Throughout this series we’ve been doing this week, we always try to start every preview with a logical outcome. What is expected from the division? How are experts and analysts predicting this division to play out come season’s end? Who’s most likely to exceed expectations, and who’s most likely to fail to reach their expectations? With the AFC West though, any and every question about the end-of-year standings can more or less be answered with an inconclusive shrug, and somehow, that’s a viable response.
Here’s everything that seems to be agreed upon thus far: the Chargers will not finish last, the Broncos will finish better than their 2021 record of 7-10....that’s pretty much it. It seems easy to assume that the Chiefs will be good once again, but some people seem adamant that they’ll finish in fourth place. After all, they are the only team in the division that didn’t improve this offseason. They lost WR Tyreek Hill, S Tyrann Mathieu, and CB Charvarius Ward. Every other team gained elite players at key positions, but not the Chiefs. Still, projecting them to finish last seems like a fool’s errand. All we can predict from the AFC West is unpredictability. That said, the agreed-upon standings seem to be 1. Chargers, 2. Chiefs, 3. Broncos, 4. Raiders.
That’s an inoffensive prediction that wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers, unlike our other possible outcome.
Surprise Alternate Outcome
Brandon Staley’s all-or-nothing mentality falls flat on its face as the Chargers’ head coach proves to be their downfall. Not even J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack can fill the holes the Chargers defense displayed last season. They lose every close game they’re involved in and fail to push the ball forward on any of their many fourth-down tries. Justin Herbert’s connection to Mike Williams proves to be a one-year wonder and Ekeler’s touchdown total regresses far past what anybody expected, dropping from 20 in 2021 to single digits in 2022.
The Chiefs’ secondary can’t survive without Ward and Mathieu. Every game ends up in a shootout, but without Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are unable to score at will and cannot keep up in those close games. Where 13 seconds was plenty of time to put together a scoring drive in years past, 1:30 seems to tick away faster than ever before in 2022. Travis Kelce and JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t provide the explosiveness that made K.C.’s offense so devastating, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling proves ineffective as the team’s deep threat, just as he was ineffective as Rodgers’ deep threat for many years in Green Bay. Perhaps young guns Nick Bolton and Skyy Moore could help ease the load on the aging core, but that’s asking a little too much as the Chiefs fall under .500 for the first time in a decade.
Meanwhile, the Raiders realize that they need turmoil in their locker room in order to succeed. No racism from the coach? No cornerback waving guns around? No wide receiver speeding down highways? All of a sudden the Raiders can’t score. They can’t defend. They can’t do anything. Chandler Jones has been dropping in production for multiple seasons now. While he alongside Maxx Crosby should be a formidable duo, Jones proves ineffective and doesn’t take any offensive line attention away from the 2021 second-team All-Pro Crosby. Despite arguably the best set of weapons in the NFL, the Raiders’ offensive line fails to protect QB Derek Carr. Carr consistently gets pounded in the pocket and never has time to progress through his reads. Davante Adams finishes the season with his fewest receiving yards since 2017, as Carr never has enough time to wait for his routes to develop. The Raiders are the third AFC West team to finish under .500.
The Broncos, on the other hand, ride the corny leadership of Russell Wilson to new heights never before seen. Sutton and Jeudy develop into the new Metcalf and Lockett as Wilson re-emerges as an MVP candidate after a few years of declining production. His disdain for Pete Carroll shines through his play as he and Broncos Country ride off into the sunset atop a mountain of underperforming divisional opponents. Javonte Williams takes 70 percent of the carries away from Melvin Gordon. The absence of Von Miller doesn’t affect the pass rush as Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb prove more than capable of pressuring opposing quarterbacks. That pressure leads to lots of errant throws ripe for interceptions for Patrick Surtain II and Justin Simmons. After years of quarterback turmoil, the Broncos have found their man. Wilson started his career with nine straight winning seasons, and he finds his way back over .500 in 2022, reminding the league that he’s far from washed.