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What the Power Shift in AFC West Means for Broncos' Playoff Hopes

2-0 is great but in a stacked division, Denver's road to the playoffs will be fraught with peril.
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The Denver Broncos are 2-0 to start the season and there's plenty of reason for excitement. However, it remains to be seen whether the Broncos can get to the playoffs.

That's because the AFC West is loaded this year, with one division rival boasting the best quarterback in the NFL, another with a QB who is easily top-5, and a third who sports the same record as the Broncos and has a signal-caller it can win games with.

What should Broncos fans make of the AFC West rivals this year? Let's look at what they have done thus far and what challenges they pose.

Las Vegas Raiders | 2-0

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates the touchdown scored by running back Josh Jacobs (28) against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half at Allegiant Stadium.

We'll start with the Raiders, who join the Broncos atop the AFC West with a 2-0 record. However, the Raiders' wins come against teams most everyone pegged to be playoff contenders this season, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens game was one of those "could have gone either way" type of games with a host of crazy plays happening in overtime. The Steelers game, though, was one in which the Raiders scraped their way to field goals, before scoring two touchdowns in the second half.

It's easy to poke fun at the Raiders' team-building process, but the fact is, they look the part of a playoff contender. Remember, this same Raiders team upset two juggernauts last year, including the New Orleans Saints and the team we'll talk about next.

Broncos fans shouldn't look past the Raiders, by any means. Las Vegas may not be a top team, but that doesn't mean they're destined for a last-place finish in the AFC West.

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Kansas City Chiefs | 1-1

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Justin Houston (50) rushes during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Chiefs had to come from behind against the Cleveland Browns, then went back and forth with the Ravens but lost that one in the end. We've already discussed the Ravens, while the Browns are a team some picked to miss the playoffs this year.

The Chiefs may be 1-1, but remain a legitimate playoff contender. The only question is whether they'll dominate the AFC.

Remember that the Broncos played the Chiefs close in one game last year, and Kansas City lost to the Raiders in 2020. Something to keep in mind about the Chiefs is that, while their offense is one of the best in the NFL, their defense is far from it.

Couple that with an offensive line that isn't looking good, and the Chiefs aren't the juggernaut some may think they are. Still, the Broncos won't face the Chiefs until much later into the season — and by that point, the Chiefs may get some of those issues ironed out.

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at SoFi Stadium.

Now we come to the team that people look at and keep picking to win the division, because it's got to happen at some point, right?

But while the Chargers got past Washington, they came up short against the Dallas Cowboys. Much of this goes back to something Mike Tanier noted at Football Outsiders.

The Chargers would be prohibitive favorites to win the AFC South but are the worst team in the AFC West right now. Their red zone offense has looked terrible for two straight weeks, which could spell trouble for a young team with new coaches and coordinators.

"Terrible red zone offense" is something to which Broncos fans can relate, but we chalked it up in past seasons to poor QB play, with the occasional questioning about play-calling. But when it comes to the Chargers, they have the QB — meaning one must wonder about the play-calling, though a better answer might be poor execution.

Regardless, while the Chargers aren't a team to look past, we may have overrated this team again, all because we were smitten with Justin Herbert. But if the Chargers can't do a better job of converting in the red zone, they could very well find themselves going from "this is our year" to "just wait until next year.

What It Means for Broncos

My jokes about the Chargers aside, the Broncos are in arguably the toughest division in the AFC. Thus, they will need to get every win they can.

Going at least 3-1 against the AFC North will be important to have a shot at the playoffs. The Broncos also need to beat the teams they should beat (the Detroit Lions and New York Jets are those teams right now) and they need to go at least 3-1 against the NFC East (they already have a win over the New York Giants).

If Denver does that, that would make them 9-2 against teams outside the AFC West. If the Broncos go 3-3 in the division, that puts them at 12-5 for the season, which should be enough for a playoff trip.

Given there is a very real chance the Broncos could split with each AFC West rival, winning as much as they can outside the division will be crucial.

It's great to see the Broncos off to a good start, but bigger tests await. After the Jets game in Week 3, the back-to-back games against AFC North opponents could tell the tale as to how legitimate the Broncos' playoff chances are and how they really measure up against the rest of the AFC West.


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