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 | 0-3
The Raiders made headlines this offseason with the signing of defensive end Chandler Jones and the trade for wide receiver Davante Adams. The Raiders made Adams one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.
However, while the Raiders weren’t expected to undergo a rebuild, the roster did need some retooling beyond these acquisitions. Multiple draft picks, made under Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, didn’t pan out, particularly those in the first round, and the Raiders had more holes to fill than some may have thought.
And while it’s easy to pick on Josh McDaniels after his failed head coaching stint with the Broncos more than a decade ago, not everything can be laid at his feet. The reality is that the Raiders have some talent on offense, but have had issues with turnovers, and, furthermore, their defense is bad.
In the season opener against the Chargers, the game was tied 3-3 after the first quarter, but the Raiders gave up 14 unanswered points in the second quarter, putting them in a hole from which they couldn’t get out. It didn’t help that Derek Carr, despite throwing two touchdown passes, also had three interceptions.
Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2, the Raiders led 20-0 at halftime, then 23-7 after the third quarter, only for the Cardinals to score a pair of touchdowns and two-point conversions. The Raiders’ inability to bring down Kyler Murray played a large part in the game going into overtime.
And in the overtime period, the Raiders managed to force the Cardinals to punt, but Hunter Renfrow fumbled the ball on the ensuing drive, and the Cardinals returned the fumble for a touchdown.
Then came the Tennessee Titans, where the Raiders' defense gave up all of Tennessee’s 24 points in the first half. The Raiders came back in the second half and had a chance to tie it after Carr passed to Mack Hollins for a touchdown, but the two-point try failed, and Las Vegas lost 24-22.
Carr still seems to be adjusting to McDaniels’ scheme, and he’s thrown four interceptions in three games. As for the defense, the Raiders have just two sacks, both by Maxx Crosby, while Jones has four QB hits but has yet to register a sack.
Given how bad the Raiders’ defense has been thus far, this week’s game would be a good time for the Broncos to get it together on offense. It was one thing for the Broncos to have difficulty moving the ball against a great San Francisco defense, but if that remains a problem against the Raiders, then it’s time to ask some serious questions about the offense.
Los Angeles Chargers | 1-2
It seems to be a running gag that, year after year, some analysts point to the Chargers and say “this is their year” only for something to happen that causes things to go off the rails.
While it’s still early, the Chargers are now dealing with many injuries to key players. They lost starting left tackle Rashawn Slater for the season with a torn biceps this past week, and will be without pass rusher Joey Bosa for at least a month because of a groin injury.
On top of that, wide receiver Keenan Allen has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, and quarterback Justin Herbert is playing through a rib injury.
Also, center Corey Linsley and cornerback J.C. Jackson didn’t play last week. Jackson missed the opener because of ankle surgery, played in Week 2 against the Chiefs, but his ankle was still bothering him, and he missed Week 3.
Oh yeah, the Jacksonville Jaguars game. After the Chargers lost a close game to the Chiefs, they got blown out by Jacksonville. The game was still close early in the third, 16-10, but the Jaguars closed out with 22 unanswered points.
The Chargers have gotten good play from Khalil Mack, who they acquired in an offseason trade, and he and Bosa account for 5.5 of the team’s seven sacks. However, with Bosa on injured reserve, the Chargers need somebody else to step up in the pass rush.
The Broncos host the Chargers in Week 6, and it remains to be seen how healthy the L.A. players will be (save for Slater, whose season is over). Bosa will definitely miss the game. But if the Chargers are still banged up by that point, the Broncos might not be facing the powerhouse they expected.
Kansas City Chiefs | 2-1
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.
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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