What do Missouri, Colorado, California and Nevada have in common? Not much. However, in football fandom they make up the 4 homes to the AFC West Division teams. These four have been causing unending excitement, speculation and anticipation for this NFL season.
No one can argue how the immense talent in the AFC West makes it the toughest division in the league this year. I mean, you could argue it, but why would you? With a division this weapon-loaded, it would be no surprise to see three teams make the playoffs. Heck, with the expanded playoff format could we see all four? (While unlikely, it isn't out of the realm of possibilities. Can you imagine?)The fact that we can even hypothesize about such a wild outcome shows just how insane the AFC West is this season.
The craziness began in the offseason when the Broncos traded for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and continued gaining momentum as the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders kept adding weapons of their own. The competition for the division title is going to yield a nail-biting season. Lucky for us, the wait is over and Week 1 is here to quench our thirst for AFC West battles.
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
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The Chargers have a sour taste in their mouth after a devastating finish last year against the Raiders, losing 35-32 in OT, ending their playoff hopes. Remember this game? It was wildly entertaining. The NFL surely does, because they are feeding us the anticipated rematch right out the gate.
The insanity of their last duel has to be weighing on both teams and Chargers QB Justin Herbert touched on how eager he was to have a chance at redemption Week 1. Herbert said this week, via the Associated Press, "I know personally, I've been thinking about this one for the past six or seven months, however long it's been. I know that everyone else has as well."
Justin Herbert, who ranked second in the NFL with a career-high 5,014 pass yards last season and ranked third with career-high 38 touchdown passes, is primed to lead the Chargers to another remarkable season. Last year he also became the third player ever with 5,000+ pass yards in one of his first two seasons, joining the list with Hall of Famer Dan Marino and Patrick Mahomes - another commonality between the two AFC West gunslingers.
Los Angeles returns this season with some new defensive additions hoping to improve the Chargers postseason race. One addition, Linebacker Khalil Mack, will make his Chargers debut at SoFi Stadium after a six sack season with the Bears last year. The outside linebacker is also one of four linebackers in the NFL with 6+ sacks in each of the last seven seasons and since 2014, and ranks thirrd (tied) in NFL with an impressive 23 forced fumbles.
Another new defensive face in LA is cornerback J.C. Jackson, who led the NFL with a career-high 23 passes defended last season. Jackson also ranked second with eight interceptions last season on top of leading the NFL with 25 interceptions since 2018. The Chargers need Jackson's playmaking to hold the offensive explosiveness in the AFC West, specifically in this Week 1 matchup against Vegas, if he plays.
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Las Vegas's newest aerial target, wide receiver Davante Adams, may be debuting in silver and black, but it's a reunion of sorts with Vegas QB Derek Carr.
Adams and Carr were teammates back in college at Fresno State. Last season with the Packers, Adams ranked second in NFL with 123 catches, third with 1,553 receiving yards and fifthth with 11 receiving touchdowns. He's also the fourth player ever with 110+ catches & 1,300+ receiving. yards in three career seasons.
Week 1 will prove challenging for the Chargers if they can't find a way to contain Adams, especially if Jackson is unable to play. The Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said, "They already had premium No. 1s with Renfrow and Waller. Now you add Adams into the picture, it's a lot of things to cover from our end." The players know it too. Chargers safety Derwin James said, "He's one of the best at what he does, so you've got to be ready for everything. One of the best receivers we'll go up against this year."
I think this Week 1 battle is going to come down to grit and grind. Whichever team can mentally and physically grind it out till the very end will come out victorious. There's no love lost between these two teams and the drama is sure to be firing on all cylinders. Every single win will matter this year in such a diabolically talented division, so even though it's Week 1, I anticipate this game feeling like a postseason meeting.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Arizona Cardinals
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Remember when the Chiefs were the likable underdogs of the league and everyone was rooting for them to win the Super Bowl? Those were the days.
Now they sell Chiefs tees where the players are depicted in front of the Death Star. Is this what it felt like to be a Patriots fan for all those years? (Editor's Note: Yes, it is.) Regardless of how much hate Chiefs Kingdom fields these days, you still root against Kansas City at your own risk and I don't advise it.
When the news broke about Tyreek Hill, the cheetah, running wild for another team this season, NFL fans were practically rejoicing. The Chiefs are done. They can't win without Hill. What will their offense look like? You can't replace Hill. Gasp after annoying gasp. The Kingdom stayed cool though, thanked Hill for the Lombardi, and looked to their trusty team led by Brett Veach, Clark Hunt and Andy Reid.
Week 1 sees the Chiefs face the Arizona Cardinals and NFL fans will finally get a glimpse of the offseason magic Kansas City's been harnessing with their newest offensive targets, like rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore (second round draft pick) and former Steeler, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. It's also not just the KC offense that looks different this year. Their D is downright scary this season, thanks partly to the addition of their draft picks, defensive end George Karlaftis, cornerback Trent McDuffie, and new defensive line coach Joe Cullen. To add a capital D in danger, the returning defensive players look stronger, healthier and ready to dominate. Frank Clark's transformation in the offseason shows just a taste of how serious the Chiefs defense is taking this season.
On top of that, safety Justin Reid is on record saying, this team's D is the "highest IQ defense I've been a part of." Reid joined the Kingdom this offseason and can't wait to play Sunday, saying, "I'm bleeding Red and Gold, so I can't wait to get on the field, man."
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The Arizona Cardinals will have the challenge of facing Mahomes, Kelce, Spagnuolo's defense and special teams Week 1. Arizona's explosive offense will have their work cut out for them, as no one really wants to get into a gunslinging battle with KC's young quarterback. JJ Watt and Arizona's defensive line will have to pressure a Kansas City O-line who have one goal in mind. As Chiefs center Creed Humphrey put it, "Our goal is to be the best offensive line in the NFL." And with a laundry list of injuries heading into Week 1, Arizona's offense is already forced to formulate back up plans for their back up plan. However, if the Chiefs new D doesn't live up to the hype, this won't be an issue for the Cardinals this week. With the AFC West locked and loaded, and the Chiefs bonkers schedule, they'll need a Week 1 W for sure.
We have to wait till Monday to see how the final AFC West dynamo, the Denver Broncos, start the season, but with Russell Wilson debuting in Orange, Navy Blue and White on his old turf in Seattle - it's bound to be must-see MNF. Week 1 is serving us AFC West tea and it's piping hot. How the AFC West plays out will be something we're eyeing all season long. The journey begins this week, so buckle up because this Sunday the war for the AFC West begins.
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