Already hit hard by injuries during the early part of the season, the Los Angeles Chargers are now bracing to be without two more key players for an extended period. reports left tackle Rashawn Slater is expected to miss the remainder of the season after rupturing his biceps tendon during the Chargers' 38-10 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday.

Additionally, head coach Brandon Staley said standout edge rusher Joey Bosa is week-to-week with a "significant" groin injury the four-time Pro Bowler sustained in Sunday’s defeat.

The Chargers entered the game already without top wide receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring), center Corey Linsley (knee) and cornerback J.C. Jackson (ankle), while quarterback Justin Herbert played through a rib injury he incurred during Los Angeles' Week 2 loss to AFC West rivals the Kansas City Chiefs.

Slater, the 13th overall pick of the 2021 draft, is coming off an excellent rookie season in which he started 16 games and allowed just two sacks as Herbert’s blindside protector to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl.

"Rashawn is an All-Pro player, he is one of the best tackles in the game," Staley said. "It’s going to be a tough loss for us, but we’re trying to make sure, over the next couple of days, that we put good contingencies in place, that we put a group out there that can really play together, give us a chance to be the offence that we’re capable of being."

Either Storm Norton or Trey Pipkins is expected to take over for Slater. Norton started 15 games at right tackle last season but was beaten out by Pipkins for that spot in training camp.

Bosa has been an impact pass rusher since entering the NFL as the third overall selection of the 2016 draft. The seventh-year veteran led the Chargers with 10.5 sacks in 2021, the fourth time he’s reached double digits in that category for his career.

"It’s part of the NFL. It’s an attrition league and you have to be ready for it," said Staley, whose team fell to 1-2 with Sunday’s loss. "For it to happen to high-profile players like we have, it’s not uncommon in the NFL. What you have to do is weather that storm and stay together."

Staley added that Allen is expected to practice this week and has a chance to return for Sunday’s game at Houston. The five-time Pro Bowl receiver has missed the Chargers’ last two games but was listed as questionable for the Jacksonville contest.

The Jacksonville Jaguars believe they can be "something special" after Trevor Lawrence ended his wait for a first NFL road win in impressive fashion against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chargers are among the favourites in the AFC this season but were beaten 38-10 with Justin Herbert playing through injury at SoFi Stadium.

Lawrence outshone Herbert, throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-39 passing.

After nine straight defeats on the road to start his career, Lawrence finally guided the Jaguars to victory; the last NFL quarterback to start his career with nine away road losses and then a win was Peyton Manning.

And this was a commanding win, too – the Jaguars' biggest on the road since the 2001 season (33-3 at the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15).

Jacksonville have not enjoyed a winning season since 2017 and had only four victories over the previous two campaigns combined.

But they are halfway to that number already in 2022 at 2-1, boosted by the ability to select consecutive first overall draft picks in Lawrence and Travon Walker.

Team-mate Dawuane Smoot said after the win: "It's been all worth it, going through a rebuild each year. Now, I feel like we're finally starting to get it.

"We just started. It's only three [games]. We still have a long season to go. But I feel like we're turning the corner to being something special."

Having crushed the Indianapolis Colts 24-0 at home in Week 2, Lawrence added: "It's awesome, two weeks in a row.

"I think the coolest thing is [after] a big win last week to see that same focus and intensity and preparation this week. That's a sign we're heading in the right direction. We've got to keep doing that week in, week out.

"Obviously, every week is going to present new challenges; you've just got to come ready to play. We did that, and it was awesome."

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley insists that protecting star quarterback Justin Herbert was on his mind despite letting him play out Sunday's 38-10 blowout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Herbert returned for the first time after a fracture to his rib cartilage, throwing 25 of 45 passes for 297 yards with one touchdown, one lost sack fumble and one interception, while Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence starred with three TD passes.

The Chargers' decision to keep their franchise quarterback on the field with 4:54 remaining for a final series, despite the scoreline and his recent injury, led to many questions from reporters after the game.

"He wanted to be out there with his teammates," Staley told reporters. "He felt good and he wanted to finish the game.

"Throughout the entire game, that's the first thought throughout the game and at the end of the game, so trust me, there's no one that's thinking about it more than I am."

Herbert, who was the sixth pick overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, sustained the rib injury 10 days ago in the 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs when he played on admirably in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

"I understand your entire line of questioning, I understand it," Staley said.

"Justin is going to be feeling like this when he is out there playing. This injury is going to be there for awhile. If you guys know the injury, it's not like it's going to feel better next week or the week after that.

"This thing is going to be present for awhile. He felt good today and we're going to continue to manage it the best we can."

The 24-year-old quarterback also defended the decision, insisting it was him putting the team first.

"I just didn't want to quit on the team," Herbert said. "It's what the team needs. Sometimes, you have to put your own goals and everything ahead, or behind the team and I think that's what's most important and I felt like I was safe out there and I didn't want to quit on my team.

"I trust the medical staff. I trust the training staff. They are not going to put me in harm's way. I felt like it was safe, they felt like it was safe, so I was going to go out there and play."

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers emerged 14-12 victors against Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Sunday's battle between the legendary quarterbacks.

Despite the presence of arguably the two greatest quarterbacks of this generation, it was the defenses who reigned supreme as the Bucs were only able to score three points in the first half, before holding the Packers scoreless in the second half.

Both teams were missing a number of receiving weapons, and taking advantage of his expanded role was Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs, catching three passes including a touchdown on Green Bay's very first drive.

The Packers' second drive ended in a touchdown as well, with Rodgers finding Allen Lazard for a 12-yard score with eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, and it would be their last points of the night as their next nine drives resulted in seven punts, one fumble and one interception.

Rodgers finished 27 of 35 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Brady struggled to find any connection with his makeshift receiving core, except with Russell Gage, who caught 12 of his 13 targets for 87 yards and the Bucs' only touchdown to cut the margin to 14-12 with 14 seconds remaining.

But Brady was not able to complete the two-point conversion, and the Buccaneers could not recover the onside kick, ending the game. Brady finished 31 of 42 for 271 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.

Trevor Lawrence announces his arrival with emphatic blowout

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was called a generational prospect when he was selected first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he began to fulfill that promise as he pounded the Los Angeles Chargers 38-10.

Lawrence completed 28 of 39 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers – completing touchdown passes to Zay Jones, Christian Kirk and Marvin Jones Jr.

As well as getting arguably Lawrence's best showing as a professional, the Jaguars continued to get production from running back James Robinson, posting 100 rushing yards and a touchdown from 17 carries, while also catching three passes for 16 yards.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert came into the game nursing fractured rib cartilage and he struggled throughout, although some late garbage-time action padded his stats to a respectable 25 of 45 for 297 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert remains questionable for Sunday's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars and a final verdict will be a 'game-time decision'.

The sixth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft sustained a rib cartilage fracture in the Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and did not practice on Friday.

Herbert has said he will do whatever he can to be available for the game, stating: "I'm certainly going to do everything I can to prepare and be ready to play on Sunday."

It appears the decision will be a last-minute one, with NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reporting he is a 'true game-time decision today based on how he feels'.

If Herbert cannot feature, 13-year veteran Chase Daniel will get the start and took first-team reps on Friday in Herbert's absence.

The offense would be severely impacted without Herbert, however, and the Jaguars will fancy their chances of an upset that could be detrimental to the Chargers' campaign.

Brandon Staley's side lost to divisional rivals the Chiefs last time out and will not want to suffer another defeat at the hands of a fellow AFC side even at this early stage.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was limited in practice Wednesday and remains day to day after suffering fractured rib cartilage last Thursday.

Herbert was more of a bystander during the portion of practice open to the media, performing some handoffs to running backs, but did not do any throwing.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Herbert is day-to-day as one of three players listed as a limited participant on the team’s practice report. The star quarterback was injured by a hard hit in the fourth quarter of last week’s 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Herbert only missed one play after taking a hit from Kansas City defensive lineman Michael Danna on a completion to Gerald Everett on Thursday, but was clearly in discomfort for the remainder of the contest.

''He's had a lot of rest since the last game, but I think the nature of the week is truly going to be a case-by-case, day-by-day basis,'' Staley said. ''We're just going to see where his comfort level is, and truly trust him and let him be the guide of where we're at, and make sure that we are prepared either way.''

Staley said the decision to play Herbert Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars begins with the quarterback himself.

"It will start with him and then obviously him feeling good about what the medical team feels like is best, him weighing the options and then us making a good decision," Staley said.

The Chargers have had issues with injured quarterbacks before.

The doctor caring for Herbert is being sued for medical malpractice by former Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is seeking at least $5 million in damages.

In 2020, Taylor suffered a rib injury against the Cincinnati Bengals and a team doctor then punctured Taylor’s lung while attempting to give him a pain-killing injection. Taylor was taken to a hospital and Herbert was thrust into his first NFL start less than a minute before kickoff, with Taylor never recapturing his starting role.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in May 2021 and a trial was scheduled to begin in November, but has been moved to June 2023.

Chase Daniel would be in line to start if Herbert could not go. The 13-year veteran has six career starts, most recently in 2019 for the Chicago Bears.

In two games this season, Herbert is 59-of-82 for 613 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has been diagnosed with a rib cartilage fracture after getting injured in the fourth quarter of his team’s loss at Kansas City on Thursday night.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Herbert is day-to-day and is optimistic about playing in Los Angeles' Week 3 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on September 25.

"I think we got good news in terms of what the CT scan expressed," Staley said. "I think playing quarterback, you don’t want it to be the bones. The fact that it’s cartilage is a good sign.

"It’s just going to come down to comfort. We’re just gonna have to make sure that he’s comfortable. We’re not going to know more about how he feels until later on in the week."

Herbert was injured on a hit from Chiefs defensive end Mike Danna with about five minutes remaining in the Chargers’ 27-24 loss. The 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year left the field for one play before returning, and threw his third touchdown pass of the night on Los Angeles’ ensuing and final drive to lead a rally attempt that fell just short.

The third-year pro finished with 334 passing yards while completing 33 of 48 attempts with one interception, which Kansas City’s Jaylen Watson returned 99 yards for a pivotal touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter.

"You’re not going to see a quarterback at any level of football play tougher and do more for their team and will their team to give them a chance more than him," Staley said after the game. "He showed a lot of guts.

"He showed us what he shows every day, that we’re never out of the fight, and he brought us back and gave us a chance."

Veteran Chase Daniel would start against the Jaguars should Herbert require more time to heal. The well-traveled 35-year-old has made five career starts in 13 NFL seasons, most recently with the Chicago Bears in 2019.

Patrick Mahomes just about got the better of Justin Herbert on Thursday but expects the Los Angeles Chargers to continue to push his Kansas City Chiefs all the way.

Both the Chiefs and the Chargers are tipped for Super Bowl contention this year in a highly talented AFC West.

Kansas City have won the division six years in a row, but the scale of their task this season was made clear in this meeting with the Chargers, who forced Mahomes to rally from a 17-7 deficit to win 27-24.

Herbert admirably battled a rib injury as he attempted to take down Mahomes, yet the former MVP delivered yet another comeback.

This was the 20th game of Mahomes' career – regular season or playoffs – in which he had been down by 10 points, and he has now converted 11 of those into wins.

Past turnarounds include the Super Bowl LIV success against the San Francisco 49ers when the Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, as well as Herbert's NFL debut, when the Chargers lost in overtime early in the 2020 season.

"I think every game [against Herbert] is going to be a lot like this one," Mahomes told Amazon Prime Video.

"In the games I've played against him in the past, we've gone to overtime twice and it's been an end-of-game situation.

"It's going to be games like this, and hopefully I can find a ways to win them and our team can find a ways to win them, like we did today."

Mahomes is the only NFL quarterback with a winning record in games where he has trailed by double-digit points (minimum 20 starts), with Tom Brady next-best at 39-61 (.390).

"I want to go out there and win; I don't care how it looks," Mahomes added. "Tonight was very ugly.

"I'm sure it's not going to have a great film session tomorrow, but we found a way to get a win at the end of the day, and that's all I care about."


Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley says they will learn more about the severity of quarterback Justin Herbert's apparent ribs injury on Friday but is confident he will be OK.

Herbert played through apparent pain in Thursday's 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs following a series of big tackles on the QB in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers QB still managed to find DeAndre Carter and then Josh Palmer in an impressive drive for a late touchdown but seemed in discomfort and gestured towards his ribs on the sidelines.

Herbert did not appear for post-game media duties, instead going off for an X-ray on the injury, although Staley was confident he would be fine.

"No," Staley told reporters when asked if he was concerned about Herbert's health. "No, because he's Justin Herbert."

Staley added: "You're not going to see a quarterback at any level of football play tougher and do more for their team and will their team to give them a chance more than him.

"There's nobody that can do what he can do, nobody. He showed a lot of guts, he showed us what he shows every day, that we're never out of the fight, and he brought us back and gave us a chance."

Despite that, Staley revealed they anticipate they will learn more about Herbert's health on Friday after a more thorough evaluation.

The Kansas City Chiefs fought back from another double-digit deficit sparked by rookie Jaylen Watson's 99-yard pick six as they won 27-24 over the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

Patrick Mahomes produced a patient display, throwing two touchdowns and completing 24 of 35 passes for 235 yards, leading them back from a 17-7 deficit to make it two wins to start the new season.

Justin Herbert was gallant for the Chargers, playing through considerable pain after a series of fourth-quarter hits, to end with three TD passes, completing 33 of 48 passes for 334 yards but with one interception.

That interception came in the fourth quarter with scores locked at 17-17, with Herbert aiming for Gerald Everett on the goalline, only for Watson to clasp it and race away for the game-winning TD.

The Chargers had led 10-7 at half-time, with rookie Alexander Horvath making it two touchdowns in his first two games, before Mahomes' side-arm fastball found Jerick McKinnon for the reply, moving him past Alex Smith for the third-most completions (1,588) in franchise history in the process.

Mike Williams, who had eight receptions for 113 yards, plucked a remarkable one-handed catch under tight coverage from L'Jarius Sneed to put the Chargers up 17-7.

The Chargers were left frustrated after two interceptions were overturned before Mahomes found Travis Watson with a 41-yard pass to score. The Chiefs would pile on 20 unanswered points after rookie Watson made his pick six before Matt Ammendola converted a 32-yard attempt.

Herbert found DeAndre Carter with a late dart before showing poise under apparent duress from a fourth and goal to hit Josh Palmer to make it 27-24. The Chargers confirmed after the game that Herbert would undergo an X-ray.

Thursday night’s marquee matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs features two potent offenses, but one team will be decidedly short-handed with decorated Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen ruled out due to a hamstring injury.

Allen was forced to leave the Chargers’ Week 1 24-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half after he had four receptions for 66 yards. Allen said he felt a slight pull, and the hamstring tightened after he planted his foot to the turf during the second quarter.

Coach Brandon Staley on Tuesday said Allen's injury ''is going to take some time''.

Without Allen, fellow receivers Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer figure to assume enlarged roles, with DeAndre Carter also likely to see increased playing time. Both Palmer and Carter had three catches against the Raiders.

Allen has been mostly durable during his 10-year career and has appeared in 16 games in four of the previous five seasons. The only significant time he missed was after he tore his ACL in the opening week of the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old Allen has caught at least 95 passes each of the past five years, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. He leads the league in catches over the past five seasons, where he has posted at least 1000 receiving yards in each and is a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

The idea of "any given Sunday" is what makes the NFL so compelling.

Any one team can beat another, and that means at this stage of the season, with the first snap still to be taken, every team can have Super Bowl aspirations.

Sort of.

The Cincinnati Bengals, for example, may have been slightly surprising contenders in 2021, but there remain some teams whose title hopes are so remote as to be non-existent.

For some, this is because they have missed their shot at glory in recent years; for others, the plan is to challenge in seasons to come.

So, this leads us to draw up a preseason tier system, ranking all 32 teams by their Super Bowl windows with the help of Stats Perform AI predictions...

Nowhere near

This is unlikely to be a season to remember for the teams grouped in this category, for a variety of reasons.

The Houston Texans won the AFC South in 2018 and 2019, but the Deshaun Watson saga and two down years have them looking at a rebuild, with the data forecasting just 4.8 wins this year. That at least ranks them ahead of the Atlanta Falcons (3.6 projected wins) and the New York Giants (4.2), while the Texans did gain draft assets in the Watson trade.

The Chicago Bears are the fourth and final team projected to earn fewer than six wins (4.9), with second-year quarterback Justin Fields receiving little help on offense and playing behind an offensive line ranked 31st in pass protection.

Meanwhile, the Washington Commanders rank 31st in terms of skill players – better only than the Falcons – with faith in Carson Wentz long since having diminished. In Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, the Carolina Panthers have two high-draft-pick QBs unlikely to trouble the postseason. The New York Jets are in a similar boat, even if Zach Wilson is still young.

The Detroit Lions might argue they do not deserve to keep such company after a 3-3 finish to last season, but nobody could seriously argue they are title contenders.

Entering contention

If that first group was a mixed bag, so too is the second.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the New England Patriots' preseason would suggest they are very fortunate to be given any hope of success in the near future, but they finished with 10 wins in 2021 – even if that number is projected to shrink to 7.7. Despite a trade for Tyreek Hill, that still ranks the Patriots comfortably ahead of the Miami Dolphins (7.0), although the losing team in their Week 1 meeting will face a long slog of a season.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Philadelphia Eagles are forecast to have 11.9 wins – the second-most in the NFL – after a very strong offseason. But Jalen Hurts, for now, is unproven in the postseason, so Philly fans may have to stay patient.

The San Francisco 49ers are even younger at QB after promoting Trey Lance to a starting role, which explains why the prediction model looks so unfavourably on a team many consider contenders right now. Just 7.1 projected wins speaks to the potentially low floor Lance brings.

NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals have to be considered among this group of future hopefuls, with Kyler Murray hugely talented and now committed long term but frustratingly inconsistent, while the Jacksonville Jaguars will hope Trevor Lawrence can follow in the footsteps of the Bengals' Joe Burrow – the number one pick the year before him.

The Los Angeles Chargers, with 9.8 projected wins, have Justin Herbert to lead their charge, while the Cleveland Browns might have been contenders already if not for Watson's suspension, which is enough to limit them to a still strong 9.3-win forecast.

In their prime

The Chargers may have Herbert, but they also have three division rivals who intend to win and intend to win now. Indeed, all four AFC West teams rank in the top half of the league in terms of projected wins, with the Chargers second – behind the Kansas City Chiefs (11.5) and just ahead of the Denver Broncos (9.7) and the Las Vegas Raiders (9.2).

The Chiefs lead the AFC in this regard, although their playoff win over the Buffalo Bills last season came down to a coin flip, and the two are set to be similarly tough to separate this year. Buffalo are down for 11.1 wins.

The two teams coming off a Super Bowl run are of course prominent among the contenders, even if the model has far greater optimism for a Los Angeles Rams repeat than for another Bengals charge. The Rams are backed for a league-leading 12.4 wins and given a 15.3 per cent shot at defending their title, while the Bengals are actually projected to dip below .500 with 8.2 wins.

The Bengals' route to the Super Bowl will be complicated not just by the AFC West and the Bills but also by any return to form for the fit-again Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens, who are counted among nine teams on course for 10 or more wins (10.4).

Also in that group are NFC pair the Dallas Cowboys (11.0) and the Minnesota Vikings (10.9), who may not even be the best teams in their divisions but might be nearing a point when they must seriously challenge or start again, which brings us to...

Last chance saloon

As long as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the QBs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers, those teams are in with a chance. The question is how long that will remain the case.

Brady is 45, briefly retired this offseason and then missed a chunk of the preseason. Rodgers is 38, has repeatedly been linked with a move away from Green Bay and lost top target Davante Adams ahead of the new season. Still, the Buccaneers rank eighth for projected wins (10.7), with the Packers up in third (11.5).

They are not the only ageing teams in the NFL, however.

The Indianapolis Colts hope they have upgraded in moving from Wentz to Matt Ryan, yet the former MVP is now 37 and last played in the postseason in 2017 – when Wentz's Eagles took the title.

Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is a little younger at 34, but of greater concern would be Derrick Henry's durability after the injury that limited to eight games last regular season. The Titans need to make the most of any seasons they have left of the superstar running back going at full tilt.

Missed their chance

Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees won Super Bowls with the Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New Orleans Saints respectively, but with all three having now moved on, it is difficult to see those teams plotting a path to the title.

For the Seahawks and the Steelers, this will be their first year without their stalwart QBs, even if things had already gone stale in 2021. Wilson dipped below the .500 mark for a season for the first time in his career, while Pittsburgh were attempting to stay competitive in spite of Roethlisberger rather than because of him.

Still, with both gone – Wilson to Denver and Roethlisberger to retirement – there is a void under center that has not been suitably filled. Seattle also rank 32nd in pass protection, likely leaving Geno Smith hopelessly exposed.

The Saints have had another 12 months to come to terms with Brees' exit, albeit they spent it juggling Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill at QB. Winston's season-ending injury doomed the Saints' hopes of contention last year, and New Orleans' outlook for 9.5 wins with the entertaining but erratic former number one pick is at least far more positive than that of the Seahawks (6.2) or the Steelers (7.0).

Regardless, each of these three teams have provided an example in how not to do succession planning. They all could have won additional honours with their departed veterans and now face long waits for further title tilts.

It seemed on a frenzied January night in Kansas City as though the AFC title would be decided by the toss of a coin.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the beneficiaries, coming up the field one last time to beat the Buffalo Bills, but Patrick Mahomes and Co. were not to make the Super Bowl.

That the Chiefs were stunned by the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game said a great deal for the strength in depth of the conference.

And that has been ratcheted up to another level over the course of the offseason, with Russell Wilson and Davante Adams among the notable names traded into the AFC.

The NFC may still have the defending Super Bowl champions, but there are no shortage of contenders here – including as many as four in one wild division out west.

The favourites

The Chiefs and the Bills would both have been hugely disheartened by the manner in which their seasons ended. Kansas City had the fortune that deserted Buffalo but were unable to make the most of their reprieve against the Bengals.

But that will merely make Mahomes and Josh Allen two of the more motivated superstars heading into the new season.

Mahomes is now without Tyreek Hill, yet the Chiefs' offensive line went from strength to strength as last season wore on, ranking third in pass protection win percentage by the year's end.

Meanwhile, Allen showed in that playoff blockbuster he can be every bit a match for Mahomes at his best. He threw nine touchdown passes across his two playoff games; no player had previously thrown more than seven while playing two games or fewer in a single postseason.

Allen will hope not to get the chance to better that record, this year targeting a run that goes far beyond the Divisional Round.

In the mix

The Bengals of course have to be considered after pushing the Los Angeles Rams all the way, while the Tennessee Titans actually matched the Chiefs for the best regular season record in the AFC despite Derrick Henry being limited to eight games, though the trade of receiver A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles may restrict their ceiling on offense and ability to compete this year.

Deshaun Watson's suspension will give the Cleveland Browns work to do just to make the playoffs, but they may well be a serious threat if they get there.

A conference packed with quarterback talent also includes former MVP Lamar Jackson, who is fit again and looking to set the Baltimore Ravens back on course after a difficult 2021 in which they finished bottom of the AFC North.

But if the Chiefs are the team to beat, perhaps one of their division rivals can cause an upset. Each of the Los Angeles Chargers, the Denver Broncos and the Las Vegas Raiders have reasons to be optimistic.

Four contenders in the wild, wild AFC West

The Chiefs have won the AFC West six years in a row, but there is no guarantee that will become seven. The scale of the challenge before Kansas City represents a big boost to their AFC rivals – and to the neutrals, licking their lips at a must-watch season-long tussle.

Justin Herbert has long looked like making the Chargers contenders, with just the 14th 5,000-yard passing season in league history helping his offense finish fourth in the league in yards per game (390.2) and fifth in total points scored (747) last season. Crucially, the Chargers have added defensive help in the form of Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson now, too.

Yet their offseason work perhaps pales next to that of the Broncos and the Raiders.

Wilson left the Seattle Seahawks for Denver, who promptly handed him a huge contract, clearly feeling he and Nathaniel Hackett can be the QB-coach combo they have been missing to return them to the postseason.

Support for that belief comes from Wilson's performance in quarterback Efficiency Versus Expected (EVE), which measures a signal-caller's performance in expected passing situations against the league average. Despite playing only 14 games on a Seahawks team that finished in the NFC West cellar, Wilson was still 13th in EVE, just behind Tom Brady.

Meanwhile, Adams has reunited with former Fresno State team-mate Derek Carr on the Raiders, with Stats Perform's positional rankings subsequently considering Las Vegas to have the most talented skill players in the NFL.

The Chiefs will undoubtedly now be made to work for the division after years of dominance. 

Lamar out to right last year's wrongs

With half of the conference potentially in contention for a Super Bowl run, there is perhaps no true sleeper pick, but the Ravens will expect to go from worst to first in their division.

Much will depend on a return to form for dual-threat superstar Jackson.

Baltimore were firmly on course for the playoffs at the time of the ankle injury that kept Jackson out of the run-in in 2021, collapsing thereafter. However, it had already been by far the QB's worst season as a regular starter.

After 3,127 passing yards and 36 passing TDs and 1,206 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs in his MVP season of 2019, Jackson had regressed slightly in 2020 and struggled further last year both through the air and on the ground.

In 12 games, Jackson threw just 16 TDs to 13 interceptions, while his 767 rushing yards saw him finish second among QBs to Jalen Hurts – a category he had dominated in the previous two campaigns.

Everything the Ravens do when they are good goes through Jackson, so his performance level will make or break their season.

Can Tua turn his fortunes around?

With the wealth of talent at the top of the AFC, there must also be some dregs at the bottom. The Miami Dolphins might fear they belong instead to that category.

The Dolphins made their own big move this offseason, taking elite receiver Hill out of the AFC West to give Tua Tagovailoa little excuse in his third season.

Hill got open on 82.7 per cent of his targets last season, with those skills of separation sure to come in useful when attempting to link up with a passer in Tagovailoa who threw to an open target just 73.8 per cent of the time.

The Dolphins are not expecting Tagovailoa to be Mahomes, but they need him to be much better than he has been thus far for this project to work.

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.

Los Angeles Chargers cornerback and prized free agent acquisition J.C. Jackson underwent ankle surgery on Tuesday.

The 2021 Pro Bowl selection is expected to miss two-to-four weeks, the team announced, giving him a chance to suit up for the Chargers' season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders on September 11.

After starting his NFL career with the New England Patriots, Jackson signed a five-year, $82million contract with the Chargers this offseason.

Jackson, who went undrafted out of Maryland in 2018, had 25 interceptions in his four seasons with the Patriots, the most in the NFL over that span.

Jackson, 26, was signed by the Chargers in an effort to improve on last year's bottom-five scoring defense that allowed 27 points per game.

This offseason, Los Angeles also traded for Khalil Mack to rush the quarterback opposite Joey Bosa, while the interior defensive line should be bolstered by the acquisitions of Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson.

The Chargers made Derwin James the highest-paid safety in NFL history when they signed him to a $76.5m contract extension earlier this month.

With a talented, new-look defense and with blossoming star Justin Herbert under center, the Chargers are looking to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs in a highly competitive AFC West.

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