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AFC WEST

  1. Las Vegas Raiders

2020 Record: 8-8

Key Additions: DE Yannick Ngakoue, WR John Brown, RB Kenyan Drake, S Karl Joseph, OT Alex Leatherwood

Key Losses: OT Trent Brown, C Rodney Hudson, WR Nelson Agholor

The Raiders are coming off of back to back years where they look like they’ve got a promising start, beginning 2020 with a 6-3 record and 2019 with a 6-4 record, only for the wheels to fall off and they finished 8-8 and 7-9. This is the least-trustworthy team in football. We’ve seen Jon Gruden through 3 years of his 10-year, $100 million deal and he has three losing seasons. They’ve also made the most questionable draft picks in recent memory, taking three first round picks that weren’t on anyone’s big board for their value, and the Raiders social media even had to send out a Tweet defending their logic and vision.

Their quarterback Derek Carr is capable of winning- they had a 12-4 record before he broke his leg in 2016, but he’s failed to create chemistry with Gruden. The roster has seemingly only gotten worse since they lost key pieces to their offensive line that was already weak, and Carr has historically been poor under pressure. The defense might improve, but in a division where every other team significantly got stronger but them in a loaded AFC, the Raiders could have another meltdown and be one of the worst teams in football potentially. Gruden, Carr, or GM Mike Mayock could be on their way out if they fail to make the postseason.

  1. Denver Broncos

2020 Record: 5-11

Key Additions: CB Kyle Fuller, CB Ronald Darby, CB Patrick Surtain II, RB Javonte Williams, QB Teddy Bridgewater

Key Losses: RB Phillip Lindsay, CB AJ Bouye

The Broncos might be the most-complete team on paper with only one glaring hole: the most important position, the quarterback. Ironically, they had a game last year where the entire quarterback room was ineligible to play because of violating COVID protocols, so they had to have wide receiver Kendall Hinton play quarterback where he was 1 for 9 with two interceptions. We’ve seen Drew Lock for 18 games and he’s looked inconsistent, so they traded for Teddy Bridgewater this offseason to potentially take his spot, but Teddy has been nothing but a game-manager through his career, so it’s not exactly an inspiring move.

They have a defense that improved the most by their additions and they’ll get Von Miller and Bradley Chubb back from injuries, and the skill players are young and talented, so at this rate, all they can do is either pray and trade for Aaron Rodgers to step in at quarterback, or feel resigned that their ceiling is lower with that gaping hole and load up for next year.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers

2020 Record: 7-9

Key Additions: C Corey Linsley, OT Rashawn Slater, OT Matt Feiler, CB Asante Samuel Jr., TE Jared Cook

Key Losses: TE Hunter Henry, LB Denzel Perryman, CB Casey Hayward, DE Melvin Ingram III

The Chargers lucked out in the most unfortunate way possible last year: their medical staff accidentally punctured the lung of Tyrod Taylor before a game, but when Justin Herbert was forced to go into the game, it turns out they were sitting on a pot of gold, because he looks poised to be one of the faces of the league for a long time. He had the second-most passing yards in a rookie season ever in 15 games despite being the 4th-most pressured quarterback. They got the difficult problem of finding the franchise quarterback out of the way, but they still blew five 4th quarter leads. Their coaching and time management was incompetent, leading to the firing of Anthony Lynn and his coaching staff.

With a new head coach in Brandon Staley, a completely rebuilt offensive line to protect Herbert, and a defense that will get Derwin James back from injury, the Chargers could take a big step this year where those five stupid losses could turn into wins. They’re in a division with the Chiefs that will be tough, but they’re poised to make a leap and have them on the ropes for years to come.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs

2020 Record: 14-2

Key Additions: OG Joe Thuney, OG Kyle Long, OT Orlando Brown

Key Losses: WR Sammy Watkins, OT Eric Fisher, OT Mitchell Schwartz, RB Damien Williams

Photo: Jeff Roberson / Associated Press

The Chiefs were an offensive line away from winning their second Super Bowl in two years. The Bucs defense wreaked havoc on Patrick Mahomes- he was pressured 29 times, the most of the Super Bowl Era, and the Chiefs had 3 season-ending injuries and one lineman opt-out of the season due to COVID. Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is meant to be a cheat code, but it can’t be unlocked when he’s running for his life.

So, in the most Chiefs manner possible, they went out and completely reshaped their offensive line knowing it was essentially their only weakness, and they’re running it back. They’re every bit as scary as they’ve ever been, but this time they’ll want revenge.

  1. Arizona Cardinals

2020 Record: 8-8

Key Additions: DE JJ Watt, WR AJ Green, CB Malcolm Butler, RB James Conner, LB Zaven Collins, WR Rondale Moore

Key Losses: RB Kenyan Drake, CB Patrick Peterson, DE Haason Reddick

The Cardinals seemed to overperform their expectations last year with Kyler Murray taking a leap, and they’ve gradually gone from 3-13 to 5-10-1 to 8-8, but they had a major collapse by losing their last 5 of 7 to miss the postseason. Kyler was a little banged up, but the general consensus is that the scapegoat is the head coach, Kliff Kingsbury. He was brought in to be an offensive guru, but all he’s done is make conservative play calls in critical situations that have cost Arizona games. He’ll undoubtedly be on the hot seat this season if he doesn’t prove himself because Kyler has proven he’s the guy, and his talent can’t afford to be wasted.

They brought in veterans this offseason like JJ Watt and AJ Green, and Watt said he signed in Arizona believing they’re ready to win now, but in their loaded division, the Cardinals just feel like they still have too many holes to be considered one of the top-tier teams, especially with Kingsbury at the helm. The Cardinals have offensive firepower that will make them competitive, but they might be a year or two away from being able to be taken seriously.

  1. Seattle Seahawks

2020 Record: 12-4

Key Additions: TE Gerald Everett, WR D’Wayne Eskridge, G Gabe Jackson

Key Losses: TE Jacob Hollister, CB Shaquill Griffin, CB Quinton Dunbar, RB Carlos Hyde, WR David Moore

Seattle has been the model of figuring out how to make the postseason no matter what kind of team they’re given; they win a lot of ugly and just plain weird games. They’ve won no less than 9 games every year since 2011 and have only missed the playoffs twice under Pete Carroll.

This year feels like it could be different. Russell Wilson had a very awkward offseason where he said he’d be okay getting traded to 4 teams and made comments about how he was unhappy with his protection, which is a direct shot at the offensive line and surely doesn’t make them feel good no matter if he’s validated or not. They’ve dealt with dysfunction before, but the team feels like it could be at a crossroads between Wilson and Pete Carroll. They didn’t do much this offseason to improve the team from last year, and the rest of the division is much better than they were last year. Russ can only cook them up wins for so long, and he might have run out of ingredients.

2. San Francisco 49ers

2020 Record: 6-10

Key Additions: QB Trey Lance, C Alex Mack, RB Trey Sermon

Key Losses: WR Kendrick Bourne, DE Solomon Thomas, CB Richard Sherman, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, RB Tevin Coleman

The Niners had the second-most injuries of any team in the NFL in the last 20 years last season, many of those being Pro Bowl players vital to their success. They also were removed from their home stadium in their county in the middle of the year because of COVID protocols. In other words, it was a year that only happens in nightmares for the defending NFC Champions.

Now, they’ll be back home with all of those injuries rehabbed, and they made the biggest splash of the draft when they traded up to take quarterback Trey Lance even with Jimmy Garoppolo still on the roster. We have no idea how good Lance will be, or if he’ll even play much for that matter, but the reality is that this roster made the Super Bowl with Jimmy G when they were healthy, and Kyle Shanahan’s system has been able to make any quarterback look good. They’ll be one of the teams to beat in the NFC.

  1. Los Angeles Rams

2020 Record: 10-6

Key Additions: QB Matthew Stafford, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Tutu Atwell

Key Losses: QB Jared Goff, S John Johnson III, CB Troy Hill, TE Gerald Everett, DE Michael Brockers

The Rams are all-in. They’ve essentially traded every draft pick they have for the foreseeable future so that they can assemble this superteam where they have stars at the premium positions- Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and now Matthew Stafford at quarterback, who Sean McVay is in love with and probably has an entire gameplan set up for him already out of sheer excitement. They won’t have nearly as much depth as some other teams, so if injuries to their big names pile up (we already saw running back Cam Akers tear his Achilles in training camp the first week) they could be in trouble.

However, Sean McVay believes that the weakness to their team was the quarterback, and they still made the Super Bowl and have never had less than 9 wins. Matthew Stafford has been an MVP-caliber quarterback in a losing situation in Detroit his entire career. With both the coach and the QB in a situation made for one another, the potential ceiling they could reach makes them candidates to win it all.

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