Chargers look like class of the AFC West, as Broncos, Raiders notch first losses of the season

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half at SoFi Stadium.
Dec 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We are nearly a quarter of the way into the season, and the AFC West is riding high as the best division in professional football.

With that said, which of these four contenders is looking the best through four weeks, and which is raising the most eyebrows? Let’s look.

1. Los Angeles Chargers

When the Chiefs drafted the greatest quarterbacking talent of this generation, it was a crushing blow to Broncos Country. It quickly became clear they would be at a sizable disadvantage, at the game’s most important position, every time they played the Chiefs for the next couple of decades, and would always have an uphill battle to win the division.

It felt like things couldn’t get any worse.

Well, despite the Broncos getting better, things have gotten worse.

The Chargers have drafted the second-greatest quarterbacking talent of this generation, and now the Broncos have two divisional foes they must fight uphill against for the next couple of decades. Plus, it appears the Bolts have finally exorcised their head coaching demons, as Brandon Staley seems to be the real deal.

Considering they’re potentially a last-second field goal against the high-flying Dallas Cowboys away from being undefeated, and have wins over the Raiders and Chiefs, they deserve the top spot for now.

2. Las Vegas Raiders

You could make a convincing argument to place either the Broncos or the Raiders here, as both now look like paper tigers after suffering their first setbacks of the season and being thoroughly outplayed.

Ultimately, the Raiders get the edge here for being the much healthier team, and because they won’t have to start a backup quarterback this coming week.

That said, they certainly raised their fair share of concerns this week.

Their pass coverage and pass rush faced their first true test of the season and buckled almost instantly, as Herbert built a 21-0 lead that would prove too big for the Raiders to ever overcome.

Meanwhile, the dominant Raiders offense was left in the lurch against a staunchly mediocre Chargers defense. They didn’t gain a first down until their fifth drive of the game, which also served as their only conversion of the entire first half.

Vegas came out of the half swinging, with two long touchdown drives that made the game competitive. However, they immediately returned to their stagnation, as they wouldn’t get inside field goal range the rest of the game.

One could argue it was the worst offensive and defensive performance the Chargers have faced, and they’ve played the Washington Football Team already.

3. Denver Broncos

The Broncos’ performance against the Ravens started promising but quickly soured.

Denver’s offense had scoring opportunities on both of their first two possessions that they failed to capitalize on due to drops from Albert Okwuegbunam and Courtland Sutton, before finally taking a 7-0 lead on their fourth possession.

It’s hard to not think about what could have been if Okwuegbunam and Sutton don’t drop those passes and the Broncos are able to open up a 17-0 lead, allowing them to continue leaning on the run game — which had been so effective early on.

Instead, those drops happened, Baltimore quickly erased Denver’s 7-0 lead, and their offensive production vanished in the second quarter. When Teddy Bridgewater suffered a concussion before the half that forced his backup quarterback to enter the game down 10, it was over.

Speaking of, no need to start shoveling coal into the engine of the ol’ Drew Lock Express. That derelict train is best off gaining rust and dust back at the old railyard, functioning as an unexpected shelter for those in need as opposed to a functioning locomotive that could take you from point A to point B.

On Sunday, he looked panicked, scared, and lost throughout the game as he failed to work through his reads and held onto the field for eons. Was he placed in an adverse situation? You bet. Is almost any time a backup quarterback enters the game an adverse situation? Yep. Is it literally the backup’s job to maintain some semblance of offensive functionality despite this adversity? I think you know where we’re going here.

Lock performed poorly, even for a backup, which is in line with what we know of Drew Lock. There is no reason to believe a week of practice will spurn some massive leap in Lock that’s been missing for the past 29 months.

The saving grace for Denver this week will be that the Steelers’ offense is even worse than the Broncos’ offense projects to be, even with Lock under center. Plus, Denver has the defensive advantage as well.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

If this list was about predicting where these teams will finish, the Chiefs might be atop the list, but definitely wouldn’t rank below second.

However, this list is instead about what we’ve seen out of each of these teams so far this season, and they’ve so far looked aggressively mortal.

Their most — and arguably only — impressive performance of the season came against the Cleveland Browns, but the Minnesota Vikings just challenged the Browns similarly. That performance also came in Week 1, and historically speaking, Andy Reid is one of the greatest Week 1 coaches in the history of football.

Their only other win came against the lowly Eagles, and that game was in doubt through a considerable amount of the second half.

One could also counter that the Chiefs aren’t all that far away from being undefeated. Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s fumble cost them one game they would have otherwise won, and they nearly beat the Chargers despite losing the turnover battle by four.

However, it does feel like some of that luck in close games is regression to the mean, after the Chiefs were exceptionally lucky late the last two seasons. Last year’s Chiefs relied on a series of nail-biting victories to prop up their 14-2 record. This year’s Chiefs are watching the ball bounce the other way.

Also, don’t take ranking poorly in these power rankings to be a grand critique of any team through four weeks. Right now, it feels like the AFC West has four of the seven (Browns, Ravens, and Bills being the others) best teams in the AFC, and there’s a decent chance all four make the playoffs.

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