It’s been a while since the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t been at the top of the AFC West. But their run of dominance has come to a temporary halt this year, with the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos currently ahead of them in the division. At first, this may look bad, but it gives this season a refreshing twist.
After all, over the last three seasons the Chiefs have been the cream of the crop, not just in the AFC West but the entire NFL. However, they’ve looked vulnerable this year. They could fend off the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, but the Baltimore Ravens proved to be too much, and they took their first loss of the season. Meanwhile, both the Raiders and the Broncos are tied for first place at 2-0.
Kansas City will have to earn the AFC West title this year. They have led their division since 2016 and have not ranked lower than second since 2013. However, the Raiders have beat two potential playoff contenders this season, and the Broncos have a well-rounded roster. Also, don’t forget the Los Angeles Chargers, who are trending up with second-year quarterback Justin Herbert at the helm.
While it’s too early to tell how things are going to play out in the AFC West, it looks like all four teams will have a realistic shot at seizing the division. This, in turn, will make it more interesting, as the margin for error for the Chiefs will be low. Losing one game early in the season could come back to haunt them because of playoff tiebreakers.
The Chiefs have their work cut out for them
Kansas City needs to go back to the drawing board and look for ways to fix the issues that have plagued them over the last two weeks. First, they must firm up their run defense. Heading into Week 3, the Chiefs rank dead-last in rushing yards and touchdowns, and they need to get their running game going. Kansas City’s offense is also in the cellar in terms of rushing touchdowns and total rushing yards.
On the bright side, it’s too early to panic. As Max Cashio recently pointed out, this is not the first time the Chiefs are off a slow start. In 2018, their defense was a liability early in the season, but it turned into a strength later that year, and they were one questionable penalty flag away from reaching the Super Bowl.
Also, there’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce. As long the Chiefs have their offensive triplets, they will have a legitimate shot to win games. On the other hand, they won’t take the division crown for granted this year.
How does the AFC West currently look?
Kansas City is still the best team in the west. The difference is they have glaring weaknesses this season. Meanwhile, the Raiders and the Broncos look… good, seriously. Derek Carr is playing like an upper-echelon quarterback, and Las Vegas’ defense has a couple of productive pass rushers in Maxx Crosby and Yannik Ngakoue. Also, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III is living up to his first-round billing, and Darren Waller is playing like a top-three tight end.
Denver found some stability at quarterback when they traded for Teddy Bridgewater earlier this year. While the 2014 first-round selection isn’t nearly as good as Mahomes, he’s a very efficient passer who won’t make reckless mistakes. Additionally, outside linebacker Von Miller is back after missing the last season with an ankle injury.
Although edge rusher Bradley Chubb will be out for six to eight weeks with an arthroscopic procedure, the Broncos won’t miss a beat. Their defense is fifth in points allowed and third in yards. Denver should have no trouble withstanding Chubb’s absence because of defensive end Shelby Haris and nose tackle Mike Purcell.
Then there are the Chargers, whose roster is stacked with playmakers. Justin Herbert should be even better than last year when he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He has an underrated wide receiver in Keenan Allen, and their defense has edge defender Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James, who’s finally healthy after dealing with injuries the last two years.
What’s next for the Chiefs?
Next on Kansas City’s schedule are the Chargers. This is a game they can’t afford to lose. If they do, they will be relegated to the bottom of the division. This matchup is the perfect opportunity for the Chiefs to address their run defense and running game.
Consider Kansas City’s loss to the Ravens a wake-up call. If they don’t get back on track now, they may not be able to turn things around later in the season, which could cost them the division title. For that reason, they must play like the playoff contender that they are.