With so many powerful teams in the AFC, whoever makes it to the AFC Championship game will truly have to earn it. That said, once a team makes the playoffs, there's nothing that says they can't make it to their respective championship game.
It's certainly not random, but the journey the Cincinnati Bengals took to the Super Bowl last year wasn't one many saw coming. In fact, it's debatable as to whether the Bengals were the best team in the AFC last season. With teams like the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, and a handful of other fringe teams, the AFC is still very top-heavy.
Now, headed into the 2022 NFL season, there are even more teams with re-holstered rosters worthy of making it to the playoffs and beyond. Some teams had high hopes last season, but there are a few more teams that made moves to improve their chances of making it to the game that precedes the Super Bowl.
Essentially, the entire AFC West could be playoff contenders. And one of the dark horse teams within the NFL this regular season would be the Las Vegas Raiders.
Offseason Moves Could Have Dealt Pocket Aces to the Raiders
This offseason, there were a lot of moves made by the Raiders, both to the roster and to the front office. Those moves started by hiring a new leader heading to preseason training camp as Josh McDaniels came on as head coach of the Raiders. Prior to becoming the head coach for the Raiders, McDaniels was with the New England Patriots since 2012. So, it's clear that McDaniels knows what a winning culture looks like. That said, in his stint as the Denver Broncos' head coach, it's not a given that McDaniels can do it on his own.
Now, the team McDaniels is being handed with the Las Vegas Raiders is no roster to scoff at. That is, especially after the additions of DaVante Adams and Chandler Jones.
DaVante Adams is arguably the best receiver in the NFL, and with Adams reuniting with his quarterback from Fresno State, the two could create some serious chemistry. As seen in Adams' time with the Green Bay Packers, once there's chemistry between him and his quarterback, production will come at a high rate.
As for Chandler Jones, he comes into a defensive front that already has one of the league's best-emerging pash-rushers in Maxx Crosby. The rest of the defense doesn't necessarily fly off the page — outside of Johnathan Abram. However, just because a player isn't a household name doesn't mean they can't produce at an average-to-above-average level.
However, the real firepower of this team is on the offensive side of the ball. There's Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, DaVante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. So, to say the Raiders have some serious weapons on offense is an understatement.
That said, they aren't the only powerful team in the AFC—or even the AFC West.
The Denver Broncos gained a superstar in former Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson; the Chargers added to their already powerful defense (Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson) and the Kansas City Chiefs will likely remain relevant in the NFL until Patrick Mahomes either retires or goes to a new team.
So, how do the Raiders stack up against this division?
The Wild, Wild AFC West Needs a Sheriff
Personally, I'd say they certainly could win the division, as almost anything is possible. However, it's more likely that this team ends either second or third in the division.
Kansas City has taken the most damage as far as their roster is concerned, and this season it'll be easy to see how well the offense can produce without Tyreek Hill.
It's a lazy take to say the Chargers are the top team in the division, but it's hard to debate.
They have the coach, the quarterback, the running back, the offensive weapons and the defensive weapons to make a serious run. However, nothing is guaranteed, and takes that are made in July are more often wrong than right.
This is going to be an example of who wants it more, as it's truly any team's division.
Outside the AFC West, the biggest competition for AFC representation in the Super Bowl would be the Buffalo Bills. They're a team that's been building on an already very solid roster, and Josh Allen is proving year-after-year that he's one of the league's best quarterbacks. Pair that with offensive weapons in Stefon Diggs, James Cook, Gabriel Davis and Dawson Knox, and it's hard to beat.
That is, unless your team is facing their defense with 13 seconds left on the clock. Sorry for that, Bills fans—not really.
So, at the end of the day, it's going to be very entertaining to watch how the AFC shakes out. The NFC has its leaders, and below that are some very poorly constructed football teams. So, most eyes will be on the AFC.
Will the Raiders rise to the challenge, or are the lights too bright for Josh McDaniels and Co.?
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