With no sports and nothing but time, due to the global pandemic we’ve been living through, I have tried to figure out how to approach the 2020 NFL season. A part of me thought about ranking every team from 1-32, another wanted to rank each team per conference, but since we’re here I might as well just do every division in the league.
Part V: AFC West
1. Denver Broncos
2019 record: 7-9
2020 over/under win total: 7.5
Heading into the 2020 offseason I really liked the Broncos as one of my sleeper teams. I’m a simple man, and I based my feeling exclusively because of a video I saw of rookie quarterback Drew Lock singing aloud on the sidelines to a Jeezy song. That was it. Right there I said the Broncos are going over whatever their win total is in 2020.
Apparently, though, they are the dark horse contender for like every fucking media person, so I have since backed off. I’m not right all the time, but I’ve generally found that going against the masses has been a beneficial betting strategy. If everyone is on Denver, I’m going to have to go against them.
The Broncos 2019 campaign was basically split into three seasons: the first was with Joe Flacco, where they went 2-6; the second was with (no name) backup Brandon Allen, where they went 1-2; the third was with Lock, who went 4-1 and took his only loss on the road in a snow game against the Chiefs. Not bad, right?
During the draft they surrounded Lock with receiving weapons. They took my favorite receiver, Jerry Jeudy, 15th overall, and added some speed guy named KJ Hamler out of Penn State in the second round. Combine them with stud Courtland Sutton and you are looking at an offense that has all the makings of challenging in the AFC.
My gut tells me the Broncos will be better than they were in 2019, but I am betting that they won’t surpass their win total. I think this is a 7-win team that will win some games they shouldn’t, and lose other that they should win. Such is the life of a quarterback playing in his first full season, playing for a coach in Vic Fangio that has yet to prove anything.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
2019 record: 12-4
2020 over/under: 11.5
The Super Bowl-champion Chiefs were left for dead after Patrick Mahomes dislocated his knee in Week 7 against the Broncos. Following a 4-0 start they dropped consecutive games at home to the Colts and Texans, and the following Thursday they lost the best quarterback in the NFL for what looked like the year.
They held their own by beating the Broncos that night, before splitting their next two games against the Packers (loss) and Vikings (win). After Mahomes returned for a road game in Week 10 against the Titans (another loss), Kansas City found themselves a very pedestrian 6-4 and had just a one-game lead on their division. At that time it wasn’t a matter of hoping for another Super Bowl run; fans like me were just hoping they would find a way into the postseason.
What happened next was what we all know: they didn’t lose another game. They won their final six in the regular season to finish the year 12-4, and with a little help from the Dolphins in a Week 17 win against the Patriots, the Chiefs secured a first round bye and the rest is history. They came back from a 24-0 deficit against the Texans to win going away, 51-31, in the Divisional Round. They twice trailed the Titans — 10-0 and 17-7 — before winning the AFC Championship by a final of 35-24. Then they did the unthinkable and erased a 20-10 49ers lead in the Super Bowl with less than 7 minutes left in the 4th quarter. They won that game 31-20, and netted their first world title in 50 years.
They enter 2020 with the best odds of winning the Super Bowl (+550), the best odds to win their division (-400), and tie for the highest win total with the Baltimore Ravens (11.5). Assuming defensive tackle Chris Jones either plays on the franchise tag or signs a longterm extension, Kansas City returns 20 of 22 starters. They have everything lined up to make another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
Their draft was highlighted by taking LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, and rangy linebacker Willie Gay Jr. out of Mississippi State in the second. Add those guys to the best offensive unit in the league and a defense that was significantly improved in the second half of last year, and you are looking at a team that has all the horses of making a play at being the first back-to-back Champions since the Patriots in the early 2000’s.
3. Las Vegas Raiders
2019 record: 7-9
2020 over/under: 7.5
In their first season in Las Vegas, the Raiders epitomize what average looks like. They have an average quarterback, an average group of receivers, a top-flight running back and a below average defense. They have all the makings of doing exactly what they did in 2019.
I think there’s a path for them to contend for a wild card, but it’s extremely narrow. Last season the Raiders were in the top-10 in the NFL in yards per play (5.9) and in the bottom 10 in yards per play allowed (5.9). If their defense continues being bad it’s going to force Derek Carr, who isn’t exactly Patrick Mahomes when it comes to taking risks and throwing the ball downfield, to throw them back into games. That isn’t their recipe for success.
Instead the way they will have to win is by pounding the rock with second-year back Josh Jacobs, and keeping the opponent off the field. If the Raiders take a lead of 10 or 14 points they won’t be easy to deal with. But if the opposite happens, and Carr has to shoulder the load, this team is going to be in trouble.
They added backup (and former high draft pick) Marcus Marriota, so the potential exists for Carr to be replaced at some point. They drafted three different wide receivers (1st round, and two 3rd-rounders) to bolster up their playmaking unit. But until their defense proves they can get opposing offenses off the field I fear we’ll be looking at the same old story. The Raiders will probably be one of the more fun teams to watch, but more in the sense that they will score a lot and give up even more.
4. Los Angels Chargers
2019 record: 5-11
2020 over/under: 7.5
While everyone is focused on the Super Bowl champion Chiefs and dark horse Broncos, it’s the Chargers who are actually in the best situation to take advantage of getting slept on in 2020. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor figures to be an average placeholder until rookie Justin Herbert takes the reins, but average quarterback play might just be enough to get this team into the 9- or 10-win territory.
Taylor has always been something of a journeyman in the NFL; he started with the Ravens as a backup for Joe Flacco before becoming the Bills starter in the mid-2010’s. After taking them to the playoffs he was replaced by Josh Allen, and moved on to Cleveland before Baker Mayfield took over in 2018. Last year he was Phillip Rivers’ backup, and now he will have the job for a year (or less) before Herbert inevitably takes over.
Tyrod has a special place in my heart because he was a five-star quarterback out of high school, and went on to play QB at Virginia Tech the year I was there. He isn’t a major shot-taker and there are limits to his game, but he makes smart decisions and at age-31 still has the scrambling ability to make things happen and doesn’t have the milage on his legs that most other mobile quarterbacks do at that age. He is low-risk, low-reward, and pretty much exactly what the Chargers need in 2020.
Los Angeles has two solid receivers (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams), a solid tight end (Hunter Henry), and two running backs with unique skill sets (Austin Eckler and Bernie Sanders supporter Justin Jackson). Along with Herbert — who they drafted 6th overall — they took linebacker Kenneth Murray late in the first round, who will team up with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III for one of the more athletic front seven units in the league. This roster has talent. I like them to go over 7.5 wins and maybe even give the Chiefs a run for their money in the AFC West.
- Chiefs: 13-3
- Chargers: 10-6
- Raiders: 7-9
- Broncos: 7-9