On Tuesday’s Yahoo! Sports NFL podcast, Charles Robinson and friend-of-the-site Terez Paylor spent more than an hour on a fascinating preview the entire AFC — division by division. They saved the best for last: the AFC West.
Both Robinson and Paylor believe the Kansas City Chiefs will win the division this year — which would be the fourth consecutive AFC West crown for the Chiefs. And both analysts think the Chiefs will win the AFC Championship, too.
Paylor said he thinks it’s all about Patrick Mahomes and the defense.
”A team that went 12-4 last year, arguably has the most valuable young player in football in Patrick Mahomes — arguably the most valuable player, period. I think this is a team that has done a whole lot to try to rectify what was a complete defensive disaster by the end of the season. And I give them a lot of credit for trying to rectify it. They fired Bob Sutton, the defensive coordinator. They hired Steve Spagnuolo. And not just that. They went from a 3-4 to a 4-3 overnight. They were tasked with trying to make a championship-caliber defense overnight while switching schemes — which is not easy.
“They signed Tyrann Mathieu to be kind of their Brian Dawkins,” Paylor continued. “They see him as kind of the spiritual voice — and Spagnuolo is going to use him that way: lining him up all over and making plays.
“Frank Clark’s going to have to deliver on all the money they paid him. There’s pressure here, because their decision to pay Clark directly impacted what’s happening with Chris Jones right now. You can’t pay somebody from the outside after your own guy has had 15 sacks without him expecting to be paid the same.”
But Paylor thinks Jones will play for the Chiefs in 2019.
“He’s got to be in there 30 days before the season begins to get his accrued year. He’ll show for that. But if they make him sing for his supper this year and have to franchise him nest year, things could get very difficult for them.”
Robinson said he thinks Clark is a special player.
“The reason the Seattle Seahawks let Clark go is because they are looking long-term at a number of guys they want to extend — money they want to pay out. I don’t think they were happy to let Clark go, but it was about compensation and the way everything worked out. He’s an elite-level pass rusher and a mentality-setter in the locker room. I literally watched him knock out Germain Ifedi in practice. He is a brand of nasty that is rare — even in the NFL. Sometimes that can be really good for your locker room — but sometimes it can be a little scary.
”I like Mathieu,” Robinson continued. “He has his own mentality. You can move him a lot and be creative with him. That’s awesome. You’ve got to love creativity in a defense. And then to have a guy who is not only a pass rusher, but a tone-setter. The pass rushers they’ve had in the past didn’t quite have that edge to them that he will bring. Defensively, I expect the Chiefs to be a better team.”
The conversation then turned to the Chiefs offense — and Robinson said he had questions.
”Offensively, A, I want to see who’s going to be on the field for them,” he said. “Tyreek Hill. Is he going to be there? How much is he going to be there? We’ve got to sort all that stuff out. And B, is there any lag from this whole thing? I’m curious. If this manifests itself in other ways — in a mental impact on everything that happens offensively.”
”If it is, it won’t be on Hill,” interjected Paylor. ”Tyreek Hill is in unbelievable shape right now. Just trust me on that. This is about to be the contract year of contract years. There’s a considerable amount of optimism coming out of Kansas City that he will play. The suspension — if there is one — will not be too cumbersome. But at the end of the day — as I’ve told all you guys — Roger Goodell can do what he wants. So we’ll have to see.”
But Robinson had another question about the Chiefs offense.
”Another pivotal piece here that I think is going to be very interesting is Damien Williams,” he said. “There’s an element of him being a known commodity, but again, the running back you had is not walking through that door. He’s just not. To me, there has to be an element of not just functionality at the running back spot, but there has to be some playmaking. You can’t just assume that because because of how the offense is run and you have Mahomes that it’s just going to happen.”
The Robinson reminded Paylor of their discussions after the Chiefs released Kareem Hunt last season.
“You said to me last year as the season went on, ‘Look... I see the difference. I watch them game in and game out. I break down film. I see the difference at the running back spot.’ You saw the tier of talent drop down a little bit. So offensively, I think it will be interesting to see how it manifests itself. I will be disappointed if this team does not take that next step.”
Paylor then said that if the Chiefs were unable to take the next step in 2019, it could also trigger a “next step” in fans’ relationship with Mahomes.
”They’ll start foolishly saying, ‘Oh... look at his record against the good teams and the big games,’ and start doing that stuff.”
This time it was Robinson’s turn to interject.
”I will just say from my standpoint — I live in Houston, and I’ve covered the league since 2000: knock that s---t off!
‘Seriously,” Robiinson continued. “We’re to the point now that it’s only year two as a full-time starter for Mahomes. If people are already coming after him with, ‘What about his record?’ then knock that s--t off. We just got on the train ride. Don’t start saying, ‘Are we there yet?’ Just stop.”
Both Paylor and Robinson think the Los Angeles Chargers will finish second in the division — probably with a record around 10-6.
”This is a team that went 12-4 last year,” said Paylor. “And I think in general, they did some things to really get better. But they’re going to have to show me that they’re going to topple the Chiefs — just like the Chiefs had to show me they were going to topple the Broncos all those years ago.
“The Chargers are an interesting team — I think they’re going to be .500 or better again — but I don’t know,” continued Paylor. “I’m not sold on them winning this division yet — though I see a lot of people picking them to do it.”
”I think defensively, you’re going to have guys like Bosa who are going to be on the field full-time,” said Robinson. ”You get back to what the unit should have been at the beginning of the season last year. You get that this year. OK... that’s great. I think they’re a good defensive team.
“But part of the reason Melvin Gordon is doing what he’s doing right now is that he knows the Chargers need him, and they are going to load him up,” Robinson said. “I absolutely, 100% agree that he’s correct. I think the plan for that Chargers offense is a ton of Melvin Gordon this year. What makes me nervous about that is that he does not have good knees historically.”
Robinson compared the situation to when Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley had tendonitis.
”As soon as Todd Gurley had that tendonitis, they’re lucky that they had C.J. Anderson to step in and pick up the load at least part of the time. But you saw a team that offensively geared a lot of what it did through the running back — which is what the Chargers want to do. If something goes wrong there — or he’s not feeling it, if he gets run down — this changes things offensively for them.”
The Broncos and Raiders
The two disagreed about the third and fourth spot in the division. Paylor thinks the Oakland Raiders will finish last.
“Oakland did add a lot of talent,” he said. “And I do think initially that the Antonio Brown-Jon Gruden relationship is going to be good. He’s going to see a lot of targets. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown has the most targets in pro football this year. And I think that’s all he wants; he’ll be happy with that. But I do think this team is going to lose a lot of games, because I’m just not sure it’s all going to come together quickly.”
But Robinson thinks that fourth place will belong to the Denver Broncos.
”I don’t buy Joe Flacco. I don’t. Like, I understand Flacco was serviceable for most of last season with the Baltimore Ravens. But what I was told was that when Gary Kubiak was going out the door in Denver, his kind of parting gift was to have a conversation with John Elway in which he said, ‘Look... I coached him. I still think Flacco can be a serviceable, multi-year quarterback. A couple of years. You can still get something out of this. It settles down the offense. You’ve got some pieces on offense — some guys that we drafted — we have some pieces that are still making some strides. This will be the settling factor that we’ve needed. Case Keenum wasn’t that.’”
The two agreed that new Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is a good defensive coordinator, but Robinson expressed reservations about him as a head coach.
”I think when you have to run a whole team, it changes a little bit. You have to run meetings, you have to organize things. [Being] head coach is about a lot of other little details. Personally, I think Fangio is a guy is more suited to being the number one delegate — you have your general, and you have your next-in-command. I think he’s a right-hand man.”
Paylor offered his view that by the end of the season, Drew Lock would be starting at quarterback for the Broncos — and then returned to the Raiders.
”Oakland is a disaster. Do we think the Raiders are going to be able to get this thing together? Look at some of the guys they’ve brought in. Look at this locker room right now. Antonio Brown. Vontaze Burfict. Richie Incognito. Are they going to be able to rush the passer? Because their edge rush stunk. Clelin Farrell? How often are edge rushers good as rookies? Not very.”
Paylor then put the cap on his feeling about the Raiders.
“I think this is a combustible situation. Put it this way: I have more faith in Vic Fangio’s ability to get the most out of the Broncos defense than I have in Jon Gruden’s ability to get that team together this year.”
If you’ve got 72 minutes to spare, click here to check out the whole AFC preview.