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The AFC’s Best – 2023 AFC West Preview

2023 AFC West Preview

Scott Logush

Associate Editor

What was once perceived as an arms race a year ago quickly became a one-horse race for the AFC West. The Chiefs essentially ran away with this division, while the Chargers made the playoffs and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Raiders and Broncos both fizzled out early, and any hope for the postseason left almost immediately. The Raiders moved one from Derek Carr and signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a three-year deal, marking the biggest change for a given team this offseason. Can Russell Wilson rebound, can anyone catch Kansas City? Let’s see what’s in store for the AFC West in 2023. 

Denver Broncos

The Russell Wilson experience was a nightmare for Denver in 2022. Letting Russ cook almost burned the entire house down, with his play falling off a cliff as he and the Broncos struggled to get things going. Their offensive line is a real strength of this team, with 2021 Senior Bowl star Quinn Meinerz having an excellent year. They brought over Ben Powers from the Baltimore Ravens in free agency, and further strengthened their line with the Mike McGlinchey signing. Garrett Bolles has continued to fix his penalty issues, which allowed his strong play to shine. Wide receiver Tim Patrick can’t catch a break, as he is set to miss the entire 2023 season after tearing his achilles. He already missed the 2022 season due to an ACL tear. Jerry Jeudy has been primarily a slot receiver over the past two years and has really fixed the drop issues that plagued him as a rookie, with eight total drops in 2021 and 2022 compared to 12 in 2020. Courtland Sutton continues to be a good outside receiver, you know what you’re getting from him. 

Their defense is in a bit of a transition as well, with them trading away Bradley Chubb to the Dolphins and opting for a new presence. Pat Surtain II continues to develop into a great young corner, and fourth-round rookie Damarri Mathis out of Pittsburgh played fine as a rookie. Denver has an aging safety duo, with Kareem Jackson coming off his second consecutive season missing over 17 percent of his tackles. Justin Simmons missed 17.3 percent of his tackles in 2022, the highest of his career, and allowed a reception on 82.9 percent of his targets, again the highest of his career. They revamped their defensive front bringing in Zach Allen from Arizona after a career-best 35 pressures, and signed Randy Gregory to a five-year deal worth $70 million. Former CFL All-Star and 2017 Most Outstanding Defensive Player Alex Singleton signed with the Broncos ahead of the 2022 season and had an outstanding season, nearly cutting his missed tackle percentage in half to 6.5 percent from 12.5 percent with the Eagles in 2021. The Broncos need to hope they get some kind of positive regression from their offense in 2023, with a defense set up to 

Kansas City Chiefs

What more needs to be said about the Chiefs? Super Bowl Champion, clear favourites to do it again. We’ll keep this one relatively short. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid are still here, the top quarterback and top offensive coach. They have the top tight end in the league in Travis Kelce with an interesting group of receivers in Sky Moore, MVS, and Kadarius Toney. The interior offensive line is great, but I am concerned about their tackles. Donovan Smith’s play fell off a cliff last season, particularly in the run game. I have my doubts about a rebound as he enters his age-30 season. Jawaan Taylor has been okay at best in his career, but his pass protection took a major step forward in 2022 as he allowed only 16 pressures all season, less than half the amount of his next-best season. They’re embracing a youth movement on defense, although the Chris Jones holdout is the most significant part. If Jones sits, this defensive front drops to a bottom-third unit in the league. There’s only so much Steve Spagnuolo can do.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders are a fun team but are coming off a major disappointment. Having given Derek Carr an extension after 2021, only to cut him in February to get out of paying him. Now, Jimmy Garoppolo is calling the shots under center. They have a solid group of weapons with Davante Adams on the outside and Austin Hooper at tight end, but have duplicating skillsets with Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow as both are primarily slot guys. Josh Jacobs is coming off a career year and is still fighting for a long-term deal. Kolton Miller has solidified his spot as one of the top left tackles in the league, and Jermaine Eluemunor played well in his second season with over 400 snaps. Outside of that, their offensive line isn’t great. Dylan Parham played all three interior positions, primarily left guard, but struggled immensely in pass protecting. Parham allowed 55 pressures, the second most among all guards. The only person to allow more was Ed Ingram on 140 more pass-blocking snaps. 

Their defense only has one encouraging player and that’s Maxx Crosby. A great pass-rusher who had 101 pressures in 2021 and 81 in 2022, he’s here to stay. He recorded 41 run-stops in 2021 and 57 in 2022, I don’t see this elite level of play declining any time soon. Unfortunately, Crosby is where the optimism starts and ends. They signed Robert Spillane in free agency to start at inside linebacker opposite of Divine Deablo, and although I love Spillane he’s just okay at best. Good run defender, coverage leaves a lot to be desired. Marcus Peters was signed recently to be their starting outside corner, and Chandler Jones’ age is catching up to him quickly. There’s hope for seventh overall selection Tyree Wilson to make an impact, but this defense just has too many problems to not be a tire fire.

Los Angeles Chargers

I don’t know what cursed ground the Chargers manage to build their stadium on, but the injury bug consistently bites them. With where the Chargers are now, they’re a great team. Offensively, they have the guy under center in Justin Herbert and have him for a long time with his new contract extension. Rashawn Slater is coming off a significant bicep injury, Herbert played 2022 with a lingering rib injury, and we went through another offseason of Austin Ekler contract discussions and dissatisfaction. They made a clear effort to improve their offense by selecting TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston in the first round.

The team’s defense remains largely unchanged, but the single biggest change this team made was hiring Kellen Moore as their offensive coordinator after he and the Dallas Cowboys parted ways. Herbert has one of the best skillsets in the league, with a fantastic arm and mobility yet it always felt like he wasn’t using it as well as he could. In 2022, Herbert had a big-time throw percentage of 3.3 percent, good for 29th in the league among quarterbacks who played a minimum of 20 percent of their team’s snaps. Herbert is behind guys like Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, and Davis Mills just to name a few. This kind of talent is being wasted with him not taking deep shots, and Moore at OC could be the key to unlocking a new level of Justin Herbert that we have never seen before. 

Final Prediction

The AFC West was thought to be a gauntlet this time a year ago, and now one team is in a transition year, another has to try and salvage a bold trade acquisition, another can’t stay healthy and the final team is coming off a Super Bowl victory. I love Jimmy Garoppolo, he easily makes it on Scott’s My Guys team any day of the week but I can’t believe in him to pull the Raiders to the postseason. The goal in Denver should be to have Russell Wilson not suck, leaving the Chargers and Chiefs with actual playoff hopes.

Standings

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Los Angeles Chargers
  3. Denver Broncos
  4. Las Vegas Raiders
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