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Published August 13, 2023
2023 Season Outlook: AFC West
Written by Alex C.
With the beginning of preseason going underway, we’re starting to get a feel for the direction each team’s season will be headed. Some teams have already made remarkable progress while others look to endure some heavy problems throughout the upcoming season.
That being said, we want to closely examine and grade the outlook for each team in every division based upon a slew of different factors, from free agency signings to contract situations to camp progress. Obviously, we can’t completely predict how a team will perform throughout the year, but the posted pre-requisites will give us a feel of the direction of the organization going forward.
The first NFL division that we will take a look at will be the erratic AFC West.
Although it was perceived to be one of the best divisions in the league last year, each team – aside from the Kansas City Chiefs – managed to hit a new low point before the season could even come to a conclusion. Since the early 2010’s, AFC West teams have seen glimpses of success, with the Chiefs wielding the only option guaranteeing it in the long-term for the post-season.
The upcoming season has yet to start but the division is beginning to appear drastically different from the year prior – here’s what it’s looking like as we approach the 2023 NFL season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Previous Record – 14-3
There’s no better way to kick things off than to discuss how the most recent Super Bowl winners intend to run it back. What Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid were able to accomplish with the hand they were dealt was pretty impressive, no matter how many times the duo proved themselves in the past.
The Chiefs started off the season prior losing their main receiving target in Tyreek Hill and a key contributor to the secondary unit with Tyrann Mathieu – it almost seemed as if the roster was gutted despite its superstar pieces standing out. The team was able to win the big game with an aging run-game, a sub-par receiving unit – aside from Kelce, of course – and what seemed like a moderate defense squad on the opposite side of the ball. Every piece on that team stepped up when it mattered the most, but the question is: will the team be able to repeat the miraculous success they’ve seen over the past year?
They’ll definitely squeak into the playoffs with another division title under their belt due to the reliable Mahomes-Kelce connection, but the rest of the roster is beginning to flash a lot of red flags. A majority of the receiving and defensive unit jumped ship in the off-season, losing key pieces such as Frank Clark, Orlando Brown Jr. and Juan Thornhill. The Chiefs made a respectable effort to retool its squad with key signings like Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor – as well as a solid swing at the draft – but there hasn’t been an immediate signing that will seemingly make an large impact upon arrival. Nonetheless, Andy Reid works at his own pace and has been at it long enough to know how to utilize the resources at his disposal.
Mahomes and Kelce will continue to be great, but the focus shifts on trying to resolve conflicts surrounding Chris Jones’ contract. If the Chiefs are able to bring back Jones next year, then they will continue to see consistent success for many years to come.
Season Outlook Grade – A-
Los Angeles Chargers
Previous Record – 10-7
After enduring one of the most humiliating losses in NFL post-season history, the Chargers have their sights set on trying to bounce back from such a demoralizing event. They started the off-season strong, singing former Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Morgan Fox in efforts to beef up an already lethal defensive unit. Injuries on main-roster pieces did their best to derail the Chargers season last year, which heavily affected the team’s defense and exposed a major weak spot in the pass rush game that allowed opposing teams to utilize their run game.
The new signings combined with the moderate draft picks used on defense displayed an acknowledgement of the defensive weaknesses as well as a cognizance of the aging offensive unit. Aside from Justin Herbert shining as the main star of the Chargers offense, it would be remiss to ignore the impact of players such as Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler. They have all etched their position into Chargers history as reliable franchise icons, but it’s no surprise that the trio are beginning to see their expiration date. Ekeler is still relatively young, but Keenan and Mike are beginning to push the range of expiration in terms of wide receiver age, leading them to make one of the biggest receiver pickups in the draft.
The Chargers took TCU wideout, Quentin Johnston in the first round, adding an extra weapon to an already stacked offense. Johnston was the second receiver taken off the board and has begun showing out at camp, sparking a new skillset to add on the foundation laid by Allen and Williams.
If the Chargers continue to translate the offensive explosiveness throughout the season while ensuring the holes on defense are plugged up, they could make a sneaky push at the division and an easy playoff spot…but this is the Chargers we’re talking about, so anything could happen.
Season Outlook Grade – B
Las Vegas Raiders
Previous Record – 6-11
It was pretty obvious to see that the Raiders’ first year under the Josh McDaniels-led system resulted in a complete disaster.
Coming off a surprise wild card appearance, the Raiders were expected to lock another playoff spot, especially with the acquisitions of Packers wide-receiver Davante Adams and Super Bowl winning edge-rusher Chandler Jones. With Gruden and Mayock finally out of the organization’s way, there was hope that McDaniels could turn around a promising team who managed to secure a playoff spot with an interim head coach.
Instead, we got a losing season with half of the losses stemming from second-half comebacks, setting a new record for the amount of times a team lost a double-digit lead in the regular season. In addition to the madness that ensued, relations with previous franchise quarterback, Derek Carr, intensely soured after he was benched towards the end of the season and eventually released. McDaniels’ attempt to rescind the chaos throughout the off-season has led the team to signing quarterback Jimmy Garropolo and a variety of other names familiar with the Patriots-bred system.
The Raiders roster is looking more like a shell of the modern-day Patriots than a team embracing the values of the silver and black. Add the fact that Josh Jacobs’ negotiations are beginning to fall, and its hard to see a silver lining with this Raiders roster. McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler were able to draft well, taking a chance on edge rusher Tyree Wilson in the first-round – however, it may take some time for the Raiders to see some improvement.
The trajectory of this upcoming season heavily relies on the execution of the McDaniels system – there’s a chance things could improve from the steps taken back during the Gruden era, but if all goes wrong then this season could add insult to injury.
Season Outlook Grade – C+
Previous Record – 5-12
The way in which the Broncos’ season unfolded is exactly what the sports world expected from the Seahawks after sending their previous quarterback, Russell Wilson, to Denver. Anything that could go wrong went wrong as the organization fell victim to incompetent coaching, ego clashes, major injuries and overall horrible football being executed.
First-year head coach, Nathaniel Hackett, was fired right before the end of the season due to his failure to rally a potential playoff-contending squad. This opened the door for Denver to make one of the biggest moves of the offseason as they brought in Super Bowl winning head coach, Sean Payton, to replace Hackett. Payton played a major role in the career turnaround of the Saints’ previous franchise quarterback Drew Brees, and is expected to perform the same magic with Wilson still under center for the team. In addition, the Broncos made a key addition to the o-line by bringing in offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, who previously helped anchor a steady foundation on the 49ers.
The Broncos didn’t lose many players to free agency and were able to make a lot of depth signings on defense. The Russell Wilson trade led to decreased activity during this year’s draft but the end-result was a decent haul, bringing in a steady line of rookies with major potential. Iowa corner Riley Moss and Boise State safety JL Skinner look to help strengthen a stacked secondary, while Oklahoma wideout Marvin Mims is expected to add another dash of explosiveness to the offense.
Despite the results from the year prior, Denver wields a deep squad with lots of potential. The question to ask when going into the season is if Sean Payton and the coaching staff can help tie it all together and bring the Broncos to the expectations set before them. If Payton was able to work magic in New Orleans for a decade, then he should have a good shot at helping Denver improve – but taming the beast that is Russell Wilson’s ego won’t be an easy task.
Season Outlook Grade – B-