The AFC West has been a division ran by the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of four consecutive division titles and in my Paul Heyman voice “The reining defending super bowl champs.” The goal for each team this off-season was simple acquire enough firepower to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and company. Two teams in the AFC West are rebuilding with new franchise quarterbacks and renewed firepower.
Denver added plenty of offensive weapons for Drew Lock his potential is endless. It’s just building on that potential to net positive results on the field. The Las Vegas Raiders hope that a change of identity and the excitement of a new city, fan base, and stadium will restore greatness back into one of the NFL’s most legendary franchises.
Speaking of new the Los Angeles Chargers have a new lease on life as well with a brand new home in SoFi Stadium, and Phillip Rivers no longer lining up under center. The Chargers selected Justin Herbert in the first round of the NFL Draft, signaling a new era for a franchise that has failed to capture the division title since 2009 and hasn’t reached a Super Bowl since the 1994 season.
Kansas City isn’t going to just drop their four year rein on top of the AFC West mountain top without a fight. And going into 2020 that will be one of the biggest narratives for every team in the AFC is how to top the Chiefs? However, that isn’t the only question heading into the season. Let’s take a look at some other burning questions.
Raiders: Is Derek Carr the Raiders future?
Derek Carr maybe the most unfairly criticized quarterback in all of the the NFL. The way the off-season has gone for the Raiders this may be Carr’s last chance to prove he’s the franchise quarterback, as the team signed Marcus Mariota to a two year, $17.6 million deal this offseason. That’s a lot of money toward a No. 2 quarterback. Carr still has three years left on his five-year, $125 million extension, but the Raiders can move on from him after 2020 and save $19.625 million in cap space.
Carr is far from the Raiders biggest problem. Often times a quarterback is defined by his win loss record and Carr’s record is less than spectacular with a 39-55 record. 55 career losses are the second-most ever for a quarterback through his first six seasons. Carr has never appeared in a playoff game, thanks to the fact he broke his leg on Christmas Eve in 2016. The Raiders need to be competitive fast. Their maybe unrecognized competition from the Las Vegas’ hockey team the Golden Knights after their historic first season in the NHL. This off-season the Raiders spent over $130 million in free agency to field a competitive roster and compete for a playoff berth in the expanded format. Carr set a career high in completion percentage (70.4%), yards (4,054) and yards per attempt (7.9) in 2019, but the Raiders went just 7-9 last season.
To Carr’s credit he has been the one constant throughout the Raiders’ years of overhauls. Carr seems to finally have some talent around him with a massive offensive line, a young stud running back in Josh Jacobs, speed at outside receiver in Henry Ruggs and Tyrell Williams (along with Hunter Renfrow in the slot) and a 1,000-yard tight end in Darren Waller.
Broncos: Will Drew Lock be able to take the next step?
Since the retirement of Peyton Manning John Elway has struggled finding a quarterback. Last year Elway drafted Drew Lock in the second round of the draft. After five starts Lock showed promise for the Broncos offense, completing 64.1% of his passes for 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions for an 89.7 passer rating, and leading Denver to a 4-1 record in games he started.
Denver averaged 21.4 points per game in Lock’s starts, but expectations should be even greater in year 2. The Broncos surrounded the young QB with weapons in Melvin Gordon to partner with Phillip Lindsay making for one of the better running back tandems in the league. Denver was also able to land the steal of the draft in Jerry Jeudy at No. 15 overall in the draft. They also selected speedster K.J. Hamler in the second round. Those two rookies will be paired with Courtland Sutton, possibly forming one of the best young wide receiver trios in football. Denver also expects Noah Fant the second year tight end to emerge. This young nucleus could be enough for Lock to have a strong sophomore season in Denver and take the Broncos to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Chargers: Who will be Chargers starting QB?
The Chargers from top to bottom may have one of the most talented rosters in all of the league. For some reason whether its bad luck or fate the Chargers have the tendency to be quite wishy washy at times. Los Angeles moved on from Philip Rivers after finishing -16 in the turnover battle (second worst in the NFL) and finishing fourth in the league with 20 interceptions thrown.
Out goes Rivers, in comes Tyrod Taylor who will get the opportunity to start and right those turnover woes. Taylor has a career interception percentage of 1.47, second-best among active quarterbacks with over 1,000 pass attempts. He has a 23-21 record as a starter, tossing 54 touchdowns to just 20 interceptions and posting a quarterback rating of 89.8.
Unfortunately, for Taylor he seems to always find himself as the bridge quarterback. His last starting gig was with the Browns and he was quickly replaced by Baker Mayfield. Taylor has proved he is a very good No. 2 quarterback but can he be a solid NFL starter? Taylor’s three seasons with the Buffalo Bills proved that he can start.
The Chargers did select a QB in Justin Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick, but the virtual offseason and lack of OTAs will hurt his development. Taylor may get an extended look at quarterback thanks to having a year with offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and career familiarity with Anthony Lynn as Lynn was Taylor’s offensive coordinator with the Bills.
Chiefs: Can K.C. repeat as Super Bowl champs?
The Chiefs didn’t make any major moves this off-season. When you are the champs you don’t really need too. The Chiefs are returning 20 of 22 starters from the Super Bowl LIV championship team. Only players who are not returning are offensive linemen Stefen Wisniewski and linebacker Reggie Ragland.
Kansas City is loaded on offense and will always be a championship contender with Mahomes at quarterback. Remember, Mahomes played the majority of 2019 on a bum knee, yet still threw for 4,031 yards and 26 touchdowns to just five interceptions in 14 games — and was even better in the postseason (901 yds, 10 TD, 2 INT, 111.5 rating). Kansas City only weakness on offense had been running back that all changed when Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of LSU. Andy Reid is a phenomenal track record of drafting running backs. Helaire maybe next to flash in Reid’s offense.
The Chiefs defense should be improved under another year with Steve Spagnuolo. It’s a unit that allowed just 10.4 points in the final five regular season games last year and 51 points in the final 10 quarters of the postseason.
The AFC West is much improved, and the Chiefs will still be the favorite to win the division. The Chiefs have the talent to win it all again. Getting home-field advantage will be key toward the Chiefs repeating, especially now with there being only on bye week awarded in the new playoff format.