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Examining how AFC West will shape out

Oct 30, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) runs the ball during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season there was an insane amount of hype for the AFC West. Many thought all four teams would be competitive and if everything went right, each team could finish over .500.

Many people thought wrong.

Last year the Raiders were on the right side of luck more often than not. This season’s regression was inevitable. The Broncos could only hide subpar quarterback play so long. The Chargers still haven’t figured out how to win close games consistently. The Chiefs were always going to win this division because they have the best head coach. Recently, they’ve shown chinks in their armor. Let’s go over how each team will finish the season.

Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City is sitting pretty at 6-3 after a 5-0 start. The offense is wildly efficient and is seemingly always in a position to score. Alex Smith is taking more shots down the field, thus opening up the running game. Kareem Hunt refuses to go down on first contact and looks like a top-five running back. Travis Kelce is easily the best tight end in football and is catching 75 percent of his passes. Add Tyreek Hill’s explosive play ability and it’s easy to see why the offense is humming.

Defensively, the Chiefs have been bad. They have the worst run defense in the NFL. The Steelers and Cowboys had their way with Kansas City. Two big differences from last year: The Chiefs aren’t getting after the quarterback, they’re 19th in adjusted sack rate. They’re also not getting high-end play from Terrance Mitchell, unlike the end of last season. Marcus Peters stays on one side of the field so teams can pick on the other side all day.

The good news: The Chiefs play three anemic offenses coming up. The bad news: Those opponents are all good on defense. The Giants might not care at this point so we can chalk that up as a win, but the Bills and Jets won’t be easy outs. After those games three of the Chiefs’ final four games are against division opponents. Four of the final six games are at Arrowhead, so that’s a positive.

They’ll beat the Giants. They’ll split the Bills and Jets. I believe they’ll win three of their last four, dropping one to a division opponent. The Chiefs should run away with this division. They’re built to beat the remaining teams on the schedule.

Record: 11-5

Oakland Raiders

At 4-5 heading into their bye week, the Oakland Raiders need to find their identity. They beat up on a lowly Dolphin team, but even that was too close for comfort. The receiver duo many expected to have a stellar season continues to underwhelm. The rushing game hasn’t consistently gotten going. The defense is the worst in the league. Maybe featuring Jared Cook is the way to go, but 27 carries for 84 yards is a good way to end a season before January.

The Raiders get back rookie Obi Melifonwu, the all-world athlete who hasn’t played this year. They’ll also determine if Gareon Conley will get back on the field this year. The team needs both in the biggest way.

That’s suboptimal. Oakland has the second-worst adjusted sack rate in the league — there’s your answer to why teams move the ball so easily on the Raiders.

I foresee a rough ending for the Raiders. They’ll lose to the Patriots and beat the Broncos and Giants to give fans a glimmer of hope at the playoffs, only to lose the last four games. The lack of consistency on offense will bite them when it matters and Oakland won’t be able to stop the good teams when it matters.

Record: 6-10

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers are 3-5 after starting 0-4 and then reeling off three wins in a row before running into the Patriots. I think the game against New England proved that they can hang with the big dogs. Their run defense has been much improved over the last month while the pass defense continues to be a top-10 unit. Boasting the best pass-rush duo in the league has helped the Chargers get off the field on third downs.

The problem is the other two phases of the game. The offense has been one of the most disappointing units in the league this year. The Bolts can’t run the ball. Either the offensive line doesn’t create holes or Melvin Gordon can’t find them. They do a good job of protecting Rivers up front but the receivers haven’t been able to get open. The one who has, Hunter Henry, seems to go missing every other game. We know the Chargers will be able to keep games close down the stretch. Will they be able to pull them out?

All the playoff talk will end Sunday if they lose to the Jaguars. I think they will win three of their next four after that before losing a heartbreaker to the Chiefs that finally ruins their season. They’ll win the last two, ending up .500 for the season.

Record: 8-8

Denver Broncos

Sorry, Bronco fans. I know you have the same record (essentially) as the other two teams, but you guys are going in the wrong direction. The other two teams have a quarterback; as well as Denver plays on defense, it has to score. The quarterbacks the Broncos have are a turnover waiting to happen. The defense has zero room for error. One mistake on offense and that’s the ball game. That’s how a four-game losing streak happens. I think they’ll finish up like Oakland: losses to the Patriots, Raiders, Washington, Jets, and the Chiefs.

Record: 6-10

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