2020 NFL season previews: AFC West

AFC West

(listed in predicted order of finish)

Kansas City Chiefs

Projected 2020 record: 13-3
2019 record: 12-4

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
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2019 summary: QB Patrick Mahomes’ dislocated kneecap proved to be only a speed bump, as he quickly returned, and a much improved defense helped Kansas City claim the AFC’s top seed. Mahomes proved unstoppable in the postseason, overcoming 10-point deficits in all three playoff victories en route to winning Super Bowl LIV.

Key additions: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, OG Kelechi Osemele, DE Taco Charlton, OT Mike Remmers, LB Willie Gay, RB DeAndre Washington, TE Ricky Seals-Jones

Noteworthy losses: DB Kendall Fuller, RB Damien Williams (opt-out), G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (opt-out), DE Emmanuel Ogbah, RB LeSean McCoy, DE Terrell Suggs, G Stefen Wisniewski, OL Cameron Erving, P Dustin Colquitt, LB Reggie Ragland, LB Darron Lee, TE Blake Bell

Cause for concern: The defense did enough last year, but there are still some holes. There’s no real edge-rushing threat opposite Frank Clark, and the linebacking corps is passable at best unless Gay transitions quickly. The secondary will miss Fuller, whose flexibility made it easier for coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to deploy Tyrann Mathieu anywhere.

Worth watching: Between Duvernay-Tardif’s COVID-19 opt-out and the departures of Wisniewski and Erving, the interior O-line has questions. Osemele is a former Pro Bowler, but his play has slipped badly amid injuries, and he’s never played right guard. A tackle by trade, Remmers could compete to start inside.

Chris Jones
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 11.5

The Chiefs hit 12 wins last season with Mahomes hobbled and then missing time, and all of his top weapons are back. It’s usually foolish to bet on any team to reach 12-plus wins, but Kansas City is as good of a bet as any.

2020 forecast: Unless the offensive line fails to gel with a new piece or two in place, Andy Reid’s offense should be as potent as ever. That should be plenty to obscure the defense’s handful of weaknesses. There’s no reason Mahomes & Co. can’t defend their title at Super Bowl LV.

Denver Broncos

Projected 2020 record: 8-8
2019 record: 7-9

Drew Lock
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2019 summary: An 0-4 start plagued by last-second losses all but ended the Broncos’ season. After QB Joe Flacco was hurt, a 4-1 run to close the season with rookie Drew Lock as the starting quarterback created optimism for the future.

Key additions: G Graham Glasgow, WR Jerry Jeudy, DL Jurrell Casey, CB A.J. Bouye, RB Melvin Gordon, WR K.J. Hamler, TE Nick Vannett, C Lloyd Cushenberry, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, QB Jeff Driskel, P Sam Martin

Noteworthy losses: CB Chris Harris Jr., RT Ja’Wuan James (opt-out), DL Derek Wolfe, C Connor McGovern, G Ron Leary, S Will Parks, TE Jeff Heuerman, QB Joe Flacco, DE Adam Gotsis, RB Devontae Booker

Cause for concern: James barely played last year due to a nagging knee injury, and now he’ll miss all of 2021 after opting out. Elijah Wilkinson was overmatched at right tackle last season, but Denver has few other options unless it signs a veteran. Of course, the other tackle spot remains a concern, given Garett Bolles’ struggles.

Worth watching: Lock has a brand new center and the offensive line shuffled since he last took an in-game snap. The adjustment period wasn’t much of a test without game action.

Justin Simmons
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 7.5

The Broncos are perhaps the league’s hardest team to figure out, simply because there isn’t much of a sample size upon which to judge Lock. If you believe in him, the rest of this roster merits betting the over. But we would likely stay away and reserve judgment on the youngster.
2020 forecast: The defense was solid in Vic Fangio’s first season, and it could get better with Bradley Chubb healthy and Casey and Bouye on board. On offense, Lock has the weapons to produce, but he remains an unknown quantity, and his protection could be suspect. Denver could plausibly finish anywhere from 4-12 to 11-5.

Los Angeles Chargers

Projected 2020 record: 7-9
2019 record: 5-11

Tyrod Taylor
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

2019 summary: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A talented Chargers roster was done in by injuries and poor results in close games. They went 1-6 down the stretch, and Philip Rivers threw 20 interceptions in what would be his final year with the team after a 16-year tenure.

Key additions: OT Bryan Bulaga, CB Chris Harris Jr., QB Justin Herbert, G Trai Turner, NT Linval Joseph, LB Kenneth Murray, LB Nick Vigil, RB Josh Kelley

Noteworthy losses: QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, S Adrian Phillips, LB Thomas Davis, NT Brandon Mebane, G Michael Schofield, WR Travis Benjamin, LB Jatavis Brown, FB Derek Watt, CB Jaylen Watkins

Cause for concern: Adding Bulaga and Turner was outstanding, but left tackle is still a big concern. Sam Tevi (2017 sixth-rounder) was a below-average starter at right tackle but head coach Anthony Lynn is going with him at left tackle. Trent Scott (2018 UDFA) and Trey Pipkins (2019 third-rounder) have been a mess when forced to play. It’s hard to see this ending well, unless Pipkins takes a major leap in Year 2.

Worth watching: Lynn is fond of veteran Tyrod Taylor, who was named the team’s starter as Herbert is brought on slowly. But odds are pressure to start Herbert will mount at some point. While very smart, Herbert doesn’t always show sharp instincts — a run-heavy, play-action offense would simplify things early on.

Hunter Henry
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 8

The Chargers are clearly due to rebound, having gone 5-11 despite a point differential (minus-8) representative of a 7-9 or 8-8 team. But it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from a reconfigured offense. This could go either way.

2020 forecast: Lynn wants to use the quarterback heavily in the run game, but progress could take time with a rookie QB and no preseason. Likewise, the glaring hole at left tackle and Bulaga’s injury history are worrisome. The defense remains loaded, but coordinator Gus Bradley might not maximize versatile players like S Derwin James and Harris Jr. The Chargers have playoff ability, but something might be missing.

Las Vegas Raiders

Projected 2020 record: 6-10
2019 record: 7-9

Las Vegas Raiders, Allegiant Stadium
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2019 summary: The Raiders appeared headed for the postseason after a 6-4 start, but the bottom fell out with a four-game losing streak — including three losses by 21-plus points — costing them a playoff spot.

Key additions: LB Cory Littleton, WR Henry Ruggs, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, DT Maliek Collins, QB Marcus Mariota, CB Prince Amukamara, CB Damon Arnette, DE Carl Nassib, S Damarious Randall, TE Jason Witten, S Jeff Heath, WR Nelson Agholor, RB Devontae Booker, WR Lynn Bowden, WR Bryan Edwards
Noteworthy losses: LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Daryl Worley, S Karl Joseph, DT P.J. Hall, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Dion Jordan, DE Benson Mayowa, QB Mike Glennon

Cause for concern: The Raiders churn the roster like few other teams, adding handfuls of players and seeing who sticks. They’ve found some solid contributors, but the defense still lacks any blue-chip players. Las Vegas is betting big on youngsters making leaps, both up front (Clelin Ferrell, Maurice Hurst) and in the secondary (Trayvon Mullen, Johnathan Abram).

Worth watching: The Raiders have a bunch of bodies at receiver, but roles still need to be defined. Tyrell Williams is out for the season. Ruggs will play a ton, but how many deep targets will he get? Will he be more of a gadget guy? Bowden brings his own gadget appeal, Edwards could compete to start if healthy and Agholor is no slouch, either.

Maxx Crosby
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 7.5

There’s reason for optimism after a 7-9 team added ample talent in the offseason. However, the Raiders are a clear regression candidate after posting a point differential (minus-106) more representative of a 5-11 team. We’ll take the under in a competitive division.

2020 forecast: If their trajectory under Jon Gruden continues, the Raiders should be competing for a playoff spot — but we’re not so sure. While the young secondary will have ups, the pass rush probably won’t be enough to compensate for the downs. On offense, QB Derek Carr seems to have plateaued, and it’s not hard to imagine Gruden pulling the plug in favor of Mariota if things go sour early.

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)