Our NFL divisional preview series heads to the AFC West, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the NFL’s best teams over the last five years.
In the NFC West last season, no team finished worse than 7-10. Well, the same can be said for that division’s counterpart in the AFC. If the NFC West was football’s best division top-to-bottom in 2021-22, the AFC West was a close second. The Kansas City Chiefs unsurprisingly led the way with a conference-best 12-5 record.
The USA sportsbooks annual favorite to claim another Super Bowl title, the Chiefs faced a devastating blow when they failed to reach the big game for the first time since the 2018-19 season. Now, they enter this year as just the fourth-favorite to claim the odds.
On top of that, they’ll contend with even stiffer competition to win the division this year as the Las Vegas Raiders (10-7 last season), Los Angeles Chargers (9-8 last season) and even the new-look Denver Broncos are all waiting in the wings with strong teams. Just look at the odds, where after the Bills, the top three favorites to win the AFC are in order: the Chiefs, the Chargers and the Broncos. Even the Raiders, at +2000 find themselves in the top eight. No other division has all of their teams in the conversation the way the AFC West does.
The AFC West will certainly be one to keep an eye on this year. Can the Chiefs maintain their dominance by winning their seventh AFC West title in a row? Or will a surprise team emerge to break KC’s hold over the crown? Check out our AFC West predictions, picks and full preview for the division below.
Kansas City Chiefs (+1000 to win Super Bowl, +550 to win AFC, +175 to win AFC West)
Kansas City’s vice grip on the AFC West may be starting to loosen just a little bit, but until proven otherwise, the Chiefs are still the ones to beat in this division. That said, the offseason wasn’t exactly kind to the AFC’s best team of the last few years. The Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill, Tyrann Mathieu, Melvin Ingram, Charvarius Ward, and others to a combination of trades and free agency. These are some big losses, especially that of Ward and Mathieu.
While most are focused on the impact of Hill’s departure, it could be the hits to the secondary that affect KC’s Super Bowl chances the most. Because yes, Hill is one of the NFL’s top receivers, but KC still has other threats for Patrick Mahomes namely a pair of new receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Defensively, the team turned to the draft to replace Mathieu and Ward, and that certainly opens some uncertainty. Rookie production can be unpredictable so the Chiefs may see their defense take a step back.
In any other year, these kinds of losses may sting but not overly impact the division. However, 2022 is a different story as all three of the West’s remaining teams used the offseason to close that gap a little more. The Chiefs aren’t as safe a bet as they used to be.
Los Angeles Chargers (+1400 Super Bowl, +750 AFC, +220 AFC West)
A big part of the reason why the Chiefs shouldn’t be considered a lock, the way they’ve been in the past, is because of the emerging Los Angeles Chargers. Last year, the Chargers took another step forward, just barely missing the playoffs thanks to a double overtime loss in the final game of the season.
This is a new year and there is reason to be optimistic if you’re a Chargers fan in 2022. We’ll start with Justin Herbert. After last year’s performance, there is no doubt Herbert has what it takes to be an elite starter in the NFL. The same can be said for Mike Williams, who emerged as a top receiver following a few injury-plagued and inconsistent years. Overall, the offense wasn’t the problem for Los Angeles. It was the defense that kept the Chargers on the outside looking in when it came to the playoffs.
However, this offseason changed that story. With just two moves, the Chargers shored up their secondary and pass rush in a way that should make the AFC West a little nervous. In the secondary, the Chargers added J.C. Jackson, arguably the best cover guy in the league last year. Jackson has 17 interceptions in his last two seasons and will join a secondary with top defender Derwin James and Asante Samuel Jr.
It was a great move but perhaps not LA’s best as the Chargers also brought in Khalil Mack to pair with Joey Bosa. It’s hard to argue there is a better pass rushing duo in the league. And that’s a great thing to have in a division with two top quarterbacks and another who is above average.
The Chiefs are still the favorite until proven otherwise, but it’s looking very much like 2022/23 will be the year things are proven otherwise. Take the Chargers to win the division.
Denver Broncos (+1600 Super Bowl, +850 AFC, +260 AFC West)
There is no team that expects to take as big a step forward in 2022 as the Denver Broncos. They have leapfrogged the Las Vegas Raiders in the division and they’ve jumped above several other teams in the AFC. They did it by really just making one offseason move. Well, they made several moves but it only took one to move the needle: Russell Wilson.
The NFL is first and foremost a quarterback driven league these days. You will rarely see a team win a Super Bowl without a top signal caller given how vital that position is. Denver knows that well given they won titles with two of the greatest of all-time, John Elway and Peyton Manning.
Ever since Manning’s retirement in 2016, the Broncos have been looking for their next guy, but to no avail. They have gone through 11 quarterbacks in those five-plus seasons and none helped the team return to contending status. However, it looks like No. 12 could be the charm. Wilson is one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL and after spending his whole career with the Seattle Seahawks, heads to a Denver team that has been ‘one QB away’ for a while now.
So in the offseason, the Broncos went and got him, instantly moving themselves from afterthought to contender in this tough division. Wilson joins a team with elite talent including at major skill positions. Now, that’s not to say Wilson never had that in Seattle, because he did. But Denver never had that, at least not recently.
Wilson will be able to spread the ball to guys like Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and rising tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. On defense, Wilson shouldn’t have to worry too much about how many points he’ll need to score as the Broncos have guys like Bradley Chubb and Pat Surtain starring in their roles.
The Broncos were one quarterback away, and now they’re not. They may not rise to win the AFC West just yet, but it would be surprising if they didn’t put up a serious fight for a wildcard spot.
Las Vegas Raiders (+3300 Super Bowl, +2000 AFC, +650 AFC West)
When looking around the league, every division has a team that you just know isn’t going to be very good. Every division except the AFC West. The Raiders may well finish last place in the division but don’t expect it to be by much. In fact, we are looking at what could be one of the more fascinating divisional races in recent memory. Every team in the AFC West is good. Every team in the AFC West made some major offseason moves. Including the Raiders.
Vegas is running it back with Derek Carr, a decision that surprised some. When healthy, Carr’s consistency and above average play has been a plus to the team’s chances not a minus. For the first time in his career, he’ll have a bona-fide No.1 to throw to in Davante Adams.
The Raiders reunited the old Fresno State teammates this offseason in a move that had a bit of a domino effect around the league. Adams’ contract is lofty, so much so it led to the Chiefs’ Hill requesting more than his previous asking price. Some believe this is why he’s a Miami Dolphin now and not still playing for the Chiefs. So in getting Adams to make their team better, the Raiders may have also been the reason the Chiefs got worse: Not a bad unintended consequence. Offensively, that gives Vegas a 1-2-3 punch of Adams, Hunter Renfrow, and Darren Waller. That trio is right on par, if not better, than other teams in the AFC West have to offer.
That wasn’t all as Vegas also got Chandler Jones, a fine addition to the defensive line, and Josh McDaniels as new head coach. McDaniels, after a successful second stint as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, is getting a second chance to be a head coach, nearly a decade later. While to some this feels like a question mark, McDaniels absolutely feels like the right guy at the right moment to take this offense to the next level. In this division, a next level offense is needed.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.