The Gridiron Grind: AFC West

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By Ron Johnson

The AFC West has been the hot spot for a few years. Ever since the Chiefs executed The Art of the Comeback not once, not twice but three times enroute to a Super Bowl Championship back in 2020, they have been the team to beat. Many expected them to falter after the departure of Tyreek Hill, but once again, they proved that they are that damn good. So what did the rest of the division do to try to compete with them? They tried to duplicate.

AFC West Preview

Denver Broncos

I feel like I discussed at the beginning of last season that Nathaniel Hackett was a shit choice for the Broncos as head coach. Yes, he made Aaron Rodgers look good, but then again, so did Danica Patrick. But Hackett was going from Rodgers, who is a pocket presence QB, to Russell Wilson, who is a mobile quarterback. This team was the equivalent of oil and water when it comes to this connection…or lack thereof. The end result for the Broncos was a 5-12 record, 22 players on IR, a massive decline in the performance of Russell Wilson and the immediate departure of Hackett as their head coach.

The Broncos did some work in the offseason as they started with removing John Elway from football operations and found a coach that can get things done in Denver. Insert former Saints head coach Sean Payton. Payton knows what it feels like to get a quarterback back into his groove as he proved that with Jameis Winston before his departure from the sidelines. The draft brought fresh action from both sides as Marvin Mims, Jr. (Oklahoma) and  Alex Forsyth (Oregon) were selected to do the offense. On the defensive side of the ball, Drew Sanders (Arkansas), Riley Moss (Iowa) and JL Skinner (Boise State) were brought into the organization. 

It is still a matter of if these additions will produce the results that the front office as well as the fanbase expect from their star quarterback, coach and team as a whole. They get their first test right out the gate as their opening game of the new season welcomes an old rival in the Raiders. The Commanders come to get entertained before Denver hits the road to South Beach to face the Dolphins and Chicago to face the Bears. 

The Broncos return home for a showdown between Wilson and Rodgers as the Jets visit the Mile High City (Sorry Aaron, but you’ll still have to go to Boulder to get your Ayahuasca). The Broncos hit the road for a quick division matchup with the Chiefs before returning home for a pair of home games (Packers and Chiefs) and hitting the road for a quick one with the Bills. 

The tail end of November and head beginning of December brings a pair of home games (vs. Vikings, vs. Browns) and a pair of road games as well (@Texans, @Chargers). Following a trip to the Motor City, they return home to face the Patriots and Chargers before heading to Vegas to face the Raiders in the season finale.

2023 Season Outlook: 10-7

Las Vegas Raiders

To say the Raiders were disappointing last season is an understatement. One would’ve thought with the arsenal of Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs and Davonte Adams, even I expected the Raiders to be in the playoffs. However, Josh McDaniels’ squad only mustered up a 6-11 record, and had it not been for the Broncos’ woes, they would have been in the basement after suffering their first losing season since 2019. Carr has moved on from Vegas and now takes his talents to the bayou with the Saints, and in his place is Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The Raiders chose to go with both sides of the ball to give Jimmy G some ammunition in hopes to improve on that 6-11 mark. On offense, they selected Michael Mayer (Notre Dame), Tre Tucker (Cincinnati) and Aidan O’Connell (Purdue). Their focus in the draft appeared to be defense as they used most of their picks to snag defensive players. They were able to get Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech), Byron Young (Alabama), Jakorian Bennett (Maryland), Christopher Smith II (Georgia), Amari Burney (Florida) and Neste Jade Silvera (Arizona State). 

If Vegas is living by the mentality of ‘Defense Wins Championships,’ the Garoppolo Grinders are looking to fulfill that when they open the season in the Mile High City against the Broncos before heading to Buffalo to face the Bills and returning home to lock up with the Steelers. The Raiders open October on the road against the Chargers before returning home to face the Packers and Patriots before going to the Windy City to face the Bears then to the Motor City to face the Lions.

After a pair of home games (vs. NY Giants & NY Jets), they hit the road for a quick one with the Dolphins before returning home to face the Chiefs and the Vikings. After a battle with division foe Los Angeles, they spend Christmas Day in the Red Kingdom with the Chiefs, New Year’s Eve with the Colts in Indy and wrap the season up hosting the Broncos.

2023 Season Outlook: 9-8

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers had high expectations after falling short due to a miscalculated time out the previous season finale with the Raiders. After getting into the playoffs this year with a 10-7 record, they managed to add their name to the list of biggest chokes when they blew a 27-point lead against the Jaguars and wound up losing 31-30. To say Brandon Staley is on the hot seat would be an insult…that man is full throttle into the fire.

When the draft arrived, the Chargers were determined to get their team fully ready for the onslaught of new faces in their division as well as their conference. They added depth to their offense (Quentin Johnston/TCU, Derius Davis/TCU, Jordan McFadden/Clemson, Max Duggan/TCU) that consisted of mainly the stars from the college football postseason. They gave Joey Bosa some help by adding Tuli Tuipulotu out of USC, Daiyan Henley out of Washington and Scott Matlock out of Boise State. Justin Herbert now has two primetime receivers at his disposal to go with a still fierce ground game.

They open the season at home against the Dolphins, followed by a pair of road games (@Titans & @Vikings) before returning home to face the Chargers and Cowboys. It does not get easier for them as they will have engage with Travis Kelce (aka Chargers’ Kryptonite) and the Chiefs on the road before welcoming the Bears to SoFi, traveling to face the Jets and back home to face the Lions. After a trip to Wisconsin to face the Packers, they host the Ravens, travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots and back home to battle the Broncos. 

They take a trip to Vegas to face the Raiders before entertaining the Bills at home a few days before Christmas, followed by spending New Year’s Eve in Denver to face the Broncos and wrapping up with a showdown (possibly for the division and the top overall seed) with the defending champs.

2023 Season Outlook: 9-8

Kansas City Chiefs

In the words of Ali: THE CHAMPS ARE HERE!!! For the second time in four years, the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl Champions. With the exception of the Bengals game in the regular season, they were flawless at home and lethal on the road. They finished the season 14-3 and capped it off with a stunning victory over the heavily favored Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.

So how do you improve on a virtually complete football team? You add more weapons on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Chiefs drafted Rashee Rice (SMU) & Wanya Morris (Oklahoma), but they focused on defense in selecting Felix Anudike-Uzomah out of Kansas State, Chamarri Conner out of Virginia Tech, BJ Thompson from Stephen F. Austin, Keondre Coburn out of Texas and Nic Jones out of Ball State. To say the least, the rulers of the Red Kingdom are looking to repeat and not have another moment of falling flat on their face like they did a few years ago against Brady and the Bucs.

The Champs begin to defend their crown at home against Detroit before heading to Jacksonville for a divisional playoff rematch with the Jaguars and return home to host the Bears. October is filled with a pair of home and road games (@NY Jets, @Minnesota, vs. Denver & vs. Chargers). They end October visiting Denver in the Mile High City before heading home to face the Dolphins and a Super Bowl rematch with the Eagles. They spend Thanksgiving weekend in Vegas (most likely on the Garoppolo Discount Double Check) to face the Raiders.

They open December with a trip to Green Bay to face the Packers before returning to Arrowhead to battle the Bills (most likely for the top seed in the AFC), head to Foxboro to face the Patriots and return home for Christmas to host the Raiders for gift swapping and Christmas Dinner. New Year’s Eve brings their Achilles Heel in the form of the Bengals to the Kingdom before finishing the season in LA against the Chargers.

2023 Season Outlook: 14-3

The Raiders and Broncos should improve after a very productive draft, while the Chargers may be treading water by midseason. But when it comes to this division, it is still the Chiefs to lose. In one sense, we can say if Patrick Mahomes stays healthy, but as we saw in the playoffs, he is indeed Superman. Payton may be eyeing playoffs in his first year with Denver, but he has to let Russell be ‘Mr. Unlimited’ rather than ‘Mr. Unlimited Diarrhea.’ Jimmy G should have fun with his new weapons, including Adams, and the Raiders should contend for the division at least until Week 12 or 13. As for the Chargers, short of winning the Super Bowl, there is nothing that can honestly save Brandon Staley’s job. And even Justin Herbert and Joey Bosa have to had enough of being on the losing end of the upsets. 

But when it’s all said and done, and when it comes to this division, it will once again be too easy for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to win it again. Why? BECAUSE…

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