The preseason is now over. The NFL season is just around the corner, and you may be wondering how each AFC West team is looking as we charge toward Week 1 like a runaway train?! The following article contains my collection of thoughts as to where each team sits as they end the preseason, and my predictions for how things will shake out within the most tumultuous division in all of football!
Kansas City Chiefs- Win Total 10.5 Over (-125) Under (+105)
Andy Reid has always been a proponent of a dress rehearsal in the preseason, and in Week 2 (the new Week 3 with the shortened preseason) he didn’t disappoint by putting Mahomes out there. While Mahomes was his usual, brilliant self, a surprise came in the form of Shane Buechele who played remarkably well in all three preseason games. This was especially true in Week 3 against the Packers when he threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Currently, Chad Henne is still the backup, but Buechele may prove a valuable asset in the future if he continues to develop.
The big news for fantasy gamers everywhere is Isiah Pacheco is getting reps with the first team and ultimately led all running backs in snaps during the preseason.
— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) August 27, 2022
This is incredible for a rookie who was drafted in the seventh round, and it is entirely possible he factors into this offense. He’s likely a darkhorse to be the lead running back, but he’s talented and the Chiefs have desperately tried to fill the hole Kareem Hunt left. Pacheco is exactly the kind of player the Chiefs like to target because he is FAST! He looks like a natural fit to me, but the Chiefs also have him listed as a kick returner, so we will see.
While JuJu Smith-Schuster didn’t log a catch in the preseason, I wouldn’t let that bother fantasy gamers much. This is a talented receiver who the Chiefs prioritized signing two years in a row and were able to land for 2022. I like his chances of beating out Marquez Valdes-Scantling, rookie Skyy Moore, and Mecole Hardman as the primary wide receiver in the offense. Also, look for him to play outside and not primarily in the slot which increases his upside for fantasy gamers.
This trio of linebackers has me excited for Chiefs fans. I wrote about Nick Bolton, Willie Gay, and Leo Chenal in my previous article, and my excitement hasn’t waned much. This group has the potential to emerge as one of the premier units in the game as they are all young, athletic, and eager to make an impact. They will be fun to watch this season.
Leo Chenal as a third-down blitzer is going to be something to watch … grab your popcorn.
— Matt Derrick (@mattderrick) August 26, 2022
Likely, this team will be playing in a lot of shootouts this season which will have fans salivating and gravitating to televisions across the globe. This means the Chiefs defense is going to be tested quite a bit, and there are still some question marks with their pass rushers. The Chiefs signed defensive end Carlos Dunlap likely as a way to bridge the gap to George Karlaftis. However, Dunlap has been dealing with an Achilles injury, so the Chiefs might be forced to use the rookie pass rusher more than they expected to. This means Frank Clark and Chris Jones need to step up as veteran pass rushers along the front line.
The secondary is also going to be tested as rookie first round cornerback Trent McDuffie will play alongside Rashad Fenton at the cornerback position. Justin Reid looks as advertised, and I wouldn’t expect much of a drop off from Tyrann Mathieu. There’s also Bryan Cook to consider at the safety position who has played the majority of snaps in the preseason at safety. This is likely Juan Thornhill‘s job, but having depth at the position never hurts.
As much as I love Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, this team is likely going to go through some growing pains. Mahomes is going to need time to gel with his new trio of wide receivers. This young defense is going to make some mistakes early on. Look for the Chiefs to get out to a slow start, but I’m warning Chiefs fans not to get frustrated! There is loads of talent on this roster that was injected with youth in the 2022 NFL Draft (the Chiefs made 10 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft).
The Chiefs won’t win the AFC West in 2022, but they will make the playoffs with an 11-6 record and once again go over their win total of 10.5 (-125). While the slow start will likely cost the Chiefs the division, this team will be in prime form come playoff time. And let’s face it, that’s all that matters anyways.
Los Angeles Chargers- Win Total 10 Over (-150) Under (+130)
While Andy Reid and the Chiefs believe in a dress rehearsal, the Chargers were having none of starting Justin Herbert in the preseason. I don’t necessarily blame them as the young quarterback is one of the most talented players in the NFL. As a result, Easton Stick and Chase Daniel split time playing quarterback in the preseason, and it’s likely that Chase Daniel carries the clipboard for another season.
Isaiah Spiller left the Week 3 preseason game against the Cowboys with an ankle injury. As a result Joshua Kelly may be someone to keep an eye on in the backfield. He’s proven to be an athletic guy who may simply need the opportunity. This is a situation to monitor as the Chargers likely want to preserve Austin Ekeler throughout the season. My guess is the Chargers give Spiller every chance to win the backup job, but Kelly makes a serious push and may make the decision for them with his athleticism.
Just night and day for Kelley in terms of how decisive he is being after handoffs and receptions. North and south. And his athleticism takes over from there. https://t.co/oCqlyA6ERt
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) August 27, 2022
The Chargers pass catchers are pretty much set in stone. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are lined up to be the WR 1 and WR 2, but there is somewhat of a battle at the WR 3 position, and it would appear as though Joshua Palmer is the favorite to win the job.
Also, Zion Johnson looks good along the offensive line, which is a unit that may be better than advertised in 2022.
Zone base block from Zion. Leverage + movement. Beautiful. pic.twitter.com/ftX2co8c4E
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) August 22, 2022
The combination of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack on the defensive line is the scariest combination in all of football. There, I said it. If those two guys can stay healthy, it’s going to be a nightmare for whoever has to block them.
The Chargers did take a hit to their secondary when J.C. Jackson went down with an ankle injury.
J.C. Jackson underwent ankle surgery today. He is out two to four weeks, #Chargers say.
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) August 23, 2022
The timeline for his return is 2-4 weeks, so he will miss some time during the regular season. It will be up to one of Michael Davis, Deane Leonard, Michael Jacquet, or Brandon Sebastian to take his place at corner. This is not good for the Chargers, but they do have a strong secondary even with this injury to Jackson.
Linebacker for this team is a position I wrote about in my previous article. While this team has a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, there isn’t a ton of depth at the linebacker position. Kenneth Murray figures to be the primary middle linebacker and will have an important role on this defense.
This is the most talented team in the division, and that is saying something. I have the Chargers winning this division with a record of 12-5, which will put them over their win total of 10 (-150). I doubt they get the No. 1 seed because this division is so tough, so they will not have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They may match up with another AFC West team in the playoffs if things shake out right, and there is a really good chance of that happening.
Denver Broncos- Win Total 10 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Just like the Chargers, the Broncos didn’t show us Russell Wilson in the preseason. That’s okay, but I’m sure Broncos fans would have liked to have a sneak peek at their new, superstar quarterback. Josh Johnson and Brett Rypien split time at quarterback during the preseason. It’s a close competition for the backup job.
A lot has been made about the running back position for the Broncos, but I’m sure the Broncos are not looking at it the way fantasy gamers are. They are thrilled to have two running backs they can depend on to give them valuable carries and reps. This is going to be a timeshare backfield which is going to be good for the Broncos as they march towards the playoffs as both running backs will likely be healthy for the duration of the season.
The Broncos were dealt a crushing blow when Tim Patrick tore his ACL. Patrick figured to be the WR 3 in this offense, and with his absence the Broncos are likely going to be depending on second year wide receiver K.J. Hamler.
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) August 28, 2022
Hamler looks to be the perfect match to Russell Wilson deep balls. Hamler is athletic and supremely fast, and he is now going to have more of a role on the offense. While defenses will be attempting to cover Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, Hamler will be stretching the field and catching the home run deep bomb.
This defense is going to look different without Von Miller. However, the team did sign Randy Gregory, and currently he is projected to start as one of the outside linebackers in the Broncos 3-4 scheme. Gregory has always possessed great skill, but it’s worth monitoring whether or not the Broncos can get the most out of him. If Gregory can be an X-factor on defense, the combination of Bradley Chubb and Gregory coming off the edge could be lethal.
The Broncos second round selection Nik Bonitto will also figure into the Broncos game plans. He’s a gifted athlete with a rare burst off the edge. Bonitto was impactful during the preseason and will provide some depth along the defensive line.
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) August 28, 2022
A strength of the Broncos defense is their secondary. Second year cornerback Patrick Surtain looks like a star in the making, and Justin Simmons is about as solid as they come at safety. The Broncos also have Ronald Darby and Kareem Jackson at the other safety and corner spot. This athletic group should give the pass rush time to get to the opposing quarterback.
The Broncos are the third best team in this division, and they will be making the playoffs with a 10-7 record. Thus, they will push their win total of 10 wins. As I’ve mentioned previously, this division is going to beat up on each other. As a result, each team within the division is going to be well prepared to face teams outside of their division. Russell Wilson is going to take this team to a whole other level, and no one is going to want to face them even as a road playoff team this season.
Las Vegas Raiders- Win Total 8.5 Over (-130) Under (+110)
Following the theme of the division, minus the Chiefs, the Raiders elected not to play Derek Carr during the preseason. It’s no secret he is their starting quarterback, but Jarrett Stidham and Nick Mullens split time during the preseason. It will be interesting to see who wins the backup job.
Darren Waller has been away from the team for a significant amount of time as he is looking for a new contract. Waller went so far as to fire his agent.
According to Mike Florio, Waller would like a contract before the beginning of the season. It’s uncertain whether Waller would hold out if this doesn’t happen, but it is a situation to monitor as we tick ever closer to the beginning of the season. If Waller does miss time, his immediate backup is Foster Moreau.
It’s going to be interesting to see what the Raiders backfield looks like. Brittain Brown led the team in carries during the final two preseason games. Zamir White is another name to keep an eye on. And of course, there is the much maligned, amongst fantasy gamers, Josh Jacobs who still figures to be the lead back. Jacobs’ numbers have improved every season, but this is the first year of Josh McDaniels, and it is very much a mystery how they plan to use him this season.
#Raiders DE Chandler Jones: "The art of pass rush, you can't chase sacks…a lot of times, sacks come to you."
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) August 24, 2022
This is clearly the strength of this defense, and the Raiders will surely be depending on them as the season goes along. Currently, the Raiders have Bilal Nichols and Jonathan Hankins slated as the starting defensive tackles.
The Raiders secondary could be good this season. They certainly have tried to bolster this unit through the draft. Currently, the Raiders have three former second round picks and one first round pick in their secondary. Three of those four players were drafted by the Raiders. Rock Ya-Sin, a former second round pick by the Indianapolis Colts, was brought over to play the other cornerback position. A lot will depend on this unit as they will have to chase the talented wide receivers within the division. If they can perform, this team may be better than expected.
There isn’t much depth in the linebacking group. Currently, Denzel Perryman and Divine Deablo will start at either linebacker spot. There isn’t much behind them if one of these guys goes down. The Raiders are a team that will be relying on their interior lineman to help out the linebackers by eating up blocks, allowing them to flow to the ball. The Raiders may be able to get by if the defensive line can do this.
If the Raiders played in another division, I might be inclined to be a little more optimistic. They have an insane trio of pass catchers to be sure. However, their offensive line leaves a lot to be desired. There are also questions about the defense. The Raiders are a talented team. However, they are the worst team in the division. They will finish in fourth place with a winning record of 9-8. They will go over their win total of 8.5 games, but this finish will not be good enough to make the postseason.