Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert now all reside in the AFC West, making it the division to fear for defenders. However, you can make the case for any of the four teams to have a shot at reaching the Super Bowl in the 2022 season.
Offseason arrivals have greatly ramped up the quality and competition in the division ahead of the new season, and we haven’t even had the 2022 NFL Draft yet, where these four teams could improve even further.
The Denver Broncos finally addressed their longstanding issue at quarterback by trading for Russell Wilson, while the Las Vegas Raiders gave Derek Carr a truly incredible weapon by trading for Davante Adams on Thursday evening.
Everyone knows the qualities of the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert both putting up fantastic offensive numbers last year, and they, too, will be expected to challenge for a Super Bowl berth once again.
With all these deals taken into consideration, it seems a fair bet to assume that the Super Bowl contender from the AFC in 2022 will come from the AFC West.
Which of the four AFC West teams is best placed to reach the showpiece game in Arizona?
Denver Broncos (7-10 in 2021/4th in AFC West)
If ever there was a team that didn’t reflect their overall record, then it is the 2021 Denver Broncos. They have a roster that is built to win right now and are impressively strong on defense, giving away the fewest points in the AFC West and the second fewest in the entire league in 2021.
The franchise has been reeling from Peyton Manning’s retirement pretty much since it happened, yet after finally making the move to get Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks, Denver can now finally look towards getting back into the Super Bowl mix.
Denver is so strong on defense that it’s alarming for the teams around them that they’ve even improved in that area, as well, during the offseason.
Randy Gregory signed on a five-year contract while D.J. Jones and Josey Jewell arrived at the defensive tackle and linebacker positions, respectively.
It’s rare for a defense to be so statistically strong but unable to carry a team. The Broncos struggled to put wins together last year and will need to look for more game-changing plays from Bradley Chubb, rather than just a commitment to stopping large gains.
Offensively, they were a shambles… scoring just 335 points in 2021, which was the lowest in the AFC West and simply unsustainable in a division that is built on high-octane offense.
In signing Wilson, they have acquired an elite quarterback who will be able to get the best out of a talented receiving corps, which includes Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick.
These players were wasted under Drew Lock, and Wilson needs to get the best out of them. The Broncos won’t be the prettiest team in the AFC West next season, but they have enough quality in all areas to dream of a Super Bowl return.
Los Angeles Chargers (9-8 in 2021/3rd in AFC West)
Justin Herbert is a star and had every right to feel aggrieved that he wasn’t involved in the playoffs in 2021.
It’s difficult to pick too many problems with the Chargers offense heading into 2022, with the franchise having scored 474 points, just six fewer than the Chiefs last term, but the problem was their defense, which lacked impact players.
Allowing an AFC West high of 459 points in 2021 was the Chargers’ undoing; however, offseason moves have been made to rectify that.
Joey Bosa is an elite player in the NFL. There is no doubt about that; however, he couldn’t do it all on his own.
If you look at the best pass-rushing teams in football, they have players who can work in pairs to cause headaches for offenses that are getting more and more inventive.
The Chargers know that a Super Bowl appearance is going to have to come through Arrowhead Stadium, and to beat them, they will need to stop Mahomes.
To assist with this, they completed a trade with the Chicago Bears for Khalil Mack, who will form a dynamic duo with Bosa as the Chargers look to stop Mahomes, Wilson and Carr.
Sebastian Joseph-Day and J.C. Jackson have also been added, and it’s difficult to see many rosters that are now more complete than the one built in Los Angeles. This is especially useful for immediate success, given the fact Herbert remains on his rookie contract.
Las Vegas Raiders (10-7 in 2021/2nd in AFC West)
Derek Carr is a very serviceable NFL quarterback who has a penchant for occasional brilliance, yet almost everyone would agree that he is the weakest signal caller in the AFC West heading into 2022.
Although, that doesn’t diminish the Raiders’ chance of success with the team looking to build on a fine end to the 2021 season.
The off-field controversy surrounding former coach Jon Gruden threatened to totally derail the Raiders last term, while the fatal car crash caused by an intoxicated Henry Ruggs left the team without their star receiver for most of the year.
Josh McDaniels has arrived as head coach, and fans will look back to the start of his tenure with the Broncos as reasons to be cheerful.
He could never quite get the quarterback position right in Denver, and there are legitimate concerns that a repeat could happen in Vegas with Carr, although the Raiders quarterback is an incredible leader and has been far more productive on an NFL field than Tim Tebow ever was.
However, Carr will have one phenomenal advantage this year, and that arrived in a trade to the AFC West on Thursday evening.
Davante Adams is the best wide receiver in the NFL, and he has just arrived in Las Vegas, signing a contract with the Raiders after Green Bay elected to trade him.
These moves don’t happen too often, and while the Broncos have moved to strengthen at QB, you could argue that the impact of Adams joining the Raiders could be comparable.
Dave Ziegler and McDaniels aren’t just focusing on offense either, with Chandler Jones having been signed as a free agent to pair with Maxx Crosby, who is a lightning rod of a player.
The Wilson trade in Denver has kick-started something of an arms race in the AFC West, and the Raiders knew they had to make the move to get Adams.
It’s a gamble in the sense that the goalposts are now shifted for a head coach in his first year with the franchise. Now, he is expected to challenge for a Super Bowl place. They have a well-balanced offense with Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller and a defense that is capable of shutting teams down with the addition of Jones.
2022 is the year that Carr has the best collective group of players around him, and this is his moment to finally improve his own game. A small, but significant step-up from the quarterback could well be enough to put the Raiders back in the big game.
Kansas City Chiefs (12-5 in 2021/1st in AFC West)
Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs remain the best team in football, despite having a down year in 2021.
They came within a whisker of reaching a third successive Super Bowl, and with Mahomes under center, they will be a force once more in 2022.
As positive as the aforementioned moves have been for the other three AFC West teams, it is the Chiefs who still stand head and shoulders above the chasing pack.
There is a reason that the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers have all made such exciting moves… to catch the Chiefs.
Reid’s offense is almost without flaw. They can take a game away from opponents over the course of one drive. They will never be out of a contest until it is officially over, and the Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Mahomes trident will dominate the league once more in 2022.
However, there are reasons for Chiefs fans to worry. Defensive leader Tyrann Mathieu will not be returning to Kansas City after he was allowed to go into free agency, and his replacement has already been signed.
Justin Reid reached a three-year agreement with the Chiefs on Tuesday and is expected to take Mathieu’s place.
Defensive concerns are there in Kansas City, especially in the secondary, and it remains to be seen if they will be able to continue to outscore their AFC West rivals.
Despite being obvious favorites to win the division yet again, the teams behind them have caught up, and this makes for an exceptionally close run in the division next term.