What the Denver Broncos are trying to do this year is somewhat monumental. They’re looking to go from worst to first in the AFC West, leap-frogging the three other teams.
At the very least, the Broncos want to make it back to the postseason for the first time in seven seasons, even if that means being a wildcard and not winning the West.
And the prognosticators are starting to weigh in. Surprisingly, Peter King is sleeping on the Broncos as the team’s OTAs continue on Monday afternoon.
According to King’s 20,000-word column, he has the AFC West ranked as such: 1. Los Angeles Chargers, 2. Kansas City Chiefs, 3. Las Vegas Raiders and in dead-last, the Denver Broncos.
His rankings are somewhat head-scratching for many reasons. Let’s jump in:
Chargers to win the West?
Look, however high one person may be on the Chargers due to wunderkind Justin Herbert, this should be kept in mind: Even in his special second year, Herbert turned the ball over far too much.
Last season, his 15 interceptions were tied for second-most in the NFL and he added a fumble to the mix, too.
Outside of those turnovers, Herbert is an incredible gun-slinger. He racked up 38 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards passing, while his on-target percentage (80.2%) was third-best in the league.
If he stops turning the ball over so much, the Chargers will certainly win more games. But, it’s not just about Herbert, of course.
Los Angeles did a great job in free agency, too. Khalil Mack now pairs with Joey Bosa as likely the best pass-rushing duo in the West — although, it must be noted that all four teams improved on the edge this offseason. They also signed J.C. Jackson as well as Bryce Callahan to give them three dynamite cornerbacks, while shoring up the interior of their defensive line, as well.
Still, the Chargers as the second-best team in the entire NFL? Believe it when you see it. The Chiefs have won the AFC West six straight years and the last time the Chargers won the West was 2009.
Chiefs as third-best team in NFL
King is still high on the Chiefs, just not as high as he is on the Chargers.
Simply, to be the best, you gotta beat the best. And the Chiefs are still that team in the AFC West until someone else proves otherwise.
No matter how great the love for Herbert, Patrick Mahomes is still the best quarterback in the division and has an argument as the best in the NFL. It should be noted that Mahomes just struggled through his worst season as a professional, with 37 TDs and 13 INTs. But if anyone can bounce back, it’s him.
The massive loss of Tyreek Hill is one reason why I believe the Broncos can leap-frog the Chiefs this year and win the AFC West, but only if everything goes right for Denver with their new head coach (and staff), quarterback and new defensive players.
But even with losing Hill, the Chiefs are still loaded talent-wise. Travis Kelce may have lost a step, but the aging tight end is still one of the best playmakers in the NFL. They also have the bevy of backs, Mercole Hardman has improved and they signed a trio of receivers.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling — formerly of the Green Bay Packers — JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Skyy Moore will all help keep Andy Reid’s offense running strong.
Look, the Chiefs are now finally beatable, but they also possess something none of the other teams in the AFC West have: Playoff experience. The Chiefs have gone 8-3 in the playoffs with Mahomes under center and 1-1 in Super Bowls, playing in two of the last three world championship games.
Even the Raiders over the Broncos?
This is the biggest question mark of King’s column.
King ranks the Raiders (13) over the Broncos (14) when going through every team in the NFL.
Hey, the Raiders improved this offseason, no doubt about it. But was it a bigger leap than the Broncos? No way.
Las Vegas brought on superstar receiver Davante Adams to pair with Hunter Renfrow at wideout as well as Darren Waller. Now Derek Carr has no excuses — he has plenty of weapons to throw it to. And while Carr is a mediocre-to-good quarterback in the NFL, he’s nowhere near as talented as Russell Wilson.
Last year, Carr threw for 23 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. He also fumbled the ball 13(!) times and lost eight of them for a total of 22 turnovers. In all fairness, it wasn’t Carr’s best season, but it does help define him as an erratic, up-and-down quarterback.
Meanwhile, Wilson was injured last year and pushed himself back to the playing field too early. But he still threw for more touchdowns (25) and less than half as many interceptions (6) as Carr in three less games. And Wilson — with an awful offensive line — lost only three fumbles while running for more yards and two more touchdowns than did Carr.
Of course, the battle will come down to more than just the quarterbacks, but even with Adams in the lineup, the Broncos have a deeper receiving corps than do the Raiders.
Defensively, in the pass-rushing duo arms race, the Raiders signed veteran Chandler Jones to pair with Maxx Crosby on the outside. They also signed cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and running back Ameer Abdullah, but it’d be hard to argue Las Vegas had a better offseason than did Denver.
Also, it must be noted the Raiders are rife with internal struggle. Last year, head coach Jon Gruden was fired mid-season for his racist comments that came out from his past, and then star receiver Henry Ruggs III got into an insane car accident, driving 156 MPH and killing a person.
The clown show for the Raiders continued this offseason as GM Mike Mayock was fired in January and then team president Dan Ventrelle was fired without warning in May.
Meanwhile in the Mile High City, George Paton is on top of his game.
He made the biggest trade in NFL history for Wilson, snagged big-time free agent Randy Gregory on the edge and then re-signed a ton of key players like Josey Jewell, Kareem Jackson and Melvin Gordon.
Oh, and would you take Nathaniel Hackett over Josh McDaniels? Considering what we know about the two of them — Hackett helping Aaron Rodgers to back-to-back MVPs and McDaniels complete embarrassment of himself as the Broncos head coach 12 years ago — Hackett must be in the lead.
Our guess at the West
- Kansas City Chiefs, 13-4
- Denver Broncos, 11-6
- Los Angeles Chargers, 10-7
- Las Vegas Raiders, 9-8
The Broncos could win the West, but it will take a lot of things going right. While Denver’s season starts somewhat easily, there will be bumps in the road in terms of learning the new offense, and that final six-game stretch it brutal for the orange and blue.
Still, they’ll find resolve and make the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl 50 win.