2020 AFC West Preview
Kansas City Chiefs (13-3, 2019 Super Bowl Champions)
What happened last year
The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl thanks to an incredible season from Madden 20 Cover Athlete Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes played in 14 of 16 games last year, passed for 26 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and averaged 287 passing yards per game with a 5.4% TD Percentage. Running Back Damien Williams, in 6 starts last season, averaged 10 rushing attempts per game, averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and scored five touchdowns. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were the leading receivers for the Chiefs. On defense, the 2019-2020 Chiefs were led by Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, and Linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LB Willie Gay Jr, OT Lucas Niang, S L’Jarius Sneed, Edge Michael Danna
CB Kendall Fuller, OLB Emmanuel Ogbah, RB LeSean McCoy
Week 3: Chiefs at Ravens
Mahomes vs Jackson. A battle of the two most recent NFL MVPs. This game is going to be an incredible display and a potential preview of the AFC Championship. Two high powered offenses going at it in Baltimore.
Week 12: Chiefs at Buccaneers
This game has the makings to be a match-up for the ages. Mahomes’ Chiefs vs Brady’s Buccaneers. The story writes itself. The new top quarterback of the league vs the current greatest of all time, trying to prove himself on a new team in a new situation. Who will win?
Week 15: Chiefs at Saints
This could be a Super Bowl preview, the best team in the AFC vs the best team in the NFC on paper. The Saints have everything you look for in a Super Bowl contender, can they take down the former champs?
X Factor: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
The Chiefs spent a first round pick on rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU. Edwards-Helaire will immediately step into the starting running back position, as Damien Williams has opted out of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Andy Reid will hope to use the rookie as he coached his previous RBs like Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy.
After examining the Chiefs schedule for this season, the Chiefs will have a tough back-half of the season. From Weeks 12-17, the Chiefs play Tom Brady’s Buccaneers, a divisional game vs the Denver Broncos, at Miami in Week 14, at New Orleans in Week 15, vs Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, and vs the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 17. That is what happens when you win the Super Bowl, you get a tough schedule the next season. I fully anticipate the Chiefs marching right into the playoffs this season and being a Super Bowl contender for years to come, thanks to their elite offense. It’s worth noting that Mahomes signed a massive 10-year contract extension this off-season. The Chiefs also re-signed Frank Clark, Travis Kelce, and extended head coach Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach through 2025. The Chiefs core is still really young, has a Super Bowl win under their belt already, and will be together for at least the next three seasons. Chiefs fans have many reasons to be excited about this team.
Denver Broncos (7-9, missed playoffs)
What happened last year
The Broncos started out the season with veteran QB Joe Flacco under center, and that did not work out the way the team hoped. Flacco played in 8 games last season and led the Broncos to a 2-6 start. Flacco was eventually benched, and was replaced with bridge QB Brandon Allen for a handful of games. Eventually, this was rookie second round draft pick Drew Lock’s job and he never looked back. Lock went on to win four of their last five games, finishing the Broncos at a 7-9 record. Lock’s primary number one receiver, Courtland Sutton, proved to be a real player in this league leading the team in receiving with a 72 reception, 1,112 yard, 6 TD season. Sutton proved he is capable of being a legitimate number one receiver in the league and it does not matter who is throwing him the football. Tight end Noah Fant showed some promise in his rookie season, with 40 receptions, 562 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fant was a very highly touted prospect out of Iowa last season and is expected to continue developing for years to come.
RB Melvin Gordon, WR Jerry Jeudy, WR K.J. Hamler, DE Jurrell Casey, CB A.J. Bouye, OG Graham Glasgow
CB Chris Harris, OL Conner McGovern, DE Derek Wolfe, QB Joe Flacco
Week 1: Denver Broncos vs San Francisco 49ers
The Broncos travel to San Francisco to take on one of the teams that played in last season’s Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. This is going to be a tough challenge for the young Broncos, as the 49ers have proven to be a tough opponent for any team in the National Football League.
Week 7: Denver Broncos vs Kansas City Chiefs
The Broncos have the tough task of facing the two teams that played in the Super Bowl last season, the 49ers, as well as divisional rival Kansas City Chiefs (twice, Week 7 at home, and in Kansas City Week 13) Denver needs to find a way to win one of these games in order to have any hope at making the playoffs this season.
Week 9: Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons
This is going to be a tough test for the Broncos defense, as Denver will face the Falcons and Matt Ryan. I’m expecting this game to be a back and forth contest that will see if the Broncos can hang with any offense in the league.
X Factor: All Receivers
2020 is going to be a pivotal year for the growth of Drew Lock as a professional starting quarterback, and he is going to need the talent around him to step up. The receiver room in Denver starts with Courtland Sutton, who has shown he is capable of being a number one offense already. Next up is Noah Fant, who was a highly touted rookie tight end in 2019 that showed a lot of promise. The key additions that bring this Broncos offense over the top are wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, arguably the top receiver in the 2020 draft class, second round pick K.J. Hamler, and backup TE Albert Okwuebunam. The Broncos hope that Jeudy, a first round draft pick from Alabama, is going to develop into a 1B type of receiver, taking defensive pressure off of Courtland Sutton and creating more opportunities for the offense to succeed in 2020. Hamler, DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick will battle it out for the number three wide receiver position. Okwuebunam is a great backup tight end to Noah Fant. This offense, in theory, should run through Sutton, Fant, Jeudy and the running backs.
While the Broncos invested quite a lot in revamping their offense in 2020, there are other sides of the ball that are just as important. The Broncos need their defense to improve after allowing 337 yards per game last season. Denver averaged 4.9 third down conversions per game last season, another area they will look to improve. On paper, Denver looks to be a team that will struggle vs the pass on defense. The team lost number 1 CB Chris Harris in free agency, and allowed 225 passing yards in the league, which was 11th most in the league. The Broncos brought in former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur and his 22 years of experience to improve the offense as a whole, as he was named offensive coordinator. Will Denver make a big enough improvement this season to put them in the playoff hunt this season?
Oakland Raiders (7-9, missed playoffs)
What happened last year
After appearing on HBO’s Hard Knocks during the 2019 off-season, the Raiders finished their farewell season in Oakland with little to no consistency. Oakland failed to get any sort of rhythm going and finished the year at 7-9. The team relied on QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs, and TE Darren Waller to lead the way on offense. Carr passed for 4,054 passing yards which was 12th in the league. Josh Jacobs finished third in the league in rushing yards per game, with 88.46 yards on average in 13 games played. Darren Waller was 14th in the league in overall receptions with 90, or the third most among TE. Waller had 1,145 receiving yards, 19th most in the league. Waller was a great comeback story after spending the last few seasons serving a suspension for off the field concerns which he recovered from.
WR Henry Ruggs, WR Bryan Edwards, ILB Cory Littleton, DE Carl Nassib, QB Marcus Mariota, TE Jason Witten
DE Benson Mayowa, CB Daryl Worley, LB Tahir Whitehead
Week 7 Oakland Raiders vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The battle of Raiders’ coach John Gruden’s former teams, Raiders-Bucs. In this year’s match-up, the Raiders will go against Tom Brady, and all of the incredible weapons of the Buccaneers offense and mastermind head coach Bruce Arians.
Week 8: Oakland Raiders vs Cleveland Browns
Two teams in the middle of a rebuild that are looking to take that next step this season. Who is going to come out ahead? Which team is further along in their rebuild?
Week 14: Oakland Raiders vs Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are arguably one of the best teams in the AFC this season, and the Raiders are going to have their work cut out for them in Week 14.
X Factor: Rookie Wide Receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards
Last season, Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Renfrow were not able to help Derek Carr get anything going on offense. The Raiders saw this, and addressed the need with the additions of Ruggs and Edwards. Ruggs brings electric speed to the table and Edwards has been the talk of training camp this summer. Both players are expected to contribute to the Raiders season as they hope to improve from last year’s 7-9 record. It is worth noting that receiver Tyrell Williams was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon, which leaves a big opportunity to one of these rookies.
The Raiders will move to Las Vegas starting in 2020, without any fans in the stadium. Vegas added to their receiving core this off season in a big way, spending a first round draft pick on Henry Ruggs from Alabama, and a third round pick on Bryan Edwards. Edwards has been receiving a lot of buzz in camp, and that should be monitored throughout the season. Edwards could emerge a quality player for the Raiders. The Raiders emphasized adding speed this off season after having one of the bottom five receiving options in the NFL last season. This team is still a way away from being a contender, but they should see improvement across the board.
Los Angeles Chargers (5-11, missed playoffs)
What happened last year
The Los Angeles Chargers played to a disappointing fashion last season, finishing the year losing six of their last seven games of the season. The Chargers were in plenty of close games, though they failed to get the wins in crunch time when it mattered the most. This is a season after making the 2018 playoffs with a 12-4 record. The disappointing campaign led to a slew of changes which will be talked about below.
OT Bryan Baluga, OG Trai Turner, DT Linval Joseph, CB Chris Harris, QB Tyrod Taylor
QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, OT Russell Okung, FS Adrian Phillips, LB Thomas Davis
Week 1: Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
The Chargers will be daunted with the task to be number one overall pick Joe Burrow’s first opponent in the National Football League. Will the new-look Chargers team be able to compete with the rookie and his loaded offense?
Week 12: Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills
Two teams heading in opposite directions. The Bills are looking to continue their hopes for competing for a Super Bowl, as the Chargers re-tool on offense, trying to find a new identity.
Week 16: Los Angeles Chargers vs Denver Broncos
A division game late in the season with an expanded playoff situation, this could be a match-up that determines one of the last wild card spots in the AFC if things go the Chargers way this season.
X Factor: Chargers Defense
The Chargers defense is a unit that has as lot of talent on paper, but cannot stay healthy and together for an entire season. The team already lost safety Derwin James to an injury that will keep him out for 6-8 months. The Chargers defense is led by Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Casey Hayward and Chris Harris. These players are all elite at their individual positions, but they will need to figure out a way to make it through the season as healthy as possible if the team wants to be in the playoff hunt.
The Chargers will have an entire new offensive identity in the 2020 season. Longtime quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Melvin Gordon are no longer with the team. LA brought in Tyrod Taylor to be the bridge quarterback and lead the team until rookie Justin Herbert is ready to take over. Austin Ekeler earned a contract extension this off-season and he will look to build on the 2019 success he had on the ground. The Chargers added a lot of talent this off-season, specifically with LT Bryan Baluga and CB Chris Harris. Personally, I think the Chargers are still not quite ready to compete, but this team should definitely be better than their 5-11 record last season, a lot closer to .500. Will these additions be enough to get the Chargers back to their winning ways? When is rookie Justin Herbert going to take over the starting quarterback job? These are questions that will be answered in the coming months.
(Cover Photo: design by Ryan Waldis, photos via USA Today Sports, CalSport Media, and Associated Press)