Thu, 18 Aug 2022

Williamson's Look Around The League: AFC West

The Steelers
04 Jul 2022, 06:30 GMT+10

Matt Williamson

Las Vegas Raiders (Last year's record: 10-7)

The Steelers host the Raiders on Saturday 12/24, Week 16 of the NFL season. That is Pittsburgh's only matchup against an AFC West opponent this year.As was the trend in this division, Las Vegas made a huge splash move by reuniting college teammates Derek Carr and Davante Adams, giving Carr a superb trio of receivers in Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow. The Raiders have fantastic receiving weapons, but last year, they threw the ball almost 63% of the time, which was fourth highest in the league.The Raiders defense gave up just 5.2 yards per play, which was seventh best in the NFL last season. But they only took the ball away 15 times. The Jaguars and Jets were the only team with fewer takeaways. This organization gave Maxx Crosby a big contract to keep him in a Raiders uniform and then signed Chandler Jones, another high-end edge defenders.The average regular season Raiders game ended up with Las Vegas losing by 3.8 points, 10th worst in the NFL. Yet, Las Vegas ended the season with 10 wins and a playoff berth. The Raiders also had a -11 turnover differential, sixth worst in the league. Josh McDaniels takes over as Vegas' head coach. The Raiders didn't make their first draft pick until 90th overall, but they landed Adams to keep up with the arms race in what might be the NFL's most competitive and exciting division.

Denver Broncos (Last year's record: 7-10)

Just eight teams averaged fewer points per game than Denver in 2021. The Broncos offense valued the football though, with just 18 turnovers. That was fifth best. Denver has been searching for a quarterback since Peyton Manning retired and in turn, made one of the biggest moves in the NFL this year by trading for Russell Wilson. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon each carried the ball 203 times last year and even though Gordon was brought back after hitting the free agent market, this backfield should be dominated by Williams in his second season. Figuring out Wilson's favorite target between Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick is more difficult, however. Only nine offenses ran the ball at a higher percentage of the time than Denver did last year. That could change going forward.The only teams that gave up fewer points per game than Denver last year were the Bills and Patriots. But former head coach Vic Fangio, widely considered one of the best defensive minds alive, no longer has influence over Denver's defense. Randy Gregory was added to complement Bradley Chubb as Denver's edge pass-rushers, but after going all in for Wilson, Denver didn't have a lot of resources left to make big moves with the rest of their roster.Times have changed very quickly for the Broncos. Not only does Denver have a new starting quarterback, but they also have a new head coach in Nathaniel Hackett as well as a new ownership group coming in. The Broncos didn't make their first draft pick until the final selection of the second round, but this offseason is all about the acquisition of Wilson. Will it be enough to make Denver a Super Bowl contender in a very difficult division?

Kansas City Chiefs (Last year's record: 12-5)

The Chiefs 5.9 yards per play was better than every team but the Cowboys, Rams, 49ers, and Buccaneers. Kansas City also averaged the fourth most points per game. This offense produced points on a whopping 51.6% of their drives, the best in the league, as well as finishing their drive with a touchdown the highest percentage in the NFL. But Kansas City made a huge move by dealing Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. They will try to replace Hill's production with numerous pass catchers, including JuJu Smith-Schuster. It looks as though the Chiefs will spread the ball around more as well as possibly leaning a little more on their running game and excellent offensive line that they rebuilt an offseason ago. Kansas City threw the ball at the sixth highest percentage in the league last year.The Ravens defense was the only one in the league last year that surrendered more yards per play than Kansas City. The Chiefs did take the football away 29 times, the fifth best in the league. Signing Justin Reid could spark Kansas City's secondary, but they really need to improve upon their 31 sacks for the year, fourth worst in the league. Also, just one team allowed more yards per rushing attempt than the Chiefs did last year.The Chiefs average game ended with Kansas City winning by 6.8 points. That was the best in the AFC West and only four teams had a better point differential in the entire league. Kansas City made two draft picks in the first round and another two in the second. They selected six players in the top 135 picks overall with Skyy Moore being the only offensive player of that group. This team is going to look a little different this season.

Los Angeles Chargers (Last year's record: 9-8)

The Chargers offense averaged 5.9 yards per play, fifth best in the NFL last year. They also produced the fifth most points per game. Only five offenses produced points more often on a higher percentage of their drives than the Chargers and Kansas City was the only offense in the NFL that ended their offensive drives with a touchdown a higher percentage of the time. The Chargers biggest offseason moves came on defense, but they did extend Mike Williams and brought in Gerald Everett at tight end. Last year, the Chargers threw the ball at a higher percentage than every offense but three.Los Angeles gave up 5.6 yards per play. Only eight defenses gave up more on average. And just the Lions and Jets allowed more points per game than the Chargers. Los Angeles made a huge trade with the Bears to snag Khalil Mack, who could give the Chargers potentially the best edge tandem in the league with Joey Bosa. Los Angeles also signed top free agency cornerback JC Jackson and brought in much-needed run defense help by signing Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson to plug up the middle of their defensive front. The Chargers allowed 4.6 yards per rushing attempt in 2021.After all their pre-draft moves, the Chargers draft wasn't overly eventful, but they did fortify their offensive line with Zion Johnson in the first round, who is expected to plug in immediately at guard. There are big expectations in Brandon Staley's second season as head coach and Justin Herbert's third season in the league. This could be a huge breakout team in 2022.

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