Can the Denver Broncos keep up with the Chiefs and Chargers in the AFC West?

Denver Broncos defensive end Dre'Mont Jones (93) following a sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.
Dec 12, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Dre'Mont Jones (93) following a sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are fast approaching and the Broncos are still in the mix in the AFC West. However, will they be able to keep up with the red-hot Chiefs and Chargers?

Let’s discuss.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

The most recent matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders solidified the poles of the AFC West.

The Raiders clearly appear to be the division’s worst team, while — more importantly for this section — the Chiefs appear to be the class of the AFC West.

The slumping offense got back on track this week, as Kansas City generated 41 points offensively, and Patrick Mahomes had a bounceback performance which saw him go 20-for-24 for 258 yards and two touchdowns.

However, it is safe to wonder if this will snap the offense out of their slump, as they torched Las Vegas the last time they played, only to quickly return to their slumping ways

Meanwhile, KC’s defense continued to look like one of the most legit units in the league, holding the Raiders to nine points, and scoring a defensive touchdown.

The 48-9 final score was the worst loss for the Raiders in the history of their rivalry with the Chiefs, and if Kansas City can stomp Los Angeles on Thursday Night, they’ll have a stranglehold on the division.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

Last week, we pondered if the Chargers’ deadly downfield attack they showed against the Cincinnati Bengals was an adjustment that was here to stay, as it greatly elevated the Bolts’ offensive firepower.

Let’s check in on if it carried over to this past week, shall we?

Yup, looks like it carried over to the next week.

If the Chargers have finally decided to start utilizing the super-weapon that is Justin Herbert’s arm — boasting an impressive 50,000 kilotons of force — it’ll make them considerably more dangerous the next time the Broncos will have to play them.

Denver’s defense under Vic Fangio has seemed to figure out the Herbert- and Mahomes-types to some extent, but ever since his loss to Denver, Herbert has been playing out of his mind and poses a real threat to the Broncos’ playoff hopes.

The Bolts’ defense had a fine day and limited Saquon Barkley fairly effectively, though, with Mike Glennon in at quarterback, that isn’t the biggest challenge.

3. Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos entered last week with a heavy heart following the loss of franchise-legend Demaryius Thomas, but used that energy to fuel one of their most rousing victories of the season.

Atop the list of takeaways from their blowout win over the Lions, was the fact that this team has appeared to solidify an offensive identity in recent weeks. This is a physical, bruising, run-first operation that appears to have the capabilities to run over most any defense.

When the Broncos strayed from this offensive philosophy in the second quarter, the Lions ripped off 10 unanswered points in a flurry. When Denver returned to this offensive philosophy after the half, they vaporized Detroit.

The defense allowing a no-name, last-second fill-in at running back gash them consistently is certainly concerning, but they turned in another solid performance and haven’t let an offense generate more than 13 points against them in a little over a month.

They’ll need that run game and defense to step up in a major way, if they want to defeat the Bengals and make their playoff hopes a reality worth pursuing.

4. Las Vegas Raiders

It feels so blatantly obvious that the Raiders are the worst team in the division at this point in time.

The defense took a nice step forward this season, but unfortunately for them, the offense took an even greater step back. Since October 25th, the Raiders have scored 17 points or more just once, and if that outlying performance wasn’t a highly-rated Thanksgiving thriller, even more people would like be off the Derek Carr bandwagon.

Outside of that game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Raiders are averaging a hideous 13.4 points per game. To contextualize that, the Houston Texans — who have the NFL’s worst offense according to DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) and EPA (expected points added) — are averaging 11.7 points per game over that same span.

Right now, Vegas seems lost without a paddle, and it’s incredibly difficult to imagine them righting this ship.