2022 AFC West Preview

September 6, 2022

Getty Images/Dustin Bradford

For the overall 2022 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the previews.

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Overview | Playoffs | Awards

Chiefs 12-5

I’m kind of torn on Kansas City this year. On the one hand, the Chiefs should still be the class of the most loaded division in NFL history. Patrick Mahomes, even with top target Tyreek Hill taking his talents to South Beach, is a force at quarterback, and still enjoys the benefits of Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy running an offense in which Travis Kelce is still destroying defenses in the middle.

But on the other hand, half of Mahomes’ 26 career 40-yard touchdowns were to Hill, and there’s no guarantee Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman will be able to just take up the slack without missing a beat. There are also some question marks on the right side of the offensive line.

At first glance, the defense lacks a true game-changer on the back end now that Tyrann Mathieu is in New Orleans — but his replacement is do-everything safety Justin Reid (no, really … look at this 65-yard field goal he made in training camp), so in the long-run, replacing the 30-year-old Honey Badger with a 25-year-old star just happy to be free of the dysfunction of Houston could prove to be an upgrade for the future, even if not for 2022.

Even with the NFL’s toughest schedule, I see the Chiefs scraping by the much-improved Chargers for the division on a tiebreaker that changes the trajectory for both teams in the loaded AFC playoff bracket.

Chargers 12-5

Fittingly, a team nestled close to Hollywood is relying on “The Chosen One” to usher in a new hope for the Chargers.

Justin Herbert enters Year Three expected to be one of the best in the game, currently carrying the third-best odds to win MVP.

I don’t disagree. This offense can keep up with the Chiefs and Broncos in the division.

So it’s the defense that will determine how far this team goes. The 2021 Chargers finished the year 23rd in yards allowed, 29th in points allowed, 30th in run defense and last in third-down conversions allowed. So all the Bolts did was load up by adding Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson and Kyle Van Noy, and dumped a bunch of money in front of Derwin James in hopes that a healthy season from the oft-injured superstar safety will make that unit special. Given the potential on offense, this D need only be above average for this to be a really good season in L.A.

Ultimately, the margin of error is razor-thin in this division, and Andy Reid stands head and shoulders over every other head coach in it. So while second-year coach Brandon Staley will make some positive strides, he’s still second fiddle to Reid’s Chiefs for at least one more year.

Broncos 11-6

A team can’t possibly change as much as the Denver Broncos have this offseason.

Changing a coach and making a blockbuster deal for a quarterback is one thing, but an ownership change at the same time, for a team with such mile-high expectations, is unprecedented.

Nearly 10 years to the day Peyton Manning landed in Denver, the Broncos again hit a home-run quarterback acquisition in the form of Russell Wilson, who comes to town talking multiple Super Bowls.

Meanwhile, first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett is talking partnership with Wilson, which basically translates to “I’m gonna let Russ cook.” He’s definitely got the ingredients on offense, with a bevy of solid receivers in Jerry Jeudy and Cortland Sutton and a solid offensive line that should end Wilson’s streak of getting sacked at least 33 times in each of his 10 NFL seasons.

Two things work against Denver: The Broncos’ defense, with Von Miller long gone, is still talented but a tad overrated, especially in a division in which every team is blessed with at least a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. And historically, only about one in every five rookie head coaches makes the playoffs, so there’s a much better chance that Denver finishes fourth in their division than hoist their fourth Lombardi Trophy.

I’m splitting the difference and calling this a third-place team that slips into the playoffs as a wild card.

Raiders 10-7

Las Vegas is banking on Josh McDaniels being the Reverse Shanahan and turning the Raiders into a Super Bowl contender.

And like Shanahan, McDaniels has no time to rebuild.

Vegas made a “win now” move by dealing for Davante Adams so he could play catch with his college buddy Derek Carr, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league. I’d be surprised if this passing game paired with Josh Jacobs running hard for a new contract isn’t one of the most productive offenses in the league.

What has the Raiders sitting last in a historically great division is a defense that, despite adding stud pass rusher Chandler Jones, lacks playmakers on the back end (although Trevon Moehrig could make me eat these words).

But Silver and Black fans can take solace in knowing that any of the four teams in this division is just a play or two away from taking a game or two that wins this extremely competitive division.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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