The Kansas City Chiefs have sat atop the AFC West for five consecutive seasons. That shouldn't change in 2021.
As the roster is currently constructed, nothing outside of catastrophic injuries is standing in the way of the Chiefs winning 12 games in the new 17-game format. That's the bar for the rest of the division to meet, and it doesn't appear that the Chargers, Raiders nor Broncos will be able to eclipse that mark. Not yet, at least.
While Denver has a talented team on both sides of the football, it's stuck in quarterback limbo for the moment. Las Vegas had an opportunity to improve an 8-8 team from a season ago but instead, it decided to renovate and didn't end up getting much better (if at all). Arrowhead Report's Sam Hays joined me on today's Roughing the Kicker podcast to discuss all things inside the division, but mainly Los Angeles.
The Chargers are heading in a different direction under new head coach Brandon Staley. Staley is tasked with building a contender and has been given quite the roster to work with. Second-year quarterback Justin Herbert was sensational as a rookie and will be protected by a revamped offensive line. LA is healthy heading into the season, which always seems to be a question mark.
Additions like Corey Linsley, Rashawn Slater and Matt Feiler will undoubtedly make the Chargers a better team up front. Ironically, playing more within a sound structure may actually hurt Herbert. He was PFF's highest-graded field general while under pressure in 2020 but ranked in the 22nd percentile from a clean pocket. In order to make a leap as a sophomore, his ability to process and read the field will need to get better.
A receiving corps of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Josh Palmer projects to be above-average. Losing Hunter Henry at the tight end spot is a major blow, but replacing him with Jared Cook isn't the end of the world. The Chargers' secondary is terrific, boasting talents such as Derwin James, Chris Harris, Asante Samuel Jr. and Nasir Adderley. On paper, this looks like a good team.
Emphasis is placed on good. Making gigantic improvements in a year's time is very difficult in the NFL, especially with a powerhouse waiting at the top of the division standings. Los Angeles, a team that posted a 7-9 record last season, could add three wins to its 2020 total and still not be guaranteed even a wild-card spot.
When taking into account the competitiveness of the AFC near the middle of the pack, it's hard to envision the Chargers challenging the Chiefs for the crown. They simply aren't at that level yet. It's possible that they reach it within another year or two but as of right now, it isn't probable.
Good teams can win double-digit games and make the playoffs. Good teams can even win some divisions. As long as the Chiefs are at full strength, though, good isn't going to finish as the proverbial top dog in the AFC West. The Chargers have done a great deal of work improving their roster and deserve credit for doing so. With that said, there's still some growth they need to experience before being deemed ready to achieve greatness.
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