The AFC West has risen to become the most competitive division in football this offseason. The Denver Broncos added Russell Wilson. The Los Angeles Chargers landed JC Jackson. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Raiders traded for Davante Adams and the Kansas City Chiefs traded away Tyreek Hill.
It’s been an offseason full of events that seemed like impossibilities, and yet, here we are. With five months left to go before Week 1, let’s dive into a way-too-early projection of the AFC West standings next season.
So how does the AFC West shape up so far?
The L.A. Chargers land at the top…
Last season, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert took the NFL by storm. His precision and execution seemed to improve each week as he showed flashes of being a future Hall of Famer. Despite Herbert ending the season as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, the Chargers missed the playoffs at the hands of the Raiders.
This offseason, the Chargers signed their WR2, Mike Williams, to a three-year contract, solidifying their depth at receiver. They also landed one of the top free agents in cornerback J.C. Jackson. If that wasn’t enough, the Chargers’ brass broke Raider Nation’s heart when they traded for Khalil Mack.
The addition of Mack to their already impressive defensive line was just what they needed to propel them to more wins on the season. The Chargers went 9-8 last season, but I expect that number to improve by roughly three wins in 2022 thanks to the development of Herbert and the monstrous additions they have made on defense.
The Las Vegas Raiders find themselves in second for another season
Last year, the Raiders had the craziest season of any team. They dealt with defeat in every sense of the word as they battled to a 10-7 record. Despite tremendous adversity, the lack of a number one receiver, and an interim head coach, they found themselves in the playoffs for the second time in 20 years.
This offseason, they have addressed nearly all of those needs. New head coach Josh McDaniels and new general manager Dave Ziegler wasted no time finding a WR1 by trading for Davante Adams. Along with landing the NFL’s most prestigious receiver, McDaniels and Ziegler have already proven themselves to be an incredibly dynamic duo. They have been able to navigate contracts and financial restrictions to give the Raiders about $7 million remaining in cap space, per Over The Cap. This ensures the ability to add more game-changing free agents if they decide to do so.
The Raiders’ additions this offseason, along with the culture built during the 2021 season, will make this team incredibly hard to beat. Now that Derek Carr and his young roster have had a taste of the playoffs, I expect them to continue to build on their success in 2022.
How does the bottom half of the AFC West shape up?
The Kansas City Chiefs may be in a downward spiral
Previously, the Chiefs’ coming in last in the AFC West was only something that happened in dreams. After the events of this offseason, it may become a reality much sooner than expected.
Last week, the Chiefs traded their speedy receiver, Tyreek Hill, to the Miami Dolphins. Juju Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, Omar Bayless, and Josh Gordon now headline the Chiefs’ receiver room. It’s fair to expect them to add a few more receivers in free agency, but it will be impossible for them to replace Hill. He embodies a once-in-a-generation skill set that will be missed severely in Kansas City.
Along with losing Hill, the Chiefs are also expected to lose the heart of their defense, Tyrann Mathieu. He’s looking to sign elsewhere soon. While the rest of the AFC West is improving in spades, the Chiefs appear to be backpedaling.
After going 12-5 in 2021, the Chiefs’ wins may decrease exponentially in 2022, landing them at the bottom of the division, or at least, out of first place for the first time in seven years.
The Denver Broncos may find a taste of success
Since Peyton Manning retired at the conclusion of the 2015 season, the Broncos have been in quarterback hell. In that time, they have started 11 different quarterbacks, finding success with zero of them. This offseason, they may have finally found their long-term answer.
Before free agency started, the Broncos’ new coach, Nathaniel Hackett, pulled off a trade for one of the NFL’s top signal-callers, Russell Wilson. Wilson is a nine-time Pro-Bowler with one Super Bowl ring under his belt.
Besides Wilson, the Broncos have been relatively quiet in free agency. They have signed depth players, but Wilson was their only “big splash” signing. Previously, many NFL analysts have said the Broncos are just “a quarterback away” from returning to the playoffs. Now they have the chance to bring that to fruition thanks to the addition of Russ.
The Broncos went 7-10 in 2021. Look for that number to increase slightly in their first year of adjusting to their new signal-caller.
*Top Photo: Courtesy of NFL.com