The Chargers have enough talent to win the AFC West
September 1, 2022
For the past six seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs have owned the AFC West, winning the division title six consecutive seasons. Led by their head coach Andy Reid and the outstanding quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs just seem to plug in a new player at a key position each season and they keep on rolling. But the rest of the division may have finally caught up, or at least the Chargers may have.
The Los Angeles Chargers are coming off a 9-8 season in 2021, losing three of their last four games, including the 35-32 heartbreaking finale against the Las Vegas Raiders on the road in overtime. The loss cost the Chargers a shot at the playoffs. A disappointing end to a promising season. But the future is bright. The two most important positions on the offensive side of the ball are at quarterback and left tackle, and the Chargers are as strong at those two positions as any team in the NFL.
Quarterback Justin Herbert, who is just 24 years of age, and left tackle Rashawn Slater, who is just 23 years of age, were both named starters for the AFC Pro Bowl in 2021. Herbert has the most touchdown passes (69) in NFL history through the first two seasons of his career and the most passing yards (9,350) in NFL history through the first two seasons of his career.
The Chargers were ranked 4th in the NFL in total offense in 2021, so Herbert and Slater had plenty of help. The Chargers had two 1,000-yard-wide receivers in 2021, with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both going over 1,100 yards. Running back Austin Ekeler led the NFL with 20 touchdowns, 12 rushing and eight receiving. Center Corey Linsley, the leader of the offensive line, was also chosen as a starter on the AFC Pro Bowl roster.
At right guard, the Chargers used their first-round pick to select Zion Johnson and he is already listed as a starter. Trey Pipkins, a Charger third round pick in 2019, will start at right tackle. The addition of Johnson has added strength, smarts, and toughness to the offensive line. On both sides of the ball, the Chargers focused on improving the interior of the lines.
The Chargers struggled on defense in 2021, especially the run defense. The addition of defensive tackle Austin Johnson from the New York Giants and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day from the Los Angeles Rams, both acquired through free agency, will improve the run defense. Rookie defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia, a fifth-round draft pick from UCLA, will also contribute to the improved run defense.
The Chargers have stars on defense with outside linebacker Joey Bosa and strong safety Derwin James, both selected as starters on the AFC Pro Bowl squad. But they wanted more playmakers on defense. The Chargers traded for Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, acquiring Mack for a second-round draft pick and a sixth-round draft pick. Mack was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 with the Raiders and made the Pro Bowl six consecutive seasons from 2015 through 2020.
With Mack and Bosa rushing from the outside, opposing quarterbacks will be under intense pressure to get the ball out of their hands as quickly as possible. The Chargers also added cornerback J.C. Jackson, an AFC Pro Bowl starter in 2021 with the New England Patriots. Jackson had 25 interceptions in four seasons with the Patriots and he is another player that just makes plays.
The Chargers made changes on special teams as well, adding punter JK Scott, who has averaged 44.5 yards per punt in his four-year career and long snapper Josh Harris, an NFC Pro Bowl player in 2021 as well as making second-team All-Pro last season with the Atlanta Falcons. Both players were acquired in free agency, as was wide receiver/returner DeAndre Carter, who returned a kickoff return 101 yards for a touchdown last season with the Washington Commanders.
The Chargers had a talented team and loaded up in the off-season to make it even better, at least on paper. The starters have not played in preseason, but they are healthy going into the first game of the season against the Raiders. The defense has looked very good in practice and in scrimmages with the Dallas Cowboys. Predicted record for the Chargers: 12-5
The Kansas City Chiefs have star quarterback Mahomes and star tight end Travis Kelce, two of the best players in the NFL. They have Reid and a roster with a lot of playoff experience. The problem for the Chiefs was the loss of two key players in the offseason, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and safety Tyrann Mathieu. Hill was traded to the Miami Dolphins for five draft picks and Mathieu was a free agent.
Hill is the most explosive wide receiver in the NFL. In six seasons in the NFL, Hill has made the Pro Bowl in each season, and he earned three First-Team All-Pro honors and a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs. There is simply no way to replace the fastest player in the NFL. Mathieu is a three-time NFL All-Pro selection. The Chiefs will miss his leadership. He is 30 years old and wanted more money than the Chiefs were willing to spend, which was the same issue with Hill. Prediction for Chiefs: 11-6
The Raiders have a new head coach in Josh McDaniels, a new General Manager in Dave Ziegler, and even a new team President in Sandra Douglass Morgan. They are installing a new offense and a new defense. With these changes, and the player personnel additions on both offense and defense, the Raiders look like an improved team.
The Raiders are explosive on offense and with the acquisition of All-Pro wide receiver Devante Adams, and along with pro bowl receiver Hunter Renfrow and star tight end Darren Waller, the Raiders will be tough on any NFL defense. The Raiders intend to use their running backs in their offensive sets, as they kept six on the roster, including UCLA rookie Brittain Brown.
Defensively, the Raiders acquired free agent Chandler Jones from the Arizona Cardinals, a two-time All-Pro who has 107.5 career sacks. The Raiders pass-rushing duo of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones will be difficult for every NFL offense to deal with. Combined with the best kicking game in the NFL in kicker Daniel Carlson and punter AJ Cole, the Raiders will be tough to beat. Prediction for the Raiders: 11-6
The Denver Broncos have needed a quarterback since the retirement of Peyton Manning, and they found one in the offseason in nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos traded tight end Noah Fant, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive end Shelby Harris, 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, 2022 and 2023 second-round picks and a 2022 fifth-round pick for Wilson.
The Broncos gave up a lot for the 33-year-old veteran quarterback, who will turn 34 in November. Wilson led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl twice, winning once. The Broncos have talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They have a new head coach in Nathaniel Hackett, who was the offensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers for the past three years. But this is a tough division and if they get to a winning record that would be a successful season. Prediction for the Broncos: 9-8
The Chargers should win the AFC West division. They are building a team that can win this season and in the future. This division is loaded, it is the best in football and any team could win it, but after six consecutive AFC West titles from the Chiefs it feels and looks like the Chargers are the most complete team in the division and they could end the Chiefs reign in the AFC West.
The Los Angeles Chargers open their season against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, September 11, at 1:25 p.m. at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.