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NFL Kickoff: The 2020 AFC West

The Chiefs have dominated the AFC West for the past 4 years. Will anyone dethrone the kings in 2020?

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NFL Kickoff: The 2020 AFC West

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

The status of the 2020 NFL Season seemed to hang in the air, drifting wide of the uprights for months. As we all watched with bated breath as the league hurdled towards disaster, the league sat back and came up with a plan of changes to ensure that players and coaches remain safe and healthy.

The NFL miraculously split the uprights and now we’re playing football in 2020.

So we’re looking at each of the NFL divisions and diving into how they fit into the new NFL landscape and how they’ve spent the offseason prepping for a run at the Lombardi trophy this season.

Let’s dive right in and talk about the AFC West.

The Los Angeles Chargers – 5-11 in 2019

Of the teams in the AFC West, the Chargers saw the most change leading into the 2020 season. Franchise QB Phillip Rivers? Gone. Workhorse RB Melvin Gordon? Gone. All time TE Antonio Gates? Gone. While the last one won’t hurt as much (Gates was more of a distraction to defenses than anything), this Chargers team is an offense in transition.

And who will lead the next era of LAC offense? While Tyrod Taylor will start the year under center, the Chargers drafted Oregon standout Justin Herbert with the 6th overall pick. Their signing of Taylor clearly indicates they want to give Herbert some time before throwing him to the wolves. With injury-prone Taylor, one can assume it’ll only be a matter of time before we see Herbert take the field.

If LA can cut back on the turnovers, their offense should keep them in games. Austin Ekeler should assume lead back duties and the Chargers return a strong pass-catching group led by Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry. Their defense won’t strike fear into anyone (particularly with the loss of Derwin James) but if the offense mirrors 2019 production, the Chargers will be a cusp playoff team. Expect them to eke out 8 or 9 wins in 2020.

The Las Vegas Raiders – 7-9 in 2019

Disappointing in 2020, the Las Vegas Raiders come into 2020 with their new Death Star. With few major changes to their roster, the Raiders are banking on a healthy Derek Carr being a difference-maker. In a typical Davis family move, Oakland took speedy wideout Henry Ruggs out of Alabama with the twelfth overall pick. He joins an unexciting receiving corps of Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, and Nelson Agholor. I can’t imagine many fantasy players will be watching Raiders games very closely…

On the other side of the ball, Las Vegas did little to address a bottom-of-the-pack defense. They pumped an additional $50+ million into their linebacking corps but with no true stars, it looks like they will continue to rue the day they traded Kahlil Mack.

In a tough division, it’s hard to see Vegas being competitive. They should scrap out some wins against some lower competition in the AFC East but may get steam-rolled in their division. Unless Derek Carr has a big year, expect the Raiders to hover around their 2019 win total.

The Denver Broncos – 7-9 in 2019

Denver has had 3 consecutive disappointing seasons (<7 wins) and it’s hard to see that changing in 2020. Denver appears committed to giving Drew Lock the starting job, but this year they made a point to put some more weapons around him. In drafting Jerry Jeudy and signing Melvin Gordon to split carries with Phillip Lindsay, John Elway looked to juice up an anemic offense. With a strong defense led by Von Miller, it could be enough to push Denver into playoff contention. But that defense isn’t getting any younger so you can expect a regression from them in 2020.

No matter the talent, I always fear seeing Denver on the schedule. Their defense always seems able to make some plays and create offense. Expect them to employ the approach of the Manning years – manage the game and wait for your defense to make plays. Elway is taking a major gamble in running Drew Lock out there with no legitimate competition in camp. If Lock can take the next step, Denver will likely find themselves in the playoff mix. I’m guessing we see a .500+ season in Denver.

The Kansas City Chiefs – 12-4 in 2019

Kansas City was the darling of the football world in 2019 as they marched decidedly through the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl Championship. The scary part? Patrick Mahomes wasn’t 100% for most of the season.

The Chiefs front office prioritized locking down their offensive core, making Mahomes the first $500 million man in the NFL. Couple that with a few key re-signings on the defensive side, including pass rusher Chris Jones, and it’s clear that the Chiefs are looking to run it back. At times last year, the Chiefs secondary was vulnerable, so I could see them dropping a couple against the league’s top offenses.

With likely the league’s top offense and a serviceable defense, it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs don’t end the regular season as one of the top two seeds in the AFC. If they can stay healthy, we may be looking at the next great NFL dynasty.

Division Winner:

Are you serious? Barring multiple catastrophic injuries, Chiefs by a mile.

Ryan grew up outside of Boston in Waltham, MA watching the Pats, Celtics, Sox and Bruins. Despite now living in the vastly inferior sports city of NYC, he remains a die-hard Boston sports fan and is often "that guy" in the bar ridiculing NY sports. Ryan works in tech and is the Co-Founder and President of the recently incorporated Emergent TheaterWorks in NYC, a non-profit theater company focused on producing new and underdone works.

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