In March of 2022, in seemed as though the AFC West set out on a collective mission.
The goal was simple: defeat the Kansas City Chiefs. At the start of the new league year, each team within the division made large changes to their roster construction to target the Chiefs’ weaknesses.
The Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers all added pass rushers to generate pressure with three or four rushers against Mahomes. The Chargers signed the most expensive corner in free agency, J.C. Jackson, to cover the vaunted passing attack of Andy Reid. The Broncos added a Super Bowl Champion quarterback in Russell Wilson and the Las Vegas Raiders traded for the best receiver in the game in Davante Adams.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs traded away wide receiver Tyreek Hill and let safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Charvarius Ward walk away in free agency. All of these changes led to the question.
Are the Chiefs still the team to beat in the AFC West?
As Chiefs fans know, national analysts picking the Chargers to win the AFC West is nothing new. However, this offseason was different. The trendy prediction was to put all four AFC West teams in the playoffs and many had the Chiefs as the second or third-best team in the division.
The narrative that drove the entire off-season was, “Everyone in the west got better besides the Chiefs.”
Are the Chiefs now the No. 4 team in the AFC West?— Adam Rank (@adamrank) March 23, 2022
Fast forward to the end of Week 2, and the rest of the AFC West is beginning to have deja vu all over again.
When analyzing the Chiefs’ schedule, most people anticipated Kansas City losing several games in the division for the first time since 2014. However, things are starting to look much less difficult for the Chiefs to win their seventh-consecutive division championship.
There’s no doubt that the Week 2 win over the Chargers was a significant step in winning the west, but there’s more to the story than that singular win. The Chargers gave the Chiefs all they could handle at GEHA Field at Arrowhead last week, but they’ve proven they can still let a win slip away in a familiar fashion.
Key injuries to center Corey Linsley, wide receiver Keenan Allen, quarterback Justin Herbert and tight tackle Trey Pipkens also limit the Chargers' potential going forward. They’re still a formidable team who will challenge for the playoffs, but there’s nothing to suggest they have taken the next step to dethrone the Chiefs.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley can’t hang with Andy Reid. In a game that begged for Staley’s classic aggressiveness, he kept Kansas City in the game by punting and settling for field goals. Staley is doubting himself for the failures of last season, which is good news for the Chiefs.
Meanwhile, in Denver
New Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett is off to as bad of a start as possible for a lead man. After losing to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith and almost losing to Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills, Wilson is proving that it might not just all be Seattle’s fault.
The Broncos have plenty of time to turn the narrative around, but do they have the ability to win a dogfight AFC West game facing Herbert or Mahomes? The Broncos' defense is also taking on some water, with injuries to safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Disappointment in Vegas
The Raiders fell to 0-2 on Sunday after losing in shocking fashion to the Cardinals. Is Davante Adams an amazing player? Yes. Is Derek Carr playing well enough to maximize his talent? No.
Defensively, 32-year-old defensive end Chandler Jones has logged a single pressure; he does not have a sack. Defensive end Maxx Crosby continues to be their only reliable defensive playmaker.
Same old AFC West, right?
Nope. It’s the same old Reid and Mahomes.
The AFC West has disappointed through two weeks, but it’s unmistakably still the best division in football. The reason why the division seems less competitive is because of the excellence of Reid and the Chiefs’ organization. Part of why the narrative was spun that the Chiefs might not make the playoffs or win the division was due to the unknown surrounding Kansas City.
After two games, the Chiefs have proven that they can win in different ways, and their young defense is playing well.
The fact that the Chiefs have gone 22-2 with Mahomes starting in the AFC West (excluding Week 17 of 2020) is no accident. Much like the dynastic Patriots, the Chiefs have built their success upon dominating their division.
The road to a seventh-consecutive AFC West championship has never been more difficult for the Chiefs, but based on the first two games, Kansas City once again finds itself in the driver’s seat.