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Chasing The Champion: 2020 AFC West Preview
Photo Courtesy of Forbes

Chasing The Champion: 2020 AFC West Preview

Mike Patton
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The Kansas City Chiefs are the reigning AFC West and NFL Champions after their triumphs last season. Heading into this year, they not only get to celebrate, they get to defend the crown. It won’t be easy though, as the Las Vegas Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos will be chasing after them. Will they be able to defend it or will someone rise from the ashes to take the throne?

 

Denver Broncos

Record in 2019: 7-9

Key Player: Quarterback- Drew Lock

Player To Watch: Linebacker- Bradley Chubb

The Denver Broncos’ season was one of discovery last season, especially at the quarterback position. After acquiring Joe Flacco via trade from the Baltimore Ravens during the offseason, the Broncos were trying to figure out when it would be time for Drew Lock to take over.

That eventually happened, as Lock played in five games last year, showing some promise that had Denver intrigued. Along with that promise, the Broncos wanted to make sure and aid their young quarterback, drafting two wide receivers with their first two picks.

While the weapons in the first two rounds signal the offense opening up this year, the key acquisition this offseason for the Broncos was at the running back position. A young quarterback’s best friend is the running game and with the Broncos acquiring former Los Angeles running back Melvin Gordon to pair with Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos seemed to be focused on getting the ground game going. The running game will have to produce to ease the stress on Lock and allow this offense to be as productive as it can be with all their young weapons.

Defensively, the Broncos were not bad, they just were not great but they could rush the passer. With the return of Bradley Chubb, that should ratchet up the pressure and allow Von Miller to be freed up more than he was last season. The pressure Chubb, Miller and others can bring will be critical to not only the performance of the defense but will help boost their offense with better field position. That will be critical for them going into this season.

The running game, pressure and a quarterback being put in successful positions with plenty of weapons is the plan. It will be interesting to see if this mixture of youth, vets and a veteran coach can find a way to make it somewhere other than at home this offseason. Prediction: 8-8

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Record in 2019: 12-4

Key Player: Quarterback- Patrick Mahomes

Player To Watch: Running back- Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The champs are back to defend their crown. Their offense was lethal last season on their way to the Lombardi trophy, striking at any given time and any given moment from any part of the field. They ripped through the playoffs, putting up big-time offensive numbers and this season with pretty much everyone back, that is to be expected again.

However, one key cog that could make things easier for them is the running game. While Mahomes is incredible in the passing game, the running game will be needed this season. Edwards-Helaire will be key in the growth of the offense to not rely on the arm of Mahomes to bail them out and keep them on schedule. The more integrated he can be in the offense, the easier things will be for them to score, which is scary for the rest of the division and the rest of the NFL.

With a hopefully healthy Frank Clark and a newly-paid Chris Jones along with ballhawk Tyrann Mathieu, the Chiefs’ defense is set up to be better this season. The key thing for them will be the play of their inside linebackers and cornerbacks. 2020 second-round pick Willie Gay Jr. could solve one of their issues at linebacker but the play of their cornerbacks will be pivotal in how the defense progresses.

The Chiefs have all the makings of a team that can repeat but not all is what meets the eye. There will be some adversity and it will be interesting to see when it happens and how they overcome it. Other than that, they have all the things needed to bring havoc to their opponents once again. Prediction: 13-3

 

Las Vegas Raiders

Record in 2019: 7-9

Key Player: Running Back- Josh Jacobs

Player To Watch:  Linebacker- Raekwon McMillan

The Raiders were an interesting team last season. They started the season 6-4 and the the wheels fell off, losing five of their last six games on the way to a 7-9 record. This season, their first as the Las Vegas Raiders, should be another interesting journey.

David Carr is the quarterback of this team but there are plenty questions around his leadership. With the trade winds blowing around him and the team bringing in former Tennessee Titans’ starter Marcus Mariota, there may be signs pointing to the end of his time with the organization. His success, whether it’s for him or the team he could be playing for next, will hinge potentially on two young players from Alabama: Jacobs and rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.

Ruggs III is a speedster and the 2020 first round pick should help open up the offense by adding a speed element the Raiders did not have in their skill position players. Also, his speed should open it up more for Jacobs, who topped 1,000 yards in his rookie season despite the crowded line of scrimmage. If the Crimson Tide duo is able to play up to expectations, Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden will have a fun time coaching this offense and they will put points on the board.

Defensively, the Raiders have some work to do. They were near the bottom in allowing points in the NFL last season, giving up 26 points a game. Rookie fourth round draft pick Maxx Crosby was a welcomed surprise, netting ten sacks last season and providing the pass rush that was needed. Now the question comes as to if the Raiders 1st round pick from last season, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, can match Crosby and be a pass rusher teams need to worry about. If he does, the Raiders become a better defense on that alone.

Along with the front line, the Raiders need their secondary to be better. The addition safety Damarious Randall upgrades their talent there and should provide for a better secondary this season. The first season in Las Vegas will bring some more excitement to Sin City. It will also bring some frustration. Prediction: 6-10

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Record in 2019: 5-11

Key Player:  Quarterback- Tyrod Taylor

Player To Watch:  Linebacker- Keith Murray

The Los Angeles Chargers head into this season as the only team that feels like they are playing a road game every game they play. The home crowds have been bad but the way they finished games last season was not good either. The Chargers lost a lot of games that were very winnable simply by not making plays down the stretch to win them or allowing plays to happen to lose them.

Some of those bad losses were on the shoulders of veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers. The veteran quarterback threw some bad interceptions at the wrong time. This season’s starter, Tyrod Taylor, is known for doing the opposite. With Taylor there to protect the football, the Chargers should fair better in those close games but Taylor also has to take some chances, which he hasn’t often been known for doing.

When Taylor takes those chances, he has some good weapons to look to with wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, tight end Hunter Henry and running back Austin Ekeler. The offense should be explosive through the air but the key is can Ekeler handle the running game? If Ekeler can, as well as he can catch the football out of the backfield, then the Chargers will have one explosive offense and a balanced one that will keep Taylor from having to win the game every week.

Defensively, the combination of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III can be hard for teams to defend, provided both can stay healthy and away from injury concerns of the past. Also, the addition of free agent cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to their secondary and a full season of safety Derwin James makes their defense even harder to score on and hopefully will bring down their 21.6 points per game they gave up last season.

These four will have an impact on the Chargers defense unquestionably but rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray could be the difference in the middle of that defense. He can cover, rush the passer and stop the run and has good speed, too. The Chargers need someone to man the middle of that defense and bolster their linebacker corps and he has the ability to do it.

The Chargers have all the components to be successful and the year before their move to their new home stadium will see them put it together. Prediction: 10-6

 

 

 

About Mike Patton

Nashville, Tennessee

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