Can the Broncos, or anyone else, catch the Chiefs in the AFC West?

Denver Broncos outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (C) sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (R) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium.
Dec 6, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (C) sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (R) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

After a tumultuous first three months of the season, the AFC West is back in the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, as the Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos stare up at them.

How can do the Broncos stack up against the teams in front of them in the standings, particularly the Chiefs? Let’s take a look.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

At this point, it feels inevitable that the Kansas City Chiefs will waltz their way to yet another AFC West title.

The other three teams in the division are deeply flawed, while the Chiefs are peaking at the right time.

The defense is far from being a strong unit, but it’s no longer performing like the worst defense in the history of the NFL and is replicating their defensive formula from prior seasons that made the Chiefs a Super Bowl contender. That being, playing hyper-aggressive and making just enough big plays to turn the tide.

The offense isn’t rolling yet either really, and Patrick Mahomes still looks a little off, but Kansas City’s offense has earned the benefit of the doubt and it feels likely that Andy Reid will get the offense back on track before the season’s end.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers gifted us one of the season’s classic battles with their Sunday Night Football battle against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while aspects of that performance looked very impressive, the defense remained a major problem.

It’s far too early to leap down Brandon Staley’s throat for the defensive failures, as the problem seems to be a severe lack of talent — particularly in the front-seven — but he has not helped the defense to the degree the Bolts had hoped.

Against the Steelers, the Chargers made ‘Old Man Roethlisberger’ look like ‘Big Ben’ again as he carved them up like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Najee Harris and the rest of Pittsburgh’s ground attack turned in a poor performance, but Los Angeles’ run defense is still one of the two worst in the NFL by a wide margin.

The Chargers are allowing an EPA/rushing attempt of 0.32, just worse than the Vikings at 0.29, but the difference between Los Angeles and the 30th-ranked run-defense is the same as the difference between the 30th-ranked run-defense and the 22nd-ranked run-defense (coincidentally the Denver Broncos).

3. Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders appear shipwrecked and have appeared as such ever since the awful Henry Ruggs tragedy.

Of course there’s the unquantifiable mental toll, which piled on top of a team already having to manage the resignation of their head coach and all the hateful things he was caught saying, but the on-field impact has been massive.

The Raiders no longer have a vertical threat to stretch the field, and Derek Carr looks wholly pedestrian as a result. The offensive line is among the worst in the league, which exacerbates Carr’s struggles and also prevents the run game from rolling, which perpetuates those struggles even further.

Meanwhile, the defense — which has stunningly become the strength of the team — is nowhere near talented enough to carry this moribund offense and jumbled coaching staff into the postseason.

The Broncos have their way out of the cellar.

4. Denver Broncos

As the Broncos were on a bye week, they’ve really only received positive news, but nothing substantial enough to see them make progress in these power rankings.

The Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton contracts both figure to be steals, with the former never earning more than the average salaries of Curtis Samuel or Nelson Agholor, and the latter never earning more than Brandin Cooks’ average salary.

With that said, it doesn’t move the needle much for this season, as the only immediate positive to come out of this would be a morale boost, and that feels fairly unlikely to turn their season around.

The Broncos are still gaining on the rest of the AFC West though, particularly the Raiders, though that has more to do with the incompetence of their foes than with their own success.