As we inch closer and closer to football season, the AFC looks like it’s going to be a close knit conference. In my opinion, the NFC has 6-7 obvious teams pegged to make the playoffs, while the AFC only has 3. However, There are a ton of teams this year in the AFC that have a legitimate shot at making it to the post season, and making some noise in the playoffs. After spending some time observing rosters, coaching staffs, etc. I’ve come up with a decision on who I think makes the playoffs this year. For the AFC, we’ll be diving into the Western division first, as you can expect each and every division to receive their own articles.
There is one clear cut franchise in this group that I think makes the playoffs, and that is the Super Bowl defending champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. They essentially have the same roster as last year, and look to repeat their performance in 2020. The Raiders will officially play in Las Vegas next year, and just like the bright lights of Vegas, the Raiders offense should light up the league next year too. The Denver Broncos have a sturdy defense heading into the new season, which should keep them competitive. And the LA Chargers have a new QB under Center for the first time since 2004.
Kansas City Chiefs
It’s probably not a shock to you that I have the Chiefs winning the AFC West, as their team won the Super Bowl last year, and look to do it again. Vegas has the Chiefs as the early favorite to win the championship, and has them winning 11-12 games during the regular season, which is the most in the entire league.
The Chiefs are led by superstar QB, Patrick Mahomes, and his trustful companions. Kansas City has some serious speed that’s hard to chase down, as Tyreek Hill is one of the fastest men in the NFL. They also have Mecole Hardman, who looks to improve off his rookie season, and veteran Sammy Watkins, who finally found his perfect match in Kansas City. Don’t forget they also have one of the best TEs in the league in Travis Kelce. When he’s not on his own dating show, he’s out there on the gridiron racking up the touchdowns. The Chiefs have 10 of 11 starters returning to the team, as their newest addition is rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Some scouts viewed this kid as the top RB in the draft this year, as his speed alone (as if the Kansas City needs more of it) made him a top prospect. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the rest of the Kansas City offense is poised for a huge year.
The defense last year was slightly above average, but really turned it on during the playoffs. Specifically in the 2nd half of each game, where they locked up their opponents to allow Mahomes to work his magic. Just like the offense, this defense has 10 of 11 starters returning, while also adding a plethora of young talent to their core. With a tight group of players and the same coaching staff, I expect to see this defense improve from last year, and play as one of the top defenses in the league.
All around, the Chiefs are built to win games, and will be tough to stop next season. They’re one of the fastest teams in the NFL, and should run away from the competition during the regular season. They’re going to win the AFC West, and have a legitimate chance to finish the year with the best record in the league.
Las Vegas Raiders
I see the Silver and Black taking 2nd place in the AFC West this year. Their offense made some nice improvements during the offseason, and it doesn’t hurt they have Jon Gruden as their HC. Vegas has them winning 7-8 games, as their defense is rather questionable.
Last year, we all witnessed the fiasco of the Raiders training camp as they dealt with Antonio Brown’s antics. There was so much negative attention on them at the start of the year, a lot of people (including myself) didn’t think the Raiders had a chance. But they came out and played well, and damn near made the playoffs. The offense has a majority of their roster returning, and has potential to play better than last year. RB Josh Jacobs is a serious threat, and should improve off his rookie season. I actually like this kid to finish in the top 10 in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns next year, and be one of the better RB options in 2020. They also improved their WR group after drafting rookie WR Henry Ruggs III, who brings the speed the Raiders were missing last season. He’ll be matched up with Tyrell Williams and Hunter Refrow, who both look to be great compliments to Ruggs. And don’t forget about that TE group either. Darren Waller was a hidden gem last year and looks to improve, and the Raiders snagged future Hall of Famer, Jason Witten. Derek Carr is a good QB, not great, and has shown some nice abilities when given the right tools around him. They also brought in ex-Titan Marcus Mariota, who will challenge Carr to play better. This offense is loaded, and will keep opposing defenses up at night.
Defensively, the Raiders will potentially have 7 new starters, and may be slow out of the gate at the start of the season. The front office hopes each acquisition will improve the defense, but it’s going to be the D that prevents this team from playing as well as they could. The Raiders will have to rely heavily on their offense throughout next season, but if the defense can get it together sooner, rather than later, Las Vegas suddenly becomes a dangerous team to everyone in the league.
The 2nd place spot is up for grabs in the AFC West, as you can just as easily place the Broncos here too. I give the Raiders the slight edge though, as I think Las Vegas’ roster is slightly better than Denver’s (for the time being). The playoffs are going to be a tight race, but whoever takes 2nd in the AFC West has a great chance at making the playoffs as a 7 seed.
Vegas has the Broncos winning 7-8 games this year, which will make them extremely competitive with other teams in the league. However, it’ll be difficult for them to make playoffs this year, as they basically have an entirely new offense this season. Despite that fact, Broncos fans should be ecstatic about the future of this franchise, as John Elway has yet again set this team up for massive future success.
A season ago, the Broncos offense was mediocre at best, as they started the year with Joe Flacco under Center. They had a weak O-line, and only 1 solid WR. During this offseason though, the front office made the decision to go all in on 2nd year QB Drew Lock and built around him, giving Lock the weapons he’ll need to be successful. The Broncos offense has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL, especially after they drafted rookie WRs Jerry Jeudy, and KJ Hamler, who will be fantastic teammates for Courtland Sutton. They also have Noah Fant, who a lot of experts think he could have a breakout year in 2020. The run game isn’t something to ignore either, as the Broncos will be powered by Melvin Gordon, and Phillip Lindsay. These guys give Denver that 1-2 punch they were missing last year, and will provide Drew Lock with a solid foundation throughout the course of this season. Pair all of these acquisitions up with a bulked up O-line, the Broncos pose a serious threat to their opponents. However, with all of the new faces, and the fact Denver hired a new OC, this team may be sloppy to start the season. Considering how tight the AFC is going to be as a whole, this slow start could prove to be detrimental to the team’s success.
The defensive unit is led by veteran OLB Von Miller, who is still playing as one of the best pass rushers in the league. They also acquired Jurrell Casey, who will play a major factor in stopping the run, and replaced Chris Harris Jr. with AJ Bouye. The Broncos D is going to be tough to score on, and will be the reason this team stays in the playoff race. If Denver’s offense can put it together sooner than expected, this is a Broncos team that no one will want to face late in the season.
The Broncos have a ton of potential to take over the league, but 2020 likely won’t be their time to shine. They have a serious chance to beat out the Raiders and still make playoffs, but due to the fact their offense is so new and so young, I just don’t see that happening this year. Despite that, the Denver Broncos have a VERY bright future ahead of them.
Los Angeles Chargers
I have the Chargers in last place in the AFC West, but don’t think they won’t be competitive. It’s easy for people to write this team off as they stank it up last year, and will be without Philip Rivers for the first time in 16 years. Vegas actually has them winning 7-8 games, the same as the Raiders, and Broncos, which means the AFC West may be one of the closest divisions in the conference.
The Chargers QB will either be Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert. Expect to see Taylor earn starting reps in the beginning of the season, as he has a history of playing well (just look at his highlights in Buffalo). The ideal situation for the Chargers, would be to not play Justin Herbert at all in 2020, and let him take his time learning and adjusting to the NFL. However, I don’t see things going out accordingly, Taylor will have a short leash while he’s the starter. Outside of the QB position, this Chargers offense is stacked. Keenan Allen is still one of the best WRs in the league, and Mike Williams has been a solid WR2 throughout his career. They also have Hunter Henry in the TE position, and looks to continue his high level of play for LA. The biggest weakness on the offense last year (outside of Rivers’ struggles due to his aging) was the O-line. The front office made a trade for pro-bowl Guard, Trai Turner, and signed long time veteran Tackle, Mike Bulaga. These guys have the ability to make an immediate improvement for this offense, which will be crucial to the development of their rookie QB, Justin Herbert. Austin Ekeler signed an extension to stay on the team for another 4 years, which will only help improve the QB play, as Ekeler is arguably the best receiving RB in the NFL. The Bolt’s offense has a great chance to regain their electric play, but will struggle to start this year due to their QB position. Who knows if Tyrod’s still got it, and Herbert is a rookie who still needs to make some improvements. Either way, LA has a bright future ahead of them.
The Chargers defense is going to be slept on this year, as I see this unit as a potential top defense in the NFL in 2020. Joey Bosa is a premiere pass rusher in the league, and Melvin Ingram is right there with him. LA has a deep secondary group who is led by James Derwin. He’s shown he’s one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and will continue his dominant play. The team also has CBs Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr., who have both shown the ability to be lockdown corners (especially Harris). Just like the Broncos, the Chargers defense is going to keep them in games, and the Bolts will have many opportunities to walk away with a win.
Despite how good this team looks on paper, I don’t see them beating out any of their division rivals. They should be in a lot of close games this year, but due to their questionable QB situation, the Chargers will likely find themselves losing those down to the wire games. But this is a team that (all 2) Chargers fans should be excited about.