The NFL AFC West 2020 Division Preview

 Mitch Wishnowsky of San Francisco 49ers kicks off against Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV February 02, 2020

The NFL preseason may have been cancelled, but the Week 1 games are good to go in early September. Here’s our division preview for the AFC West Division.

The NFL AFC West 2020 Division breakdown

Sports betting fans will find our predicted AFC West standings, odds, and team breakdowns from last place to first place below. 

4 – Las Vegas Raiders

Quarterback Derek Carr of Las Vegas Raiders under center against Denver Broncos at Empower Field

Division winner: +1200

Second-place finish: +320

Third-place finish: +200

Fourth-place finish: +110

A new name, a new city, and a new stadium may inspire the Raiders who had a below average and disappointing season with a 7-9 record. But what can we expect from them moving forward?

The Raiders kicked off free agency by signing former Titans QB Marcus Mariota to a $17.6 million salary, which had some wondering if there may be a quarterback controversy – or at least a legitimate camp battle – in the works.

However, reports out of Raiders camp seem to indicate that won’t be the case. Mariota has so far struggled to get comfortable in John Gruden’s offense, while on the other hand, Carr’s performances have been sharp as he has built instant rapport with incoming playmakers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards who have been the stand-outs in Las Vegas to this point. No matter how underwhelming an overall talent Carr may be, he is an accurate passer and there’s little indication that Mariota will push him out of the starting job any time soon.

The Raiders expect to make second year running back Josh Jacobs even more the centerpiece of the offense in 2020 as the talented running back was one of the best RBs in football in 2020 and even made a late push for Rookie of the Year. 

Last summer Antonio Brown was expected to carry the passing game, but off-field issues led to him being cut. Instead, tight end Darren Waller emerged as one of the top 5 TEs in football and the Raiders added the fastest player in the draft – WR Henry Ruggs III. They also added Nelson Agholor in free agency to a WR group that already included Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams, making the Raiders offense a popular pick to be one of the best in the NFL.

Their defensive line has seen the addition of six new faces, which means there’s hope they could improve their performance over last year. But that’s not hard to accomplish considering they had the second worst defense of all the teams in the NFL.   

However, the Raiders are still looking at a fourth place finish with odds of +110 for a number of reasons. Not only are they in one of the toughest divisions in football, they may have the worst QB situation of all four teams in the AFC West. Add to this to the fact their roster is one of the youngest in the league and that they’ve moved to a new city, and it’s looking like at least one more season of development for the new Las Vegas Raiders.

3 – Los Angeles Chargers

Philip Rivers of Los Angeles Chargers during game against Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium

Division winner: +800

Second-place finish: +195

Third-place finish: +170

Fourth-place finish: +235

The biggest shakeup to the Chargers is undoubtedly the departure of long-time starting quarterback, Phillip Rivers, who was released at the end of last season. Rivers began his professional career with the Chargers way back in 2004 and spent 15 seasons with the club, leading them to six playoff appearances and making eight pro bowls along the way. However, the Chargers now move forward with veteran QB Tyrod Taylor and rookie first round pick Justin Herbert at the top of the depth chart.

Taylor is expected to open at the starter, and he will certainly represent a change in style to Rivers. A conservative passer and excellent athlete, Taylor is the polar opposite of the 38-year-old gunslinger he replaces. In nine NFL seasons, Taylor has thrown for 9,562 yards, 54 touchdowns and just 20 interceptions, while adding 1,843 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Contrast that with Rivers who threw 20 interceptions last season alone and has rushed for a mere 34 yards total over the past three seasons!

The change at QB could be a good thing for the Chargers, but it does represent some uncertainty and makes them a tough team to project going into the season.

On the other hand, the Chargers have a defensive lineup that is being described as special, and has potential to be one of the best units of recent years. A lot of focus is on the great pass-rushing combo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, but let’s not forget about many of the defensive performers on their team, including Casey Howard, Linval Joseph, Kenneth Murray, Uchenna Nwosu, Denzel Perryman, and Nick Vigil.

With this strong defense, it’s possible the Chargers will get a place in the playoffs, but they’ll have to do it via the wildcard route as we have them finishing third in the AFC West. 

2 – Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos huddle against Oakland Raiders during game at Empower Field on December 29, 2019

Division winner: +900

Second-place finish: +220

Third-place finish: +170

Fourth-place finish: +190

All eyes are on Drew Lock for the Denver Broncos. This rookie came in late in 2019 for the Broncos after suffering a thumb injury in the preseason, but still impressed everyone with a 4-1 performance. He ended the season with a completion percentage of 64.1% on his passes for 1,020 yards for 7 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. 

This is an impressive performance on its own but he also set a new record by becoming the first rookie in NFL history to have at least 300 passing yards and 3 touchdown passes in his first career road start. Comparisons have been made to Matthew Stafford, which is unsurprising considering how well he’s played and his combination of size and arm strength that made him an intriguing prospect in the 2019 draft. 

With early training camp reports describing Lock’s positive performance, it’s unsurprising that he’s coming into the 2020 season as the starting quarterback, and that general manager John Elway has said they’ll be building the team around him.

The offensive line also received an upgrade with the addition of rookie wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, and former Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. Jerry Jeudy is one to keep an eye on in particular, with over 1100 receiving yards in both his 2018 and 2019 years at Alabama. Factor in the existing talent of starting WR Courtland Sutton and TE Noah Fant, and the Broncos have one of the most impressive offensive lineups on paper.    

The Broncos don’t disappoint on the defense either. They had a strong defensive lineup in the past, but it’s expected to get better this season with CB A.J. Bouye and DT Jurrell Casey. LB Von Miller may not have the greatest sack numbers, but overall his performance has been on the rise. Bradley Chubb, who had a torn ACL last season, is back this season and is also set to add additional power to the Broncos’ defensive ability.

Their offensive power is also looking to get a bit of a boost with the introduction of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in January this year. Shurmur has helped eight teams reach the playoffs, been a part of six division crown wins, and guided the Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance in 2004. 

Their starting lineup may not feature right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who has opted out of the 2020 season, but with the likes of Garett Bolles, Graham Glasgow, Dalton Risner, Elijah Wilkinson, and promising rookie Lloyd Cushenberry, there’s still a good chance we’ll see an improvement in the Broncos’ offensive results this season.

1 – Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs scrambles away from the pressure against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020

Division winner: -455

Second-place finish: +320

Third-place finish: +1800

Fourth-place finish: +17500

The Chiefs are likely to take the West Division win again this year, and remain the favorites to take home the Super Bowl after they did so last year. The Chiefs are going for their fifth consecutive AFC West title which would match the record first set by the Oakland Raiders in 1976, and then decades later by the Broncos in 2015. But why are the Chiefs not only likely to take home yet another division win this year, but also a Super Bowl win?

Mahomes had already proved himself a force to contend with in 2018 when he ended the season on 5097 passing yards gained, 50 touchdowns, a passing completion rate of 66%, all while only giving up 12 interceptions. And while 2019 may have looked a little less impressive on paper, Patrick Mahomes cemented his position as the best QB in the league with his outstanding Super Bowl performance. 

During their match against the San Francisco 49ers, the Chiefs found themselves down 10 points with only nine minutes on the clock. With defeat only minutes away, Mahomes led his team on a comeback that will never be forgotten. With only 2 minutes to spare, they managed to take the lead with three touchdowns and claim the Lombardi Trophy.

As long as Mahomes manages to avoid injury, there’s little doubt that the best quarterback in the league will continue to deliver the goods again this season. 

Let’s not forget about the rest of the Chiefs’ impressive offensive power either. With running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, wide receivers Mecole Hardman, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and tight end Travis Kelce joining the roster, the other teams are likely to find their defense being picked apart. 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire in particular is someone to keep an eye on after a great performance at LSU in 2019. He’s also been receiving glowing reviews from the coaching staff and teammates during the Chiefs’ training camp, and with Damien Williams opting out, he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.   

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