NFL

NFL 2022: Making the case for all four teams in the AFC West

By Sports Desk September 02, 2022

The AFC West has been dominated by the Kansas City Chiefs in recent seasons, with six division titles in succession.

In fact, if the Chiefs can extend that streak to seven, they will tie each of the Denver Broncos, the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers on 15 division titles.

Unfortunately for those in Kansas City, their rivals appear especially determined to ensure this year is different.

No division has prompted as much intrigue during the offseason as the AFC West, which has appeared at the centre of numerous big trades as its pretenders attempt to become contenders.

So hard to split is the division that Stats Perform has not even attempted to try – instead explaining what needs to happen for each of these teams in turn to be successful...

Kansas City Chiefs

After topping the AFC West in six straight seasons, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Chiefs can be toppled in 2022: Patrick Mahomes is coming off perhaps the worst season of his career, Tyreek Hill is gone, and the competition in the division is intense.

Yet those are also three reasons why Mahomes will be determined to lead the Chiefs to another strong year.

One of the game's leading lights will hope the 2021 season, with its 3-4 start and hugely disappointing finish in the AFC Championship Game, does not live long in the memory, but his attempts to move on swiftly could easily be hampered by the departure of WR1 Hill to the Miami Dolphins.

However, tight end Travis Kelce – the career leader in Mahomes targets (540), completions (383) and passing yards (4,960) – remains in Kansas City, and the quarterback has the ability to make a partnership work with any receiver.

Mahomes just needs time, and that is what he can expect to get behind one of the best offensive lines in the game.

The Chiefs rebuilt their O-line last year, and they ranked third in the NFL in pass protection win percentage (80.16) in 2021. Crucially, that unit improved as the season went on; the six games in which Mahomes faced the most pressures were all before the Week 12 bye.

Mahomes' pass completion rate of 77.4 per cent when not pressured ranked second among QBs with 100 or more attempts last season; this dropped to 56.7 per cent when pressured – only marginally above the league average in such scenarios (56.6).

Widely considered the most talented passer of his generation, the Chiefs have focused on protecting Mahomes rather than worrying about who he is throwing to, and that should be a safe bet despite his postseason wobble.

Las Vegas Raiders

As one elite receiver leaves the AFC West in Hill, another arrives. Davante Adams has quit the Green Bay Packers to bring his star power to Vegas.

Since his rookie season, Adams ranks fifth in the NFL for catches (669), sixth for receiving yards (8,121) and second for receiving touchdowns (73), although he has spent his entire career playing with four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Now, Adams will be paired with zero-time MVP Derek Carr, who threw for 23 TDs and 14 interceptions last year, ranking 24th in touchdown percentage (3.7). Rodgers, by comparison, threw for 37 scores and four picks, with his 7.0 TD percentage the best in the league.

Yet Carr will surely benefit from having Adams to throw to. He saw 25 passes dropped in 2021 – tied for the third-most in the NFL – and a solid completion percentage of 68.4 could have been better, as his expected completion percentage of 74.5 trailed only Mahomes (75.9).

Carr is clearly an accurate passer; he just needs a little help turning this talent into tangible rewards.

Adams is the ideal man to do that, with the duo teaming up previously for two years at Fresno State, in which time the receiver's 38 TDs led the FBS by some distance.

Last year, Adams – who dropped a career-low one pass, just 0.6 per cent of his targets – added 633 yards after the catch, fourth-most in the league, and led the way in recording a first down with 49.7 per cent of his targets.

He can have a transformative impact on a team who were already the Chiefs' nearest challengers in this division and will now be overseen by former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as coach.

Los Angeles Chargers

This division is so exciting not only because it contains four potentially great teams but because it contains four potentially great offenses.

For the Chargers, there are few doubts on that side of the ball. They have largely brought back the same offense that made Justin Herbert a star in 2021 with just the 14th 5,000-yard passing season in league history. Of course, the 17-game season helped in that regard, but only Tom Brady (5,316) outperformed Herbert (5,014) on the year.

As a result, the Chargers were fourth in the league in yards per game (390.2) and fifth in total points scored (747).

So, why did they miss out on the postseason?

Well, the Chargers had a bottom-10 defense in terms of yards per game (360.1), and only two teams allowed more points across the season (459). That Herbert-powered offense ranked 23rd in time spent on the field, with the defense giving them too much to do in too little time.

There are reasons to believe that will change this year, though, with the acquisitions of Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson particularly notable for a team that ranked in the bottom half of the league for takeaways (21).

Only three players have had eight or more interceptions in a single season over the past two years; Jackson, one of those three, has done it twice.

No player has ever previously had eight or more picks in three straight seasons, but Jackson has shown no signs of slowing and could be exactly the type of superstar the Chargers need on defense to complement Herbert's efforts on offense and seize control of this division.

Denver Broncos

These might not be the four most talented quarterbacks in the NFL, but they may well be the four most motivated.

Russell Wilson undoubtedly has a point to prove after ending a 10-year stint with the Seattle Seahawks that went downhill fast in its final 18 months. In early MVP contention after a 5-0 start to the 2020 season, Wilson went 13-12 over the rest of his Seahawks career.

He last year missed the postseason for only the second time and, according to Seattle, pushed for a trade. "I didn't initiate it," was Wilson's reply. "It was definitely mutual."

Regardless, Wilson will find a very receptive audience in Denver, where Broncos fans were desperate to see an end to the QB merry-go-round that had them in a spin for six straight years after Peyton Manning's farewell Super Bowl 50 win. They have had 10 different starters under center since 2016, second only to Washington (11).

In that time outside the title picture, though, the Broncos have rebuilt the rest of the roster, waiting for the sort of QB-coach combo they now have in Wilson and former Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett.

Denver allowed the eighth-fewest yards per game last season (326.1) and the third-fewest points (322); on offense, a better QB than Teddy Bridgewater would have made more use of playing behind an O-line that ranked eighth in pass protection win percentage (78.64).

With personnel changes at the two most important positions, the Broncos can expect to be much, much better than 19th for yards per game (330.5) and joint-23rd for total points (335).

That improvement should take the Broncos from nowhere to somewhere, even in this AFC West.

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