The AFC West has seen many changes in the 2020 offseason — the Kansas City Chiefs are the returning champs and have made few changes, while the other teams have tried to answer various questions on both sides of the ball. But, will this be the year that they see competition for the divisional crown?
Chip Packard, a lifelong Las Vegas Raiders fan, thinks there are several factors that could see at least one team challenge the Chiefs or compete for a wildcard spot.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Everybody Else
The high-powered Chiefs are led by the MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes and bring a number of weapons back on both sides of the ball. They went 14-2 in 2020 and brought in free agents to help strengthen the offensive line. The rest of the division has been trying to play catch-up but with mixed results.
Chip Packard noted that the Chargers became the most entertaining team in Los Angeles, in large part due to the breakout performance of the rookie phenom Justin Herbert. This Oregon Duck quarterback made few mistakes as he entered the pro game, and the Chargers’ defense all played a key role in its success. In 2021, special teams will have to improve — they were the worst in the league in punting.
The Broncos have struggled since John Elway led them to two Super Bowls at the turn of the millennium. Outside of a few years from Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning, they have struggled to find consistent quarterback play. This year may feature more of the same — with the possible battle between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater exciting few fans.
Whither the Las Vegas Raiders This Year?
A lot of what we can expect to see this year will depend on how the Raiders progress compared to the Los Angeles Chargers.
A new defensive coordinator in Gus Bradley should see improvement on that side of the ball. The results will likely come based on Derek Carr’s ability to run Jon Gruden’s offense, with a special focus on deep threats like Henry Ruggs and new addition to the running game Kenyan Drake.
If the offense can gel together, then it’s possible for the Raiders to improve and put in a winning record in 2021. However, the upper limit of the team’s performance seems to continue to be the quarterback and the play-caller. It remains to be seen if Gruden and Carr can find a higher gear together.
Final Thoughts on the AFC West
The Kansas City Chiefs are the heavy favorites for good reason: they have shored up the areas where they were weakest and return a roster that helped them to the best record in the NFL last year and a Super Bowl berth.
We saw Justin Herbert explode onto the stage with the Chargers, but being consistent in all three phases will be critical for them. The Raiders have the talent to succeed but need consistency from their stars. Packard expects the Broncos to continue to have difficulties putting together wins.