as interim head coach and was able to win one of Denver’s last two games. Unfortunately, his coaching tenure seemed to be more of a formality. On January 25th, as the search for a new head coach intensified, Rosburg was notified he won’t be a member of the staff moving forward.
With that coaching search gaining steam, a few candidates had their names thrown into the ring. Sean Payton seemed an obvious candidate early. Payton has had his name float around ever since his retirement and would have made sense with the Broncos’ timeline.
There were many other candidates as well. Dan Quinn and Jim Harbaugh both have résumés that overflow with experience, and both would have made sense for the team as well.
DeMeco Ryans, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, was a strong candidate as well but has recently agreed to terms with the Houston Texans per Ian Rapoport. It did not come without a fight however, as the Broncos reportedly spent this morning trying to hire Ryans, once again.
In the end, the Broncos chose Sean Payton. With a very talented roster, the right coach just might be all they need to contend. For now, that opportunity belongs to Payton.
Josh McDaniels has become one of the most successful coordinators in all of football during his time in the league. McDaniels has overseen a boatload of success alongside Bill Belichick in New England. That success eventually led him to his first head coaching gig in Denver. Josh won the Broncos’ job in 2009, and things looked very promising. However, in this case, the good things didn’t last long.
Now, with McDaniels’ tenure in Sin City off to a rocky start, some are questioning if McDaniels is cut out to be a head coach. Some may wonder, is history repeating?
Josh McDaniels’ Broncos Tenure
The hope that followed Josh McDaniels to Denver led to questions after some interesting moves early on in his reign. First, McDaniels decided to move on from Jay Cutler, sending him to the Chicago Bears. This led to a saga as the search for a quarterback began. McDaniels ended up bringing in Kyle Orton to replace Cutler.
Yet, there seemed to be a method to Josh’s madness at first. The Broncos would find themselves with a 6-0 record — a very impressive start for the rookie head coach.
Unfortunately, shortly after that things began to unravel. Denver lost eight of their last 10 games, and would finish the season with a 8-8 record. After the season ended, McDaniels traded star receiver Brandon Marshall to Miami.
More questionable moves and poor performances would eventually lead to McDaniels’ downfall. Drafting Tim Tebow and trading Peyton Hillis proved to be awful decisions. His 3-9 record during his second season didn’t help much, either. McDaniels was eventually fired before his second season concluded.
Josh McDaniels’ Raiders Tenure
Josh McDaniel’s second job as a head coach would have to wait a while. He ran himself into a fiasco in Indianapolis, but that fizzled out and he returned to New England. After more success with Belichick and the Patriots, McDaniels was eventually hired by the Las Vegas Raiders before the 2022 season.
His first offseason cycle in Sin City was promising. Unlike his first job, McDaniels would inherit a talented, playoff-caliber team in Las Vegas. The Raiders owned the fifth seed in 2021, and nearly knocked off the eventual AFC Champions in the first round.
Things got a lot more exciting when the Raiders signed Chandler Jones shortly before trading for Davante Adams. Adding these two to a playoff roster seemed to be a recipe for success. Unfortunately, things once again didn’t go according to plan for McDaniels.
The first season under McDaniels would turn out to be a disaster. Las Vegas won just six games, and lost four games in which they had a 17-point lead.
As the season wound to a close, McDaniels would make the decision to bench Derek Carr and attempt to trade him after the season. While this decision may help the franchise in the long run, it further ruffled feathers between McDaniels and the fan base.
Another Disaster? Or is it Too Early to Tell?
Indeed, there are some similarities between both of Josh Mcdaniels’ head coaching tenures up to this point. The main reason for that has been the commonality of losing, with rare wins sprinkled in between. At this point, both franchises have soured on McDaniels for various reasons.
One potentially troubling similarity is Josh’s removal of a starting quarterback. He was quick to discard Cutler, but gave Carr 15 games before making the decision to move on from him.
In Denver, McDaniels got rid of several skill players in hopes of bringing in his own. Cutler, Hillis, and Marshall were all shown the door before McDaniels’ second season in charge. In Las Vegas, it hasn’t been quite the same. Carr will be gone, but he’s been involved in trade rumors for quite some time now. McDaniels’ moves in Denver were much more abrupt.
Ultimately, it seems too early to tell if history will repeat itself in Las Vegas. McDaniels currently owns a 17-28 record as a head coach, so he hasn’t been impressive in either city. Raiders fans will hope 2023 brings change, but up until now, McDaniels hasn’t done anything to prove himself or instill confidence to the fan base.
Calling the Denver Broncos’ 2022 season “disappointing” would be a gross understatement. A team that was projected to be a playoff contender before the season began, the Broncos have imploded in a variety of ways.
Their season has been confusing to say the least. The Russell Wilson trade ignited fans’ preseason hopes, and for good reason. With a new head coach and a star quarterback to pair with one of the best defenses in the league, expectations were understandably through the roof. That, unfortunately, hasn’t panned-out. The latest episode of this saga is the firing of head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who wasn’t able to last through his first season.
So, what are the next steps for the Denver Broncos?
Denver Broncos’ Salary Cap
The biggest bust of Denver’s season has undoubtedly been Russell Wilson. Wilson was projected to be Denver’s savior on offense, yet he’s been quite the opposite. To make matters worse, Wilson’s current dead-cap hit for the 2023 season is an astounding $107 million.
With that in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to get rid of Wilson if they’re still on the hook for that much. Wilson will almost certainly be back next year, and his price tag will only be $22 million. With Wilson, Denver will only have about 15.4 million in cap space to work with.
Denver has some money coming off the books this offseason, but the largest contract they could lose in free agency is $2.5 million. Kareem Jackson will become a free agent, as will several other starters around the roster. If Denver can keep some of their players around (that deserve it), they shouldn’t have too much trouble, even while being hindered by Wilson’s contract.
Finally, one thing to look out for this offseason will be restructured contracts. Since the aforementioned contract will be significantly hindering, players like Justin Simmons and Garett Bolles could restructure their current deals.
2023 NFL Draft
Denver gave up a lot of NFL draft capital in order to land Wilson. One of those picks was their 2023 first rounder, which went to Seattle. That draft pick would have given Denver the #3 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft.
Luckily, they were able to get a first-rounder, albeit from another team. Denver currently owns the 49ers’ first-rounder, through the Dolphins, via the Bradley Chubb trade.
Denver also owns two third-rounders, a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh-round draft picks. While the loss of picks to Seattle hurts, it wouldn’t be fair to say Denver doesn’t have an at least decent supply for the 2023 NFL draft.
Hire a Head Coach Who Can Work With Wilson
The next head coach of this franchise is an absolutely massive decision. With Wilson’s contract, Denver will likely be forced to carry him for at least a couple more years. With that in mind, it’s paramount that the new head coach works well with Wilson.
Sean Payton has been dominating the headlines in recent weeks, and with the Broncos becoming the first big team to part with their head coach, expect rumors to swirl. Denver, while currently facing their own issues, are still a solid landing spot for a head coach. If they can find one to help bring the best out of Wilson, then this experiment could still work out. What’s one bad year anyway?
The 2022 NFL Season is off to an interesting start, and the quarterback position has some of the most intriguing trends thus far.
We are about a month into the NFL season: the perfect time for storylines to develop, narratives to run rampant, and for trends to begin to take shape. We have certainly seen our fair share of each since the beginning of the season. However, none quite contend with the oddities in 2022 at the most important position in sports: the quarterback.
Quarterback play is, far and away, one of the most difficult levels of success to quantify. Some use advanced stats, carefully calculated metrics which mean nothing without context, while others use “the eye test”, rummaging their way through hours of film in hopes of validating their takes. Both are certainly valuable, but neither can explain the trends we have seen this year.
To put it bluntly, 2022 has been one of the weirdest, and statistically worst, years of quarterback play we have seen in quite some time. The mainstays of years’ past have been inconsistent and, in some cases, outright disappointing, thinning out the upper echelon of signal callers.
Unless, that is, you look at the top of any of the league’s advanced stat categories, in which you will find many new faces. However, these aren’t the anomalies of years’ past, such as Mahomes in 2018 or Herbert in 2020. No athletic freak getting his first true chance with a high powered offense. Rather, a collection of veterans and castaways whose offenses have seen astronomical jumps through the first month.
The most astounding example thus far? None other than Geno Smith.
No Russ, No Problem
When Seattle shipped off Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos for a king’s ransom, it was widely anticipated that the Seahawks would not only be inheriting a downgrade in quarterback play, but a substantial one at that. However, Geno Smith has been, by almost all accounts, phenomenal for Seattle through the first five games.
Smith is currently first in passer rating, completion rate over expected, completion rate, and a higher average intended air yards, per NextGenStats, than Patrick Mahomes (8.8 to 7.7).
Smith had largely been written off by the league after his tenure with the New York Jets. He was viewed as a career backup and, despite his nine year career, only has two more starts than Justin Herbert. However, being called to start the season for only the third time in his career, he has outplayed his predecessor in future Hall-of-Famer Russell Wilson.
A Healthy Balance
However, this isn’t the statistical anomaly we typically see from advanced stats. Smith’s success has transferred over to the tape as well. His ability to make tight-window throws along with making big plays under pressure, in particular, have been the catalysts to his success.
What has distinguished him from the ‘efficiency darlings’ of the past has been the carry over of efficiency to aggressive throws. Typically, many stats favor the conservative and those quick to take the check down. Geno Smith has once again been the outlier, combining getting the ball out quickly with a knack for hitting his occasional shots downfield.
Smith has found ways through the first month to maximize his talent in ways that Wilson had struggled with. Without their former Super Bowl champion, many expected Seattle to be in the running for the number one pick. However, they’re still in the thick of a difficult NFC West with Geno at the helm. If these quarterback trends continue throughout 2022 for Smith, it’s feasible to see Seattle sneaking into a Wild Card spot.
Rocky Mountain Disaster
It is the other side of the trade involving Seattle and Denver that, for multiple reasons, has been a struggle thus far. Wilson’s had a rough go of it to start his career in Denver. While it isn’t all on him, he certainly bears some of the blame.
Wilson has long garnered the reputation as a playmaker. He has been regarded as somebody who can not only deliver in the pocket, but also when the pocket becomes murky. This year, Wilson has tried many of the same plays, putting a supreme level of trust in his weaponry. However, he’s been slower to reads, unwilling to let a play die, and all around worse as a passer.
As someone who has disregarded throwing over the middle of the field, Wilson made his money on his “moon ball”- the deep throws down the sideline to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf were the center of his game. However, when defenses are taking away the deep game, Wilson has been just as aggressive, albeit in risky situations.
Per NextGenStats, Wilson ranks top ten in both average intended air yards and aggressiveness percentage. However, this has resulted in a completion percentage 6.3 percentage points below expectation, among the likes of Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Late Night Woes
All of this was on full display on primetime against the Indianapolis Colts. More specifically, on the throw shown below. Wilson feels pressure early, in large part due to the Broncos line, which hasn’t helped him much. However, the game situation would clearly dictate throwing the ball away.
It’s third down in the fourth quarter of a low scoring game. Living to play another down would likely mean the end of the game. Denver would be up by six, and Indianapolis had instilled no confidence in scoring a touchdown.
Despite this, Wilson decides to live and die by the big play, forcing the ball down the field and vastly overthrowing his target. Thus, Indianapolis is able to stay within a field goal and get the game to overtime.
It was in this overtime period, specifically the last play of the game, where Wilson and Hackett showed their pitfalls once again.
Denver has the ball on the five yard line on fourth and one. It’s do-or-die. If they fail to convert, Indianapolis wins the game. All Denver needs is a yard to keep the drive alive. Considering Denver’s rushing success on this drive, running the ball would likely be the solution. But Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson had other plans.
Hackett comes out in a light gun look, making it clear that he wants the end zone, and draws up a good play for Wilson. A simple pick to his right opens up KJ Hamler coming over the middle for what should be an easy touchdown.
However, Wilson, with all day to throw it, continues to stare down Courtland Sutton to the left. Keep in mind that Sutton is guarded by Stephon Gilmore, who already has a pick in this game.
Wilson continues to stare, forces the ball to his first read, and never sees Hamler. Gilmore is able to knock the ball down and win the game, on what looked like a rookie mistake from Wilson. It’s not often that we see a ten-year veteran stare down his first read this badly, much less force it into coverage.
The Broncos were widely expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year with Wilson and Hackett. However, both clearly have issues that must be ironed out, and are suffering because of them early on.
Super Bowl Hangover?
The Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson aren’t alone in their struggles, as the Super Bowl runners up have had their fair share as well. In the Cincinnati Bengals’ case, it’s also due to a combination of factors.
Last year, the Bengals’ deep attack was one of the best the league has ever seen. Jamar Chase and Tee Higgins excelled in one-on-one situations down the sideline, and Joe Burrow was hitting them at an all-time clip. It was the perfect storm of high-level deep accuracy and elite deep threats. Through this, they were able to annihilate defenses, and specifically single-high shells.
That being the primary feature of their offense was enough to get them a spot in the Super Bowl. In their championship bout, Cincinnati largely competed with the Los Angeles Rams. However, it was then that we began to see a counter form against their high-powered offense.
Simply put, teams began to move into more two-high defenses, preventing the deep passes the Bengals thrived upon. Along with this, Cincy faced more zone defenses, leading to fewer one-on-one situations for Chase and Higgins.
Not Enough Help
The typical counter to this would be to run the ball, and the numbers are simple. Coming out in two-high takes a player out of the box, and often gives a numbers advantage to the offense. The Bengals, on the other hand, haven’t been efficient enough in the run game to force teams back down. This is, in large part, due to their offensive line play.
It was well documented that Cincinnati’s fatal flaw last season was their offensive line. Joe Burrow was sacked more than any other quarterback, and the run blocking wasn’t much better.
Thus, the Bengals spent significant capital this offseason on revamping the line. Signing La’el Collins, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa, they hoped the veteran presence up front would solidify a contender. However, it’s clear that they haven’t gelled yet as a unit, and their individual play hasn’t been up to par either.
Despite these struggles, Cincinnati has largely been in close games, which is where more struggles — specifically Zac Taylor’s and Joe Burrow’s — have begun to show. The former’s play calling has been predictable and inefficient. Resorting to trick plays in the red zone and poorly managing short yardage situations have stood out among Taylor’s woes.
Law of Averages
Some of the blame, as stated before, does fall on Burrow’s shoulders. Unlike last year, the expectation wasn’t to hit on a historic percentage of difficult passes. However, this year has certainly been a fall from grace.
Along with the successful one-on-one shots being few and far between, Burrow has tried to overcompensate elsewhere. This was on full display in Week 1, where he threw four interceptions. What stood out on these plays was how much Burrow forced the ball into tight windows. Rather than taking what was in front of him, he tried too hard to be a playmaker and wrote checks that his arm — along with a majority of NFL arms, for that matter — couldn’t cash.
This over-aggressiveness, along with the lack of help from his offensive line and coaching staff, has led to struggles for Burrow. While potentially predictable, it’s certainly uncharacteristic for what we’ve seen to this point in his career. Burrow has looked better recently, in particular against a depleted Dolphins secondary.
He will almost definitely improve down the stretch, but his quarterback play has been an interesting trend thus far in 2022, to say the least.
Other Interesting Trends in 2022 Quarterback Play
While Smith, Wilson, and Burrow have been the most interesting three, they aren’t the only quarterbacks to play outside of their expectations so far in 2022. Matthew Stafford and the Rams have struggled on offense, largely due to their offensive line play. Going into Week 5, they ranked 19th in pass-block win rate. When coupled with Stafford’s elbow injury concerns and the loss of Odell Bekcham Jr., regression has been rough.
On the flip side of the 2022 quarterback trends, we have also seen the development of several young quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts rank third and ninth in passer rating, up drastically from last season. Each with new and improved weapons and circumstances, they have taken advantage of a great opportunity. Both were in their “prove-it year”, and they have shown out to this point.
No article about the quarterback trends of 2022 would be complete without mention of Cooper Rush in Dallas. Now 5-0 in his career as a starter, Rush has kept the Cowboys afloat in relief of Dak Prescott.
However, it’s clear their offense misses their 40 million dollar quarterback and will start him when he returns. That isn’t to discount Rush, though, who has shown he belongs and made the most of his opportunity.
The year is clearly still very early for quarterbacks. We may very well see the high risers fall back to Earth, or positive regression for the struggling veterans. However, it certainly has been a different year to say the least.
The NFL always has something new to offer, and their most important position has been no different. It will be exciting to see how these quarterback trends progress and change as the 2022 season moves on.
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
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.