We’re getting closer and closer to the end of these wonderful division previews.
With training camp set to kick off next week, we’ll have to shift our focus towards the daily happenings of camp, and then look ahead towards the beginning of the regular season. So let’s finish strong, and send everyone home happy.
Sounds good? Good.
Today, we’re going to be focusing on the AFC West, or Patrick Mahomes’s domain in other words.
This division has an obvious favorite from the get go, but behind that favorite, there’s a couple of teams with some underrated talent that could surprise some people this year.
Well, let’s get into it.
Best Offense: Kansas City Chiefs
Come on, this is about as obvious as it can get.
Patrick Mahomes is by far the best quarterback in football, the Mahomes-Andy Reid duo is terrifying, and his surrounding skill players are enough to make a defense shiver from fear. This offense is an out of control juggernaut, and it isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Ah, did I mention that Mahomes is now $500M richer? Of course I didn’t, and I didn’t really need to, but let’s mention it for the fun of it all.
Seriously though, this offense is the best offense I’ve seen in my entire football watching life. There’s no alarming weakness across the offense, the coaching staff is nothing short of elite, it’s just a flawless setup all around.
If you’re a fan of any team in the AFC, I feel sorry for you, since the Chiefs are going to be running that conference for a long while. But isn’t all bad though, you get to witness a franchise rich with tradition, run a conference with a quarterback that’s on his way to becoming one of the greatest of all time.
Soak it all in, because this sort of dominance doesn’t come around that often, I’ll tell you that.
Best Defense: Kansas City Chiefs
I wouldn’t have made this choice two seasons ago.
In 2018, the Chiefs’s defense was full of holes, particularly in the secondary and at linebacker. Teams passed all over them, teams ran all over them, it was just an all around defensive headache for then Chiefs DC Bob Sutton.
The crazy thing is, that defense wasn’t short on talent either. Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford combined to create a threatening defensive line capable of taking over a game. The secondary still had Kendall Fuller, but he alone wasn’t nearly enough to stop the Chiefs from getting hit with an aerial onslaught week in and week out.
Once 2019 rolled around though, Chiefs GM Brett Veach was *probably* sick and tired of watching his defense get shredded every possible offense they could face.
To address the glaring deficiencies that plagued the defense heading into the 2019 season, and end any sort of frustration, the Chiefs went ahead and signed one of the more versatile defensive pieces in football, Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu’s presence alone on that Chiefs defense, changed that unit for the better. While grand scheme of things didn’t particularly click right away, once week 11 came around, this defense took their play to the next level.
The Chiefs‘ defense struggled through the first six weeks of the season. They ranked 27th overall, 19th in scoring and 30th against the run. Mathieu had yet to be used in the fashion that was intended and was almost exclusively playing safety.But when Week 11 came, everything changed permanently.
Since Week 11, the Chiefs have yielded just 11.5 points per game, a spectacular decrease from the 23.9 points per game they gave up through the first 10 weeks of the season. Teams ran all over Kansas City through those first 10 outings, to the tune of 148.1 yards per game. But ever since the mindset transformed during their trip south of the border, the Chiefs have allowed just 95 yards a game on the ground.
That isn’t just some measly improvement in play by the way, that’s an insane rebound statistically. What’s scary for the rest of the league, is that this unit still has a majority of the pieces that contributed heavily to that historic defensive turnaround.
As a couple of added bonuses, rookie standout Juan Thornhill is set to be ready to go by training camp, after suffering a torn ACL in the last regular season game of the 2019 season. Also, 2nd round draft choice Willie Gay Jr., looks set to immediately push for playing time.
This has been said a lot recently, but Chiefs fans have a lot to be excited about going forward.
Impact Rookie: Jerry Jeudy
I love love love Jerry Jeudy.
Call me an SEC fanatic, but boy it was a pleasure to watch Jeudy absolutely torch SEC secondaries during his time at Alabama. The speed, the exquisite route running ability, it was all on full display. The only thing that was missing, was his fellow star quarterback being able to stay healthy, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.
Looking ahead to Jeudy’s career in Denver, I don’t think he could’ve asked for a comfier landing spot. Courtland Sutton is already WR1 there, but Jeudy can slide into that WR2 role, and give the Broncos one of the more exciting WR duos in all of football.
Drew Lock won’t hesitate to throw the football down the field, and he surely won’t hesitate to take some chances on the rookie wideout. All in all, I’m really excited to witness his development going forward on an offense full of young talent, and so much upside across the board.
The only thing that I can realistically see slowing Jeudy down, is a lack of volume in the passing game. Like I said before, Courtland Sutton is already there as WR1, Noah Fant played some good football when Lock was inserted into the lineup, Philip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon will combine to make a nice little 1-2 punch in the backfield, and even rookie KJ Hamler will see some targets down the field due to his blazing speed.
As you can tell, targets won’t come easy.
But we’ll table that sort of talk if it actually comes to fruition.
Sleeper Team: Denver Broncos
I don’t think there’s been enough talk about the Broncos this off-season.
Yes, the Drew Lock hype has reached new levels after his impressive 5 game run at the end of last season. But that’s exactly the problem. Lock only played 5 games.
5 games of play isn’t nearly enough to feel as comfortable as you’d like about your potential franchise quarterback, it’s not even close to the necessary amount. Lock’s play down the stretch made the hype a little bit more repsectable in a way, but we still need to see more game action from the guy to get an accurate judgement on whether he’s the real deal.
If Lock can rediscover, and maintain the form he had at the end of last season, then I won’t stop anyone from tooting the Broncos’s horn, and hailing them as a future AFC postseason regular.
Combine that sort of potential on the offensive side of the ball, along with the additions the Broncos made on defense, and you just might be looking at a playoff team this season.
Biggest Disappointment: Las Vegas Raiders
See, the thing is, I’m not a big hater on the Raiders as a whole, I’m just completely turned off by their quarterback situation.
Derek Carr has been underwhelming ever since his return from a gruesome leg injury he suffered in 2016. He’s refused to throw the ball down the field, he’s leaned towards caution way too often, and he’s come down with the happy feet syndrome too many times to count while he’s maneuvered his way around the pocket.
These issues have been going on for too long, and I’m pretty sure Jon Gruden knows it. That’s why he and GM Mike Mayock decided to pay $17.6M for Marcus Mariota to come in and back up Carr, and maybe slide in as the starter if things go south with Carr.
Even then though, I’m not all that impressed with Marcus Mariota either. During his last couple of years as a Titan, Mariota made the same sort of mistakes Carr has made over his last couple of years as a Raider.
I wouldn’t say they’re carbon copies of each other, but the similarity in their mistake heavy football is almost scary. That’s why I just can’t get myself to be excited about the Raiders. No matter how many times I try, the quarterback situation ruins any sort of successful scenario I can think of.
It isn’t all bad though.
The defense has some new talented faces and there’s still some young talent on both sides of the ball.
But I can’t see this team making any noise until they get their quarterback position together. Their new stadium is one of my favorites though, if that counts for anything.
How Many Teams Make The Playoffs: 1
I only have one team out of the AFC West making it to the postseason, but I was a lot closer than you think to putting down two.
The only team that I truly felt comfortable with getting to the playoffs, aside from the Kansas City Chiefs, was the Denver Broncos.
But like I mentioned before, I need to set a lot more game action from Drew Lock to feel a 100% confident about the Broncos’s playoffs chances.
If Lock can give me some good play over a full 16 game slate, then I’ll happily slide the Broncos in as a wild card team. However, until that sort of scenario occurs, I don’t feel good about putting them in the the postseason tournament.
Division Winner: Kansas City Chiefs.