For the most part, the AFC West lived right up to expectations in 2020, with the Chiefs exuding dominance, the Raiders collapsing midseason and the Chargers hanging around. What was surprising was the Broncos, who were many’s preseason darlings; Denver battled injuries and absences and fizzled out to a top-10 draft pick. The corps of the division is young and the future is bright for many of its teams.
2020 AFC WEST RESULTS
What more can be said about the Kansas City Chiefs? They finished with the best record in the NFL (14-2) and found themselves in their second straight Super Bowl. While the results weren’t optimal, it was another season of success for Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Travis Kelce was the star of the show, finishing with the most receptions and yards for a tight end in history while companion Tyreek Hill still posted almost 1,300 receiving yards of his own. The offense was an impossible machine and achieved new heights week-in and week-out. They ultimately met their match against the Buccaneers’ ravenous defense, but K.C. isn’t going anywhere.
Rinse and repeat for the Raiders in 2020– Las Vegas was 6-3 at one point with wins over the Chiefs, Saints, and Browns. The playoffs seemed inevitable for the Raiders until they finished the season out 2-5 (nearly 0-7 if it weren’t for a miracle against the winless Jets and a nailbiter over the Broncos). The defense became in immense liability, finishing 29th in defensive efficiency. It puts Jon Gruden on the hot seat, who’s been dealing with criticisms since last year when the same collapse happened. As bad as the season finished, the offseason made it look peachy.
Expectations were kept mostly low for the Los Angeles Chargers moving into 2020; they were dealing with Tyrod Taylor and an inexperienced rookie at quarterback along with the loss of Derwin James. James proves to be a needle-mover on the defense and losing him in the preseason was devastating. Just two weeks into the season, L.A. caught a stroke of luck. Taylor faced a bizarre injury and in stepped Justin Herbert, who led the Chargers to near upset of the Chiefs. Herbert never looked back. He would go on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and break a few records on the way. While the team still floundered thanks to inept coaching and finish 7-9, the future looks very bright for the Bolts.
The Denver Broncos were set to make a leap in 2020. Disaster stuck the team on more than one occasion, with newly-acquired guard Ju’Wan James opting out of the season and Von Miller being lost to injury. Just a few weeks later, star Courtland Sutton was also lost for the year. A rash of COVID-19 left Denver with zero active quarterbacks on their roster against the Saints. They managed to pull five wins, but 2020 was a season to forget for Broncos fans.
2021 AFC WEST OUTLOOK AND PREDICTIONS
The Chiefs were exposed in two areas a season ago– the offensive line and defensive secondary. Those holes weren’t more evident than in the Super Bowl, where Tampa Bay ravaged Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ banged up line. The solution? Sign two Pro Bowl linemen (Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney) and draft arguably the best center in the draft (Creed Humpherey). They also let expensive Bashaud Breeland walk and picked up Mike Hughes from the Vikings. There was a clear direction this offseason and the moves should help Kansas City maintain their level of dominance. The Chiefs are heavyfavorites in the AFC West.
Few teams had a better offseason than the Los Angeles Chargers. Justin Herbert was one of the most pressured quarterbacks last season but performed well when being pressured anyway. L.A. set out to improve the offensive line by signing All Pro center Corey Linsley and drafting touted tackle Rashawn Slater, among other signings. They also let older expensive free agents walk like Melvin Ingram and Casey Hayward, clearing up room for them to bolster positions of need. If there’s a feisty and explosive team that could challenge Kansas City for the division, you’re looking at them. The Chargers should take a massive step forward in 2021.
The Broncos are back to their 2020 jumping off point– Von Miller and Courtland Sutton are expected to be back and healthy and the roster is loaded with talent. The secondary, which was talented as is last season, got a facelift; the Broncos drafted Patrick Surtain II in the top 10 and signed Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby for their starters. The quarterback position was patched for the time being with the signing of Teddy Bridgewater. Drew Lock appears to be on his last strike with the team, which is starting to shift to win-now mode. Vic Fangio isn’t getting any younger and the talent appears to be in place.
As mentioned, the offseason for the Raiders was widely criticized. Their best unit, the offensive line, was broken apart for undisclosed reasons and to help begin repair it, Mark Davis appeared to reach on Alex Leatherwood, a tackle mostly graded in the second round. They spent up for Kenyan Drake (despite already rostering Josh Jacobs) and aging Casey Hayward among other head scratching moves. Whether or not these moves are really genius gambles in disguise remains to be seen, but there aren’t many teams projected for fewer wins this season than the Raiders.
PAST AFC WEST DIVISION WINNERS
|2020||Kansas City Chiefs||14-2|
|2019||Kansas City Chiefs*||12-4|
|2018||Kansas City Chiefs||12-4|
|2017||Kansas City Chiefs||10-6|
|2016||Kansas City Chiefs||12-4|
|2010||Kansas City Chiefs||10-6|