Despite the Bengals making the Super Bowl, the future is awfully bright in the AFC West. The NFL will continue to run through that division.
This past AFC championship would be one of the most entertaining NFL playoff games in some time if it wasn’t for the AFC divisional game a week prior between the Chiefs and the Bills. Despite making the Super Bowl the past two seasons, the Chiefs ended up losing to the Bengals in overtime.
Of course, the Bengals deserve to go to the Super Bowl, but in terms of looking ahead to the future, the AFC West is poised to take over the NFL, and I’m not just talking about the Chiefs.
Of course, you have the best team in the AFC West and one of the best teams in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs. If you looked at the beginning of the Chiefs season and compared it to now, you would be shocked and the transition. The Chiefs started off very slow and at one point were last in the AFC West. The one thing that really had the Chiefs back was the defenses they were facing.
Plenty of NFL teams started playing more two-high defenses and forced Mahomes and the Chiefs to be far less aggressive and forced them to take stuff underneath; of course, the defensive schemes they were facing were more complicated than just facing two-high safety defense, but that was one of the common denominators that caused them to struggle.
It took the Chiefs a while to turn things around, but of course, they did and they managed to get themselves into the AFC Championship game. I think this goes without saying, but the Chiefs are clearly set up for success, but after this season, they might be set up for success like they haven’t before.
Kansas City has plenty of great weapons everywhere, but last season they struggled along the offensive line somewhat, and they brought in a veteran in Orlando Brown, but more impressively were their rookies. Kansas City drafted Creed Humphrey in the 2nd round and also drafted Trey Smith in the 6th round, and not only were these players good, but they were ridiculously good, especially in Humphrey’s case.
The one thing that Kansas City needed was more quality young players to bring along with Patrick Mahomes. Now that they have a few young players Kansas City is in an even better place than they were before.
Heading into the final week of the season, Kansas City had guaranteed themselves a place in the playoffs, but one more team was going to join them between the Raiders and the Chargers. Ultimately the Raiders would win that game, but we are going to talk about the Chargers first.
For the longest time, the Chargers had their QB in Philip Rivers. Rivers led the Chargers to plenty of playoff appearances over the years until he and the Chargers eventually split ways which led to Rivers landing with the Colts and with Los Angeles drafting themselves a new QB in the form of Justin Herbert.
Drafting a new QB the season your longtime guy leaves is one of the hardest and most stressful things to do for a franchise. Get the pick wrong and you’ll have the entire fan base ready to take you down, get it right and the franchise will be loved and lauded, and it seems the Chargers have got the pick right.
Herbert came into the NFL draft in one of the better QB classes with Tua Tagovaiola and Joe Burrow. After their first seasons, I think it’s fair to say that Herbert was clearly the best rookie. Herbert showed plenty of signs of great QB play in his rookie year, but flash forward to now and I think it’s fair to say that Burrow has been the best QB of the bunch so far.
While Burrow has been absolutely the best QB of the class so far, Herbert has been no slouch.
One thing that often, unfortunately, happens to young QB’s is that they are paired with sub-par coaches. Just look at this previous QB class who had multiple pairings of young talented QB’s paired with bad coaches, looking at you Matt Nagy, and Urban Meyer. I’m not saying every failed QB is the result of poor coaching, but having a quality coach does make a difference, and thankfully for Justin Herbert’s sake, he has a quality coach in Brandon Staley.
Before Staley was the head coach of the Chargers, he was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. While Staley was with the Rams, the Rams were one of the more dominant defensive units in the NFL. While Staley was a great defensive coordinator for the Chargers, he’s made a name for himself in a different way with the Chargers.
In recent years, it’s been impossible to ignore the impact of analytics on football and one of the bigger on-field impacts has been 4th down decisions. 4th down decisions have been fairly controversial with many different people taking different stances on it, and Staleys clearly on the side of going for it more often than not. According to rbsdm.com, the Chargers are in 9th in terms of going for it when they are supposed to.
One thing that the Chargers and the Chiefs have in common is that they both landed quality offensive linemen in the draft. Obviously, Kansas City landed Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith, but the Chargers finally landed what should be a quality offensive lineman in Rashawn Slater.
It’s clear to see why the Chargers are set up for success, They have some quality pieces, a young QB who has already shown immense talent, and a young bright head coach to go with him. Add some more development from Hebert and a few more pieces and this team could be very dangerous in the very near future.
While the Chargers and the Chiefs are clearly built for the present as well as the future, things are a bit different in Denver and Las Vegas, but that certainly doesn’t mean things are bad.
Everybody remembers the Aaron Rodgers story from last season with him supposedly wanting out of Green Bay and with this supposedly being his last season in Green Bay, well the time has finally come and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen to Rodgers.
Rodgers has talked about his relationship improving with the front office in Green Bay over the season, but with the season not ending how Green Bay wanted it to, Rodgers hasn’t decided what he wants to do yet.
Of course, if Rodgers does want out of Green Bay, Denver will be one of the teams ringing up the Packers to see what they want for him. Denver is one of the few teams in the NFL who have enough resources to make a serious play for Aaron Rodgers while also having enough talent on this team to be a serious player in the AFC if Rodgers does end up in Denver.
One big move Denver made that wasn’t on the player front was the hiring of now-former Packers offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett. Before Hackett was on the Packers, he was the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
One of Hackett’s more impressive feats is that he managed to turn the Jacksonville Jaguars offense into an actual decent offense, an offense that had Blake Bortles as the QB mind you.
If Denver does land Rodgers, they will likely have to move off of three first-round draft picks and likely one of their offensive weapons or a defensive back. I think it is more likely that Green Bay would want an offensive weapon rather than a defensive back being that Green Bay will likely be losing a lot of offensive weapons.
If Denver does trade away three first-rounders and one of their offensive weapons, they will absolutely still be a force in the AFC. Aaron Rodgers with multiple quality weapons to play with, and a great offensive mind in Hackett can really do some damage.
While the Broncos will be big players in the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes, there is a chance that they possibly might not get him and might have to grab a QB in the draft. There are rumors that the Broncos really like Kenny Pickett and while most Broncos fans would prefer Rodgers, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The future would be awfully bright for the Broncos with Pickett, all of the Broncos’ offensive pieces, and a quality coach in Hackett.
While the Raiders were the ones who made the playoffs, they aren’t the ones who are set to make some damage in the present. Vegas has gone through one of the most tumultuous seasons in recent times. Jon Gruden was fired from his job after emails of his leaked, Henry Ruggs was arrested after drinking and driving, yet the Raiders somehow made the playoffs on the final game of the season.
The Raiders making the playoffs can be at least partially credited to interim head coach Rich Bisaccia. Bisaccia was originally the special team’s coordinator of the Raiders until Gruden was fired. Being that Bisaccia helped lead the Raiders to the playoffs after what was such a wild and crazy season, one would think that the Raiders would retain Bisaccia, but surprisingly that didn’t happen at all.
The Raiders went in another direction in terms of their head coach as Bisaccia is now in Green Bay, and the Raiders are now coached by former New England Patriots offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. McDaniels has been the offensive coordinator for the Patriots for a long while now and was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots while some unknown QB named Tom Brady was there.
While Brady was in New England, there was a fair argument to be made that Tom Brady was the reason for the offensive success in New England, but when Brady joined Tampa Bay the pressure got put on to Mcdaniels’ shoulders. The first year without Brady wasn’t the best as Cam Newton and company struggled, but the Patriots would bring in a new QB in the off-season in Mac Jones. Under McDaniels, Jones was the best rookie QB of this class so far.
As McDaniels enters the Vegas job, he will have a decision to make, that decision being should the Raiders keep going with Derek Carr, or should they explore other options. Carr is a quality QB without a doubt, but there is a cap on Carr’s performance that another QB may be able to surpass. Regardless of whatever the Raiders decide to do with their QB situation, the future looks bright in Vegas, especially with a coach like McDaniels.
I’m not saying all of the AFC West teams will absolutely dominate and take over the NFL, but with the rosters that these teams have, and where their futures are headed, it’s hard to imagine how the AFC West won’t play a future in the story of the NFL.