When it comes to the standings, it was largely the status quo in the AFC West in 2020. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs were able to cruise to a 14-2 record en-route to a Super Bowl appearance, while the rest of the clubs were either .500 or below. While you may look at that on its face and expect similar outcomes this coming season, this division could be raising its competitiveness in a major way in 2021. Already, the Los Angeles Chargers look like a team on the rise following the arrival of reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert, and more quarterback moves could be on the horizon to make the AFC West that much more of a gauntlet (more on that in a little bit).
As we move forward through the dog days of the NFL offseason, now seems like as good of a time as ever to check the pulse of these four teams and identify the most burning questions centering around them as we inch closer to the regular season. Ready? Let’s jump right in!
Chiefs: Any repercussions following Super Bowl loss?
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Kansas City doesn’t feel like one of these teams we’ve seen in recent years that takes a dip following a Super Bowl loss, but I also don’t think it should totally be ignored either. The previous two Super Bowl losers failed to reach the playoffs the following season, albeit for different reasons. The San Francisco 49ers (who the Chiefs defeated in Super Bowl LIV) were decimated by injuries and went 6-10 last season. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams (lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII) were on the outside looking in on the playoffs, sitting at 9-7 in 2019.
It does go beyond just those couple of teams, too. The Atlanta Falcons fell off a cliff after blowing a 25-point lead in Super Bowl LI and the Carolina Panthers met a similar fate after a loss in Super Bowl 50.
The only recent exception to this rule has really been the Patriots, who bounced back to win Super Bowl LIII after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the big game the year before. Kansas City likely falls under this category with New England when it’s all said and done, especially since the Chiefs revamped the offensive line after Mahomes was running for his life last February.
Again, they have Mahomes, Andy Reid, and a solid chunk of the core that helped them win a title not too long ago. They should be just fine in 2021. That said, we were probably saying that about a lot of these teams that just missed out on a Lombardi too.
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It unlikely the Chargers are going to be able to unseat the Chiefs as the top dog in the division this season, but a playoff push is not out of the question. Justin Herbert was extremely impressive throughout his rookie season and has all the makings of a true franchise quarterback. If he takes the typical strides we’re accustomed to seeing from players of his caliber heading into Year 2, the offense should be that much more lethal in 2021. That’s also not even mentioning the additions the Chargers made to their offensive line in front of Herbert to try and give him a clean pocket during his sophomore campaign.
Los Angeles doesn’t have the easiest schedule in the league, but it’s not a Murderers’ Row either. Basing it off of their future opponents’ combined winning percentage last season, the Chargers are looking at the 17th-most difficult schedule in the league. Not too shabby for their playoff chances, especially as the field is expanded.
New head coach Brandon Staley’s team is +160 to make the playoffs this coming season, according to the odds at William Hill Sportsbook. Given the trajectory they’re on with Herbert ascending with a strong roster around him, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that cash.
This is the question that surrounds the AFC West: Is Aaron Rodgers joining the party? Once the reigning NFL MVP’s relationship with the Green Bay Packers started to deteriorate right before our eyes leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, it didn’t take long for the Denver Broncos to jump out as the rumored front-runner for his services. Yes, the club currently has Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater as possible options heading into next season, but if Rodgers is truly available and has Denver eyed, the franchise needs to move heaven and earth to make that possible.
Pairing Rodgers with the collection of talent already on the Broncos roster could be something similar to what NFL fans saw last season when Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’d instantly become a sexy pick to win the Super Bowl and suddenly create arguably the most competitive division in all of football.
Raiders: Have they already reached their ceiling?
The Raiders seem like a team without an identity right now. In the three seasons since Jon Gruden arrived, the team is a combined 19-29 and have made some puzzling personnel moves over that stretch. This offseason, the club re-shuffled what was considered to be an elite offensive line and brought in free agents like Kenyan Drake and John Brown. While those players, in a vacuum, are solid pieces, I’m not so sure they were massive needs for the club, particularly the addition of Drake with Josh Jacobs already on the roster.
Of course, the jury is still out on how all of those pieces will actually fit with one another, but it does feel like the organization is in the midst of an identity crisis. Does Las Vegas view itself as just a few pieces away from being a contender or are they rebuilding? Right now, these moves strike me as a club straddling the fence on that question.
If the team goes through another mediocre season, it could force them to the realization that they’ve hit their ceiling with the roster as currently constructed. If/when they reach that point, it will be curious to see how they try to address the issues, particularly at quarterback with both Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota on the roster.