A six-time defending champion in the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs have seen their division rivals go from strength to strength this offseason, casting doubt on their status as favorites to their own succession. A few weeks before the 2022 Draft, which will be able to reshuffle the cards a little more, zoom in on the rebalancing of the forces present in what could be the toughest division in the entire NFL.
2015: This is the last year Kansas City did not dominate the AFC West at the end of the season. An eternity on the scale of American sport, which shows how outrageously the Chiefs have dominated the competition over the past six seasons. Still, and even if Patrick Mahomes is still around, the 2022 season could mark a turning point in the division’s recent history as every other franchise has gone from strength to strength while the Chiefs may have lost in quality.
Denver Broncos: Wilson bless you
This is surely the major change in this AFC West. Accustomed to last place in the division for two years and a moribund offense since the departure of Gary Kubiak, Denver has hit hard on the way up a trade to get Russell Wilson back. Driving Seattle’s attack for more than a decade, the ninefold Pro Bowler arrives with a simple mission: transfigure an attack where the weapons are numerous and finally become the franchise quarterback wanted for too long by the Broncos.
This arrival completely changes the perspective of the future of Denver. Indeed, with Wilson and a very complete group of receivers (Jeudy, Sutton, Patrick), the attack immediately becomes a strength of the franchise, even though it was its weak point in 2021. In parallel, the defense, already solid last year (3e defense conceding the fewest points), lost only one executive, Shelby Harris, sent to Seattle in the exchange for Russell Wilson. What’s morethe Colorado franchise was able to compensate for the departure of its best bagger by signing Randy Gregory at a gold price and by incorporating DJ Jones on his line defensive. Add to that a few touch-ups, like the signings of K’Waun Williams (CB) and Josey Jewell (LB), and you have a defence, on paper, complete.
In a few weeks, and mainly thanks to the arrival of Russell Wilson, the Broncos have therefore changed in dimension by becoming serious suitors and AFC. Martyred by the Chiefs since taking power with aand series of thirteen defeats ongoingand a last victory that dates back to the year of their Super Bowl victory L, Denver finally seems to have the weapons to put an end to to black sequence. And get a crown already carriese five times in a row between 2011 and 2015, just before Kansas City reigned supreme until today.
Las Vegas: a star and a project
Surprising second in the AFC West last year with a well-deserved qualification for the playoffs, the Raiders seem poised to begin a very promising new cycle. After a return from forgettable Jon Gruden and a life-saving interim from Rich Bisaccia, the reins of the franchise have been handed over to Josh McDaniels. Emeritus assistant to Bill Belichick, he embodies this new franchise project, with a simple objective: to be a franchise of winners. In more than twenty years, the franchise has been in the playoffs only twice, each time to see its course come to an end in Wild Cards. The last victory in postseason dates back to 2002, the year of the defeat of the franchise in Super Bowl XXXVII (against the Buccaneers of… Jon Gruden). An eternity for fans of the franchise, and a destiny that Las Vegas will absolutely want to change by capitalizing on its surprise year 2021.
More motivated than ever, the Raiders did not skimp on the means to mark progress in their roster. If the attack mainly saw alterations, it also experienced the main change in the workforce, with the arrival of Davante Adams as receiver. Reunited with his former teammate at Fresno State (NCAA) Derek Carr and holder of a record contract ($ 141.25 million over 5 years), the former Packer arrives to turn this struggling squad over last year. . Las Vegas has also invested heavily in its defense, which is too porous in 2021. Thus, Maxx Crosby, leader on this side of the ball, has notably been extended, while other important names such as Chandler Jones or Darius Phillips and Duron Harmon come strengthen the different lines. Reassuring for a squad which collected 25.8 pts per game last year.
With a new coach on board, the Raiders will seek above all to confirm in 2022. With Davante Adams to strengthen the attack and a duo Crosby / Jones to carry the defense, Las Vegas seems equipped to remain competitive, even if adversity remains fierce within his own division. Only winners twice against the Chiefs in their last fifteen confrontations, the franchise is, perhaps, the least equipped to overturn the established order, proof of the spectacular density of this division. The Raiders surprised in 2021 by going to the playoffs, it’s up to them to repeat this performance from next season.
Los Angeles: veterans for maturity?
It was surely the franchise that was expected the most this offseason, and the Chargers did not disappoint by making interesting adjustments. Franchise in full development since the arrival as quarterback of Justin Herbert in 2020, Los Angeles has a promising future and must build around its jewel to reach the heights. 2021, Brandon Staley’s first season as a head coach, showed a nice progression in attack, while exposing the shortcomings of the team on the other side of the ball. The offseason therefore had a double challenge: to maintain the level of the attack and to strengthen the defense.
At the time of making an initial assessment of the decisions of the front office, it is quite clear that the roadmap has been respected. Offensively, the main decision was the extension of Mike Williams for three years and 60 million dollars, which stabilizes a solid group of receivers which also adds Gerald Everett at the position of tight-end. Besides that, nothing to report in attack, which could be further reinforced – especially on the offensive line – via the draft. Conversely, the defense has been extensively overhauled, with the addition of veterans in all sectors. Obtained for an almost derisory compensation, Khalil Mack returns to the AFC West to help Joey Bosa on the pass rush. On the back lines, LA hit the jackpot by signing JC Jackson, the franchise’s new No. 1 cornerback. Add to that various signatures on the defensive line (Johnson, Joseph-Day) and you have a transfigured defense capable of much better than a sad twenty-ninth place.
By betting on the continuation of the progression of Justin Herbert, the Chargers have the weapons to cross a new level in 2022. With an attack that has not lost any major player and a defense that has more certainty than last year, Los Angeles must be able to join in the fight for the playoffs, a stage missed on the wire last year. Most successful franchise against the Chiefs in recent years despite a meager record of three wins in their last sixteen confrontations, she is, by far, the most eye-catching of late, including a win and an overtime loss last year. Los Angeles may have found the recipe, for Californians to apply it against their other division rivals as well.
Where to place the Chiefs?
In this new, very vague hierarchy, where do the Chiefs stand? Maybe lower than where they have been for the past few years. However, in fact, Kansas City seems very far from a slowdown. Since 2016, the franchise has an amazing 31-5 record, even being, as said before, undefeated against the Broncos. If we want to look for a trend, we can all the same say that three of these defeats have occurred during the last two seasons; insignificant compared to the total but noteworthy for a franchise that has lost seven over the same period.
Nnevertheless, 2021 may mark a turning point in this hegemonic period of the Missouri franchise. Why ? First of all because Kansas City will – probably – have to evolve without two leaders: Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu. Go-to-guy of Patrick Mahomes since the latter is titular, Hill a was sent to Miami where he signed a record contract that the Chiefs could not offer him, preferring to sign JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to compensate for his departure. For his part, Tyrann Mathieu, free agent, has so far not found a base, but the Chiefs have already signed Justin Reid to replace him. Without these two men, attack and defense are obviously affected.
PRead overall, Kansas City will come into 2022 with some doubts. In attack, if Patrick Mahomes is still there, he only has Travis Kelce as a safe target. In addition, his offensive line showed good things last year and Orlando Brown received the franchise tag to perpetuate the situation, but it will be necessary to confirm this season, because putting Mahomes in bad conditions with regard to the players around him would be like shooting himself in the foot. On the defense side, the probable loss of Mathieu leaves a deep void in a squad that finds itself without a leader. If the defense pleasantly surprised last year, it still lacks certainty, especially among cornerbacks where the No. 1, Charvarius Ward, has been seen elsewhere. A not really reassuring off-season, especially in comparison to the maneuvers carried out by their rivals to reduce the gap.
FFinally, should we worry about the Chiefs for the coming season? Yes and no. Yes, because the franchise seems to have weakened while its rivals have all grown stronger. Dominating as much as previous years will be difficult, if far from impossible. No, because Kansas City still has an argument of choice: Patrick Mahomes. Even lonely, he remains the best quarterback in the league and will be able to struggle to allow his team to aim for the playoffs and retain the division title. In addition, Kansas City can still take advantage of the draft to make adjustments that will be welcome, especially in defense. The Chiefs are still a long way from losing the AFC West crown, but they will need to be extra vigilant as they face division rivals ready to take power after years of being crushed.
Diminished and facing fiercer competitors than ever, the Chiefs will have to fight to retain their division title. More contested than ever in recent years, Andy Reid’s players will try to write history by becoming only the third franchise to win the title of their division seven times in a row, after the Rams (7) in the years 70 and Tom Brady’s Patriots (11).
Feature image credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The words “Minnesota Miracle” and “No-Call” are scratched from my vocabulary. My heart mourns the retirement of Drew Brees as my eyes finally widen watching the Knicks.