In the fourth installment of my 2020 NFL Record Prediction series, which will span 9 parts, I’ll be rounding out the AFC by examining the secretly potent AFC West.
Note: These predictions are meant to reflect not just which team is better in a duel of two coteries, but who I feel the likely winner will be based on circumstances and situations.
Feel free to bookmark these articles as the year unfolds; as always, you are welcome to comment your own predictions as I go along, or even ask for justification for specific game outcomes!
Week 1: Houston Texans (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Los Angeles Chargers (W, 2-0)
Week 3: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 2-1)
Week 4: New England Patriots (W, 3-1)
Week 5: Las Vegas Raiders (W, 4-1)
Week 6: at Buffalo Bills (W, 5-1)
Week 7: at Denver Broncos (W, 6-1)
Week 8: New York Jets (W, 7-1)
Week 9: Carolina Panthers (W, 8-1)
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: at Las Vegas Raiders (W, 9-1)
Week 12: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L, 9-2)
Week 13: Denver Broncos (W, 10-2)
Week 14: at Miami Dolphins (W, 11-2)
Week 15: at New Orleans Saints (L, 11-3)
Week 16: Atlanta Falcons (W, 12-3)
Week 17: at Los Angeles Chargers (W, 13-3)
The Chiefs should have little-to-no problem defending their crown in 2020 as they return the vast majority of their title-winning squad. In fact, the only losses they incurred were middle linebacker Reggie Ragland and cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Kansas City’s offense is catalyzed by the $450 million (up to $503 million) man Patrick Mahomes, who is unquestionably the best quarterback in football and quite possibly the most talented quarterback ever. Further, Mahomes has two great running backs in Super Bowl MVP snub Damien Williams and LSU rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, both of whom should be heavily involved in the passing game.
On top of that, Mahomes is joined by a stellar receiving corps which includes All-Pro stars Tyreek Hill—who has his sights set on 2,000 receiving yards this year—and Travis Kelce, not to mention dynamic weapons Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson.
On defense, the Chiefs are still incredibly solid, and that’s all they essentially need to be considering that their offense is arguably the most potent in the league. General Manager Brett Veach has avoided a conundrum by re-signing DT Chris Jones to a 4-year deal up to $85 million, thus alleviating the concern of holdout in 2020. Outside of Jones, Kansas City has other transcendent talents like defensive end Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu.
The Chiefs’ overall star power should only be benefited by an easy schedule. Kansas City could very well win at Baltimore (Week 3), at Tampa Bay (Week 12) and at New Orleans (Week 15), but I would expect them to lose at least 1, if not all, of such matchups.
Overall, I posit the Chiefs to earn the #2 seed in the AFC for the 2nd straight year. Things panned out well despite Mahomes & Reid not having home-field advantage throughout the postseason at raucous Arrowhead Stadium, and I figure more of the same to transpire come January 2021.
Week 1: Tennessee Titans (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 0-2)
Week 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W, 1-2)
Week 4: at New York Jets (W, 2-2)
Week 5: at New England Patriots (W, 3-2)
Week 6: Miami Dolphins (W, 4-2)
Week 7: Kansas City Chiefs (L, 4-3)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Atlanta Falcons (L, 4-4)
Week 10: at Las Vegas Raiders (L, 4-5)
Week 11: Los Angeles Chargers (W, 5-5)
Week 12: New Orleans Saints (W, 6-5)
Week 13: at Kansas City Chiefs (L, 6-6)
Week 14: at Carolina Panthers (L, 6-7)
Week 15: Buffalo Bills (W, 7-7)
Week 16: at Los Angeles Chargers (W, 8-7)
Week 17: Las Vegas Raiders (W, 9-7)
In just several months, the Broncos totally overhauled their entire roster.
Arguably most important, rookie quarterback Drew Lock emerged as Denver’s future potential starter in Week 14 by defeating the Houston Texans on the road. Lock went on to throw for 1,020 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in 5 games for the Broncos, numbers good enough to unseat 2019 starter Joe Flacco. In fact, Flacco was cut.
Another player who stepped up for then-rookie head coach Vic Fangio? Wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who posted over 1,100 yards en route to his first Pro Bowl nod.
What seemed to be an issue entering 2020 was a lack of weapons outside of Sutton and 2019 draftee Noah Fant, but General Manager John Elway addressed that phenomenally. He added electric wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the draft while also signing former Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, who should form a nice tandem with Phillip Lindsay.
Denver’s defense, too, appeared to get closer to mimicking its historic 2015 form. Elway traded for AFC South stars Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye while also retaining Shelby Harris and Justin Simmons, and edge rusher Bradley Chubb should wreak havoc alongside the aging Von Miller.
The Broncos aren’t quite on the level of their division foe Chiefs—whom they haven’t beaten since 2015—but they should certainly make some noise in the AFC.
There is some considerable pressure on Lock to sustain his rousing rookie year, but he has everything he needs to succeed. The second-year quarterback should guide the Broncos to the 6th seed and simultaneously end their 5-year playoff drought.
Los Angeles Chargers
Week 1: at Cincinnati Bengals (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Kansas City Chiefs (L, 1-1)
Week 3: Carolina Panthers (W, 2-1)
Week 4: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L, 2-2)
Week 5: at New Orleans Saints (L, 2-3)
Week 6: New York Jets (W, 3-3)
Week 7: at Miami Dolphins (W, 4-3)
Week 8: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 5-3)
Week 9: Las Vegas Raiders (W, 6-3)
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: at Denver Broncos (L, 6-4)
Week 12: at Buffalo Bills (L, 6-5)
Week 13: New England Patriots (W, 7-5)
Week 14: Atlanta Falcons (W, 8-5)
Week 15: at Las Vegas Raiders (L, 8-6)
Week 16: Denver Broncos (L, 8-7)
Week 17: at Kansas City Chiefs (L, 8-8)
After a stellar 2018 campaign, the Chargers regressed miserably in 2019 due to an abysmal year from franchise quarterback Philip Rivers. To little surprise, the Chargers opted to move on from their former stalwart; in fact, losing may have been a serendipity, as they were able to draft incredible Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.
Herbert brings numerous tools to the table, including excellent size (6’6”), arm strength (see clip below), grit and more. The only quandary is: when will he start for the Chargers?
L.A.’s current projected starting quarterback is Tyrod Taylor, who has not started an NFL game since playing for the Browns in 2018. Taylor will likely begin Los Angeles’ crusade, but I expect Herbert to enter around Week 6 just as things may begin to spiral out of control for Taylor.
Herbert only needs to be decent for the Chargers to contend this year as their defense is potentially the best in the NFL, and certainly top 5.
Anthony Lynn’s squad boasts a devilish edge rush duo in Joey Bosa and Mark Ingram, not to mention depth at defensive tackle via newcomer Linval Joseph and Jerry Tillery. Moreover, I adulated the move by General Manager Tom Telesco to trade up for inside linebacker Kenneth Murray, who was my highest-ranked middle linebacker entering April 23rd. To top it all off, Telesco was able to pry 4-time Pro Bowler Chris Harris, Jr. from the rival Broncos to pair with star corner Casey Heyward, and the Chargers hope to enjoy a fully healthy year from standout safety Derwin James.
For some reason, it seems pundits are routinely sleeping on the Chargers. They very well could make the playoffs, but I think little success from Taylor plus Herbert’s learning curve may be the determining season factors. I project LA to finish 8-8, as their loss to the Broncos in Week 16, whom they have not beaten at home since they played in San Diego, would be the nail in the coffin.
Las Vegas Raiders
Week 1: at Carolina Panthers (L, 0-1)
Week 2: New Orleans Saints (L, 0-2)
Week 3: at New England Patriots (L, 0-3)
Week 4: Buffalo Bills (L, 0-4)
Week 5: at Kansas City Chiefs (L, 0-5)
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W, 1-5)
Week 8: at Cleveland Browns (L, 1-6)
Week 9: at Los Angeles Chargers (L, 1-7)
Week 10: Denver Broncos (W, 2-7)
Week 11: Kansas City Chiefs (L, 2-8)
Week 12: at Atlanta Falcons (L, 2-9)
Week 13: at New York Jets (L, 2-10)
Week 14: Indianapolis Colts (W, 3-10)
Week 15: Los Angeles Chargers (W, 4-10)
Week 16: Miami Dolphins (W, 5-10)
Week 17: at Denver Broncos (L, 5-11)
As the franchise transitions to Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders very well may put the “Sin” in Sin City, at least on the field.
Quarterback Derek Carr’s 3 Pro Bowl seasons have flown under the radar, as he has just one winning campaign since entering the league in 2014. The Fresno State product continued his solid play in 2019 to the tune of 4,054 yards, 21 TDs and 8 INTs. However, none of those numbers pops off the page. Carr has been more serviceable than outstanding.
The good news is that the former 2nd round pick now has a bevy of talent surrounding him, namely superstar running back Josh Jacobs, wide receivers Tyrell Williams, Henry Ruggs—my sneaky pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year—and Hunter Renfrow, and tight end Darren Waller. Can Carr finally eclipse 4,100 yards and 35 passing touchdowns? If not, his tenure may very well be up.
Turning to Jon Gruden’s defense, Las Vegas—an occasional “Oakland” will slip into the brain here and there—has a burgeoning edge rushing combination in 2019 rookies Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell. Also, General Manager Mike Mayock had a spending frenzy in free agency, as he added defensive pieces Nick Kwiatkowski, Cory Littleton, Prince Amukamara, Damarious Randall and Jeff Heath.
A head-scratching move by Mayock, though, was the selection of cornerback Damon Arnette in the late first round. Numerous experts had Arnette going as late as the 3rd, and better corners such as Noah Igbinoghene and Jeff Gladney were still available. The Arnette pick seems to be a microcosm of secondary woes for Gruden, as only second-year safety Johnathan Abram appears to be a playmaker.
Carr has never done better than 3-3 against the AFC West in a single year, and I fully expect that motif to continue. There’s reason for optimism in Las Vegas, but I don’t see this team contending with Carr at the helm. Itlooks like Carr won’t exactly fit the epigram, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”