Which Team Will Join The Kansas City Invitational? – 2021 AFC West Preview

The AFC West may need to apply for a name change. Over the last five seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs have dominated the division. Teams have been watching and they made changes to try and climb to the top. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ offensive line had Patrick Mahomes running backwards all game in the Super Bowl, as they lost 31-9 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a result, the Chiefs made some changes of their own.

There have been plenty winds of change in the AFC West in the last five years and it hasn’t changed the results. Can the Chiefs keep holding off the rest of the division? Nobody knows, but it will be fun looking at what these teams could do in 2021.

 

Denver Broncos

Record in 2020: 5-11

Key Player: Running Back- Melvin Gordon III

Player To Watch: Cornerback- Kyle Fuller

The Denver Broncos didn’t have the season they wanted last year. Offensively, they were out to see if Drew Lock was going to be their quarterback of the future. That question got answered with a resounding “no,” as his play was inconsistent at best. So with that being said, the Broncos traded for Teddy Bridgewater to address the issue.These two both have not lived up to expectations some in the past have had for them. This year though, it may be both of their last times to be able to start in the NFL.

Whoever wins this quarterback battle will have some talent to work with. Jerry Jeudy and returning wide receiver Courtland Sutton lead the attack at wide receiver, Noah Fant continues to grow as a starting tight end and they’re hoping Melvin Gordon III can be even better this upcoming season.

Defensively, the Broncos are hoping their dynamic duo of outside linebackers, Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, will be healthy for the first time. If those two are consistently available, that immediately lifts up the defense. Add in the upgrades at cornerback in the additions of Ronald Darby, Patrick Surtain II and Kyle Fuller, along with the play of Justin Simmons and the defense can be formidable.

Pieces are there in Denver, it’s just a matter of getting solid play at key positions on their team: quarterback and outside linebacker. However, the biggest thing that matters is if Vic Fangio can make key decisions that lead to their success. Prediction: 5-12

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Record in 2020: 14-2

Key Player: Offensive Tackle- Orlando Brown Jr.

Player To Watch: Cornerback- L’Jarius Sneed

The Chiefs ended the season with Patrick Mahomes running for his life in their Super Bowl. As a result, Kansas City’s front office went to work, remaking their offensive line with offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to protect Mahomes’ blind side and left guard Joe Thuney, among other pieces. With these changes, Mahomes could be even more dangerous in the pocket.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be hard to handle as well. He was the Chiefs’ top rusher with 803 yards and that was with missing three games last year. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to continue to balance out the offense and keep defenses on their toes.

As usual, the passing game is the thing that scares teams the most. When you have Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, defenses have to account for them wherever they are. The key to their passing game is how the other guys, mainly wide receivers Marcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman, step up with favorable matchups.

Defensively, the Chiefs were solid, but they definitely could be better. Defensive stud Chris Jones has to be accounted for at all times and can disrupt offenses, but what is missing is the pass rush from the outside. Frank Clark has been a disappointment, so defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo may have to be a bit more creative in how he gets to the quarterback off the edge by bringing linebackers and safeties.

The good thing is he has a safety in Tyrann Mathieu and a linebacker in Willie Gay that he can be creative with to bring more pressure. Both are versatile defenders that can blitz, cover and defend against the run. Additionally, L’Jarius Sneed at cornerback is another playmaker out there for the Chiefs. The second-year cornerback had two sacks, three interceptions and made plenty of timely plays last year. In an expanded role this season, his game could go to an even higher level.

The Chiefs may have lost the Super Bowl last year, but they are ready to not only get there again, but win it. Prediction: 13-4

 

Las Vegas Raiders

Record in 2020: 8-8

Key Player: Wide Receiver- Henry Ruggs III

Player To Watch: Cornerback- Casey Heyward Jr.

The Raiders didn’t have quite the season they wanted in their first year in Vegas. Despite that, there is optimism that this year will be better. And by better, they mean knocking on the door of a playoffs appearance, for the first time since 2012.

If they are to make that push, it first starts with the offense. They have a solid running back in Josh Jacobs, who can get it done on the ground and in the passing game. Jacobs is a talented individual, but imagine what he could do if Henry Ruggs III is able to open up the offense. Ruggs III will likely see single coverage this season due to tight end Darren Waller getting all the attention. The matchup nightmares make quarterback Derek Carr’s job easier.

The Raiders weren’t happy last season with their offensive line play and got rid of a few guys including the release of center Rodney Hudson, which baffled a lot of those around the NFL. With whoever they roll out there, the main thing is they need to be a unit that works together and not one that continues to have issues in protection and run blocking at a consistent level.

The offense has their issues to work out, but so does this defense. They weren’t exactly great at getting to the quarterback. Their sack leader was Maxx Crosby last season with seven. Las Vegas is hoping for Clelin Ferrell to take a step forward, along with newly-acquired Yannick Ngakoue.

As far as the linebacker corps, they need more activity from Cory Littleton. After being brought in from the Los Angeles Rams last offseason, he didn’t register a sack, forced fumble or interception. That cannot happen again. He has to be a playmaker at that position for the Raiders.

The front four needs to be better, but the secondary was sorely in need of help and they got it this offseason in Casey Heyward Jr.. They now have a guy that can give teams second thoughts about throwing his way and that will improve their pass defense. Combine his play with Jonathan Abrams and the Raiders secondary could be considerably better than they were last season. Prediction: 9-8

 

 Los Angeles Chargers

Record in 2020: 7-9

Key Player: Wide Receiver- Mike Williams

Player To Watch: Linebacker- Kenneth Murray, Jr

Last season, Justin Herbert proved he can be a franchise quarterback. The former University of Oregon quarterback had the league on watch with some fantastic throws. But to win games this season, they will need more than just him making spectacular things happen.

Wide receiver Mike Williams has had some moments of greatness and other moments where he disappeared. His numbers dipped last season, but with Herbert being able to throw the deep ball, Williams should thrive. If he is able to open up the offense with his speed, then everything else can open up even more. Keenan Allen would have more space to work with at the intermediate level and newly acquired Jared Cook would have more room to attack the seams as well.

Along with Allen and Cook getting more room to work with, starting running back Austin Ekeler would have more room to operate and with the things he can do in the run and pass game, he would give teams fits.

But of course, the offense cannot do what it does without a solid offensive line and with the addition of Corey Lindsey this offseason, they get a guy that can help maneuver the blocking up front and keep Herbert clean in the pocket.

Defensively, the Chargers didn’t bring back Melvin Ingram, so a lot of pressure falls on the shoulders of Joey Bosa. The talented pass-rusher had a dip in production this past season and in 2021, they must have more from him despite the increased attention.

At the linebacker level, the Chargers are expecting Kenneth Murray Jr. to continue to grow in his role as the leader in the middle. While he is young, he can continue to grow in all aspects of the defense and the Chargers are hoping he grows in the playmaking department as the game slows down for him.

A healthy Derwin James will make a difference but the one guy they need to be good for them is cornerback Chris Harris. He is capable of making big things happen and they need him to be that playmaker.

It will be an interesting season for Los Angeles. About as interesting as people still getting adjusted to calling them the Los Angeles Chargers. Prediction: 10-7

Mike Patton

Nashville, Tennessee

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