Predictions for the 2020 NFL Season: AFC West

Home of the reigning NFL champions, we now look to see what competition lies ahead in the AFC West.

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4. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders easily have one of the toughest schedules in the AFC West, facing the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers through their first five games.

Derek Carr returns for his seventh season with targets such as second-year RB Josh Jacobs and first-round pick WR Henry Ruggs III. The offense also includes TE Darren Waller and TE Jason Witten, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys for 16 seasons.

Defense is the biggest issue and head coach Jon Gruden went to work to make sure 2020 would be an improvement.

Linebackers Cory Littleton of the Los Angeles Rams and Nick Kwiatkoski of the Chicago Bears were added to the roster during free agency. Third-round pick LB Tanner Muse of Clemson will be a Swiss Army Knife for the defense.

The Raiders released veteran CB Prince Amukamara to seemingly open a spot for first-round pick CB Damon Arnette of Ohio State, who fractured his thumb during training camp.

While Las Vegas is quick to make improvements, they’re in a division that makes moves a little faster than them.

3. Denver Broncos

The fate of the Broncos rests on QB Drew Lock‘s shoulders.

Lock, who finished 2019 with 1020 yards and 7 touchdowns, will need to work hard with his new additions to give Denver a fighting chance.

The team had one of the highest-rated drafts with the additions of WR Jerry Jeudy of Alabama and WR K.J. Hamler of Penn State. They join RB Melvin Gordon, formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers, RB Phillip Lindsay and emerging star WR Courtland Sutton.

Eyes also fall on WR DaeSean Hamilton and his ability to pick up where he left off last season.

Defensively, you can’t forget about OLB Von Miller; Or can you? Miller is still considered one of the best in the league but did have a down year last season. Add on the positive COVID-19 test from March and you have the Broncos crossing their fingers for a strong return once the season starts.

Both DT Jurrell Casey and CB A.J. Bouye were picked up via trade and will add on to an already strong defense.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

In a perfect world, QB Justin Herbert doesn’t touch the field and the team capitalizes on their window to perform well this season.

It’s anticipated that veteran QB Tyrod Taylor will lead the way for Los Angeles after longtime QB Philip Rivers left and joined the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. With good quarterback play, the offense has a chance to make a big impact.

Once Gordon left and joined the Chargers, opportunities for RB Austin Ekeler opened up to be a bigger target. WR Keenan Allen, who recently agreed to a contract extension, also returns and looks to continue his elite play.

The offensive line is a big red flag as they rank 30th coming into this season. Historically, they haven’t ranked higher than 26th since 2014.

On a positive note, Los Angeles has one of the best pass rushing duos with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Negative note, S Derwin James is out once again due to a meniscus injury.

If the offense can come together and the defense stays healthy, the Chargers will be able to put together a good case for themselves to make a playoff run this year.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

What happens when you already reached the top of the mountain? You find a taller one and conquer that next.

The Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champions and aren’t slowing down. Kansas City has won four AFC West divisions in a row and should once again retain the title.

The team didn’t make many moves in the offseason so they’ll be returning with almost the same team they had at the end of 2019. Offense is the name of the game.

QB Patrick Mahomes, who finished with 4031 yards and 26 touchdowns, returns to a team that welcomes back 10 of their offensive starters. WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce and WR Sammy Watkins all return hungry for another successful season.

Kanas City also brings in RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU with the 32nd overall draft pick, who fits in perfectly with their offensive style.

The defense underwent some work last offseason and saw serious growth. Defensive ends Frank Clark and Alex Okafor will lead the way along with DT Chris Jones, S Tyrann Mathieu and CB Charvarius Ward.

It would be hard to knock this team off its pedestal and as of now, no team in the AFC West can compete.

Photo: (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

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