The Deadspin 2020 NFL Previews, AFC West: The Home of the Champs and a New Football Town in Vegas

The Deadspin 2020 NFL Previews, AFC West: The Home of the Champs and a New Football Town in Vegas

Illustration for article titled The Deadspin 2020 NFL Previews, AFC West: The Home of the Champs and a New Football Town in Vegas
Graphic: Eric Barrow

For many football fans, the AFC West standings are already a foregone conclusion.

The reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs highlight the division and will likely be a dominant force again on their way to capturing another divisional title.

However, the Broncos and Raiders show the potential to disrupt the status quo. And the Chargers will also present some very interesting storylines throughout the 2020 season.

Don’t overlook this division simply because of the Chiefs. As many football fans know, a whole lot can change in the NFL in one year.

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Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs

Pat Mahomes with the Lombardi Trophy.
Pat Mahomes with the Lombardi Trophy.
Image: Getty

COVID Response: Rookie wide receiver Aleva Hifo tested positive for the virus in late July. The team had three players opt out of the 2020 season, rookie offensive lineman Lucas Niang, star running back Damien Williams and Offensive Lineman Laurent Duvernay Tardif. Tardif is also a medical doctor and will be using his time to help fight the virus on the frontlines in his home country of Canada.

Outside The Lines: Super Bowl MVP and $500 Million Dollar Man Patrick Mahomes has been vocal in the fight for racial and social justice all summer. He was one of the main catalysts who made NFL commissioner Roger Goodell say the NFL was wrong for not listening to its players sooner about racial injustice. Star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu has also been a strong advocate for equality and promoting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Oh, he’s here now?: The addition of rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will likely make their offense even more explosive. The LSU back was one of the most versatile offensive talents in the draft and will be key in Andy Reid’s offense.

Where’d he go? Running Back LeSean (Shady) McCoy is now with the Buccaneers and standout cornerback Kendall Fuller will play this season with the Washington Football Team. Also, Linebacker Reggie Ragland is now in Detroit.

Fans in the stands: The Chiefs plan to have their stadium filled to 22 percent capacity (16,000 fans) at home games.

What to expect: Expect the Chiefs to be right back in Super Bowl contention again. As long as they have No. 15 standing upright, they’ll be one of the best teams, not only in the AFC, but the entire league ... again.

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Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos

Melvin Gordon and Von Miller.
Melvin Gordon and Von Miller.
Photo: Getty

COVID Response: Star pass rusher Von Miller and cornerback Kareem Jackson each tested positive for the coronavirus before training camp started. The team’s response plan includes a sanitizing station that players walk through that mists them. Tight end/fullback Andrew Beck was the only player on the COVID-19/reserve list during camp. The special list includes players who tested positive and players who were exposed to someone who tested positive. Defensive lineman Kyle Peko and right tackle Ja’Wuan James have decided to opt out of the season due to COVID-19.

Outside The Lines: The Broncos participated in a protest this June to show support for the nationwide movement for racial justice. A significant number of players as well as multiple coaches joined the protest in downtown Denver. Some players even flew back to Denver from other locations to take part in the protest. Players on the team have also been extremely vocal on social media in advocating for the equal treatment of Black people in America.

Oh, he’s here now?: The Broncos drafted Alabama Receiver Jerry Jeudy in the first round to give young quarterback Drew Lock another explosive target. They also have acquired former Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, who will help give their offense some more versatility.

Where’d he go? Ex-Super Bowl Champ Joe Flacco is now a Jet after his time in Denver ended with a neck injury and him losing his starting spot to Lock. Also, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is now a Los Angeles Charger.

Fans in the stands: Denver will not have any fans for its home opener. Attendance will be capped at 5,700 for their second home game of the season and could be subject to change as the season progresses.

What to expect: Expect a young and scrappy Denver team to make some progress this season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. However, if Miller is lost for the season after injuring a tendon in his right ankle, it could have a significant impact on their playoff chances. It would mark the second year in a row that the Broncos lost one of their best pass rushers in the month of September — in 2019 they lost Bradley Chubb to an ACL tear against the Jaguars.

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Las Vegas Raiders

Las Vegas Raiders

Jon Gruden and Derek Carr
Jon Gruden and Derek Carr
Image: Getty

COVID Response: DE Maxx Crosby and RB Rod Smith were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list in August. Head Coach Jon Gruden tricked the team into believing he was hospitalized with the virus. In addition, three Raiders players decided to opt-out of the 2020 season: Defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga defensive back D.J. Killings, and linebacker Ukeme Eligwe all decided against returning for the season.

Outside The Lines: In June, tight end Jason Witten met with Las Vegas police officers and members of the community to talk about how to bridge the gap between police and communities of color. Raiders owner Mark Davis has changed his mind about players protesting and now supports the players using their voice. Other Raiders players took to social media to bring awareness to the fight for racial justice.

Oh, he’s here now? The Raiders drafted the speedy Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama to add an explosive weapon to their offense. They’ve also added WR Nelson Agholor to try to strengthen their passing game. LB Cory Littleton came over from the Rams to help stabilize the defense.

Where’d he go? Safety Karl Joseph is now with the Browns. Cornerback Daryl Worley is now on the Cowboys roster and Tahir Whitehead is continuing his career in Carolina.

Fans in the stands: No fans until further notice.

What to expect: Expect the Raiders to be an improved offensive team in their new Las Vegas digs, with a healthy Derek Carr, a more experienced Josh Jacobs, and the addition of Ruggs III. They may be able to make a significant playoff push in their first season in Sin City. However, they still have too many holes that need to be addressed before they can contend with teams like the Chiefs. They need to upgrade their talent at linebacker, defensive line, and in the secondary in order to thwart some of these high-octane offenses in the AFC.

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Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers

Derrick Gore, Joshua Kelley, and Justin Herbert
Derrick Gore, Joshua Kelley, and Justin Herbert
Image: Getty

COVID Response: Head Coach Anthony Lynn tested positive for the virus during the offseason. As of mid-August, the Chargers have had no positive tests in camp and they also had zero players decide to opt-out of the 2020 season.

Outside The Lines: Five Chargers players participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in June to help support the fight for racial justice in this country. Defensive Lineman Isaac Rochell even stepped up and allowed his personal apparel brand to pass out snacks and water to fellow protesters.

Oh, he’s here now? Justin Herbert is now on the roster after the Chargers chose to try to secure their future signal-caller with the sixth pick in the draft. He’ll be competing with Tyrod Taylor to gain the starting spot at some point this season. They also picked up cornerback Chris Harris Jr. from Denver, as well as some other solid acquisitions.

Where’d he go? Philip Rivers is now in Indianapolis after 16 seasons with the Chargers. He’ll be looking to validate the Colts’ decision to give him a 1-year, $25 million deal this offseason. The aging gunslinger was showing signs of slowing down in his final two seasons in Los Angeles.

Fans in the stands: No fans until further notice.

What to expect: Expect the Chargers to be an average team at best this season. Taylor will be serviceable behind the center as usual, but the loss of safety Derwin James, due to a knee injury suffered during training camp, will significantly hurt the Chargers’ defense. Do not expect much from the Bolts in 2020, Lynn is an excellent coach but he won’t have enough pieces to make any waves in the AFC.

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Elsewhere

Elsewhere

Check out the rest of our NFL previews for this strangest of seasons:

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