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A Dysfunctional AFC West Gives Broncos Early Divisional Edge

Where do the Denver Broncos stand among their AFC West rivals?
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Going into the 2022 season, the expectation was that the Denver Broncos would be in an arms race with the rest of the AFC West.

With all four teams having a proven quarterback and three of them acquiring noteworthy players in blockbuster trades, the expectation is that it would be a dogfight between four rivals with quality offenses while doing what they could on defense to contain the others.

After three weeks, things look different than expected. When it comes to the Broncos, they have one of the better defenses in the NFL through three weeks, but their offense has struggled.

Despite the offensive struggles, the Broncos currently share first place with the Kansas City Chiefs with identical 2-1 records, while the Los Angeles Chargers are 1-2 and the Las Vegas Raiders are 0-3.

What’s going on with the rest of the AFC West, and is this division really as loaded as we thought? Let’s review the Broncos’ division rivals and figure out what’s happening.

Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels (left) and quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrate after the game against the New England Patriots at Allegiant Stadium.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) reacts after being hit by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Mike Danna (51) during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) drops back to pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs had little trouble rolling past the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, outscoring the Cardinals 23-7 in the first half, then adding 14 unanswered points in the third quarter. They then pulled out the win against the Chargers and looked like the clear favorite to win the AFC West.

Then came the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3. Whereas everyone expected a blowout, given the Colts’ poor play to start the season, the Chiefs did everything they could to keep the Colts in the game, which cost them.

Among the mistakes that cost the Chiefs the game: Skyy Moore muffed a punt that the Colts recovered at the Chiefs' 4-yard line (after which the Colts scored a TD), Matt Ammendola missed an extra point kick late in the first quarter, Travis Kelce dropped a pass that could have resulted in a touchdown, and Andy Reid inexplicably called for a fake field goal when the Chiefs led 17-13 with 13:29 left in the game and analytics would have said, on 4th-&-11 at the opponent’s 24-yard line, to kick the field goal in that situation.

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Still, the Chiefs had a chance to win after Nick Bolton sacked Matt Ryan on 3rd-&-6 at the Colts’ 39-yard line with 5:06 left in the game. But Chris Jones said something to Ryan that a referee heard and apparently didn’t like, because he got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Colts scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left to take the lead. Patrick Mahomes got the Chiefs to midfield, but with eight seconds left, Rodney McLeod intercepted a pass to end the game.

The Chiefs are still one of the better teams in the NFL, but as the Colts game showed, even the better teams in the NFL can’t make too many mistakes that allow an opponent to stay in the game.

The Broncos won’t meet the Chiefs until Week 14, so it will be a while before we know where both teams stand when they finally meet. But the Chiefs-Colts game shows why teams can’t take anything for granted — just like the Broncos learned when they lost their opener to the Seahawks.

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