After months and months of suffering through a global pandemic, the world gets a massive boost as the National Football League returns Thursday evening.
The AFC West should prove to be predictable for the division title as the Kansas City Chiefs look to defend their Super Bowl win with a loaded roster. However, with the expanded playoffs adding an extra wild card team per conference, the other three AFC West teams will all be in contention.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2019 record: 12-4, Super Bowl champions)
The Chiefs bring back all key pieces from their Super-Bowl winning team and added a potential 1,000-yard rusher in rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. With Edwards-Helaire potentially bringing a distraction in the backfield, it could open up the passing game even more than it already has for QB Patrick Mahomes.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kansas City will need to shore up the run defense as they allowed the seventh-most rushing yards last season. The addition of rookie Willie Gay Jr. could prove to be a welcome one as the team lacks depth in the linebacker corp.
The secondary will be a proving ground in 2020 as Bashaud Breeland serves a four-game suspension and Kendall Fuller signed with the Washington Football Team. It will be up to Rashad Fenton and Antonio Hamilton to lock down receivers and live up to a secondary that was top 10 in passing yards allowed last season.
The Chiefs could see a potential down year due to a rigorous schedule that includes road games to Baltimore, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, but Mahomes and co. should be able to bring the firepower to compete for wins in all 16 games.
2. Las Vegas Raiders (2019 record: 7-9)
Another year with the underwhelming playcaller that is Derek Carr will most likely prove to be fatal in their postseason chances. However, if Carr can bring his first-half form from 2019 and apply it throughout 2020, the Raiders could bring something that could make them a threat to play in Jan. 2021.
While No. 1 wide receiver Tyrell Williams will miss the season with a shoulder injury, Raider fans should be excited with a pair of rookie wideouts in the speedy Henry Ruggs III and the reliable Bryan Edwards. Both receivers are capable of putting 1,000+-yard season if Carr can get them the ball at a competent rate.
Vegas’ best offensive weapons come in the form of running back sensation Josh Jacobs and the massively underrated tight end option in Darren Waller. Both men will be able to open up the field for the rookie wideouts and create a potentially potent offense in Sin City.
All of the Raiders’ questions still lie in their porous pass defense. Vegas’ run defense was top 10 last season with a defensive line that includes Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Hankins and the rising Maxx Crosby. The team also added former Dallas Cowboy Maliek Collins to the defensive front.
The Raiders’ secondary has the potential to improve substantially as they bring in rookie Damon Arnette and the returning Johnathan Abrams, who brought firepower to the defense in the one game he played in last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
While the Raiders schedule is more favorable than Kansas City’s, the secondary will be highly-tested in four games against the NFC South. The biggest test of the season for Vegas will come in the form of back-to-back road games at Atlanta and a return to MetLife Stadium, where they were embarrassed by the New York Jets last season.
3. Denver Broncos (2019 record: 7-9)
If you ask any Bronco fan, they’ll tell you that Drew Lock is the Lord and Savior himself. However, I don’t see it that way as Lock had a favorable schedule at the end of the season, minus playing the Chiefs. It took the Raiders having their worst game of the season for Denver to beat them by a single point in the final week of the season.
The receiving corp for Denver is still thin, but they added a deep-ball threat in rookie Jerry Jeudy, and Courtland Sutton will make his presence felt when he is fully healthy. I also love Noah Fant being Lock’s go-to weapon when Jeudy and Sutton can’t get open. It could work similarly to Jimmy Garoppolo’s connection with George Kittle in San Francisco.
Sadly, there will be no Von Miller for Denver in 2020 as he will undergo surgery for an ankle injury. It will be up to five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey to fill the huge void left by Miller.
With the NFC South matchups this year, Denver will have to engage in shootouts and I don’t believe they will be able to survive those four important games.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (2019 record: 5-11)
There is no team in the NFL with more unanswered questions at QB than the Chargers. After the departure of Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor now assumes the role of the starting position with rookie QB Justin Herbert put under his wing. The last time Taylor had a rookie understudy, he was replaced as soon as he was injured. Will the same thing happen in 2020 or will Taylor perform so poorly that there will be no other option than to go to Herbert?
However, the QB issues could be balanced out with an absolutely loaded defense that adds defensive tackle Linval Joseph and defensive back Chris Harris Jr. The safety position will be a concern as Derwin James will miss another season after suffering a torn meniscus.
When it comes down to it, the Chargers have the most questions to answer and I do not see them as a wild card contender in 2020.