Pickwatch 2021 AFC West Predictions
How will the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Charges, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos do in 2021?
Before the start of the NFL season, we’re going to go division-by-division for some more in-depth looks at the teams we previously called shots on in our preseason power rankings.
Las Vegas Raiders (7-10)
Are the Raiders worse than they were in 2020 when they won eight games? No, probably not. Are they markedly better? No...not that either, and they’re in a division that is taking leaps each and every year. I like what the defense did in bringing in pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue into the fold. Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy, too, should be able to provide some useful snaps in addition to being a great locker room presence. In the defensive backfield, both safety Trevon Moehrig and cornerback Nate Hobbs are long term answers—even if they’ll make their share of rookie mistakes.
On the offensive side, though, the Raiders dismantled an offensive line that was the real strength of the team. Meanwhile, quarterback David Carr is still David Carr, and while he has an exciting crop of wide receivers and a stud running back in Josh Jacobs, this team isn’t built to withstand the rigors of the rest of the division.
Los Angeles Chargers (9-8)
Over in L.A., the Chargers did almost the opposite of the Raiders and rebuilt a struggling offensive line, adding center Corey Linsley plus guards Oday Aboushi and Matt Feiler via free agency and drafting tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round. This unit has a chance to stand out as a real strength not only of this team but as one of the best groups in the NFL if things mesh together correctly.
But, new head coach Brandon Staley is considered a defensive guru and that’s the side of the ball that might end up being most exciting to watch this season. Defensive End Joey Bosa is one of the best in the league but only played 12 games last season. Defensive leader, Safety Derwin James is back after tearing his meniscus last season and the rest of the division will need to fear the Chargers secondary once again.
This team is on an upward trajectory—especially if Staley is a better game manager than former HC Anthony Lynn—but their true success may be in 2022 and beyond as this team’s key pieces are still very young.
Denver Broncos (10-7)
Naming Teddy Bridgewater the starting quarterback helps this team, if only because he’s less likely to be the reason the Broncos lose games in 2021—even as he’s not likely to be the reason they win them either. No, after being one of the worst defenses in the league in 2020, head coach Vic Fangio went out and stocked up on that side of the ball. New general manager George Paton went both for style and substance, and it should pay dividends.
Cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby and rookie Patrick Surtain Jr. step into a secondary that has a real chance to be the best in football. Up front, things might be even better thanks to the return of linebacker Von Miller.
On offense, the team will literally try just not to screw it all up and run the ball with rushers Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams.
Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)
Call me crazy, but the Chiefs might actually be better than last season. I’ve predicted (and continue to believe) that they will struggle a little bit earlier in the year as the new-look offensive line gels—especially with an unpredictable, mobile quarterback in Patrick Mahomes—but the talent is there for this team to be right back in the Super Bowl mix next season.
While this team is defined by its explosive offense and superstar playmakers, the real story might end up being the continued improvement of the defense. Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had this group just outside the Top 10 last season and made some good additions in cornerback Mike Hughes and linebacker Nick Bolton.
Don’t be surprised if the defense needs do more than their fair share in a few early season games or if Mahomes needs some heroics, but this team is set up for big things in 2021.