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Friday, June 7, 2024

AFC West burning questions for 2024 NFL season: Chiefs three-peat? Can Jim Harbaugh lead Chargers to playoffs?

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On paper, the AFC West is as predictable as a weekday morning. You stand up, verify your smartphone, bathe, and presumably seize a fast chew earlier than firing off a workday. For the AFC West, the usual process is the Chiefs ending first and everybody else combating for second. 

Actually, I would not anticipate a lot to be totally different in 2024, however that does not imply that the AFC West will not be an fascinating division to observe. The truth is, I would argue that it is likely to be one of many NFL’s most intriguing divisions. 

Let’s begin with the Chiefs, who will embark on a historic pursuit to turn out to be the one crew to win three straight Tremendous Bowls. The Jim Harbaugh period begins in Los Angeles, whereas Antonio Pierce begins his first full season as Raiders coach. In Denver, the stress is mounting on Sean Payton, who’s making an attempt to find out who will likely be his subsequent beginning quarterback after bailing on the Russell Wilson experiment. 

So, whereas the Chiefs capturing a ninth straight division crown looks as if a positive factor, there’s nonetheless loads of unknowns that ought to make for a enjoyable and fascinating yr within the AFC West. With that in thoughts, let’s check out every crew’s burning query. 

Kansas Metropolis Chiefs: Will Mahomes and Co. seize a 3rd straight Tremendous Bowl

The quick reply is that the Chiefs will in all probability be part of the ’68 Packers, ’74 Dolphins, ’76 and ’80 Steelers, ’90 49ers, ’94 Cowboys, ’99 Broncos and ’05 Patriots as two-time winners who had been unable to finish the three-peat. The true query is: what’s going to maintain the Chiefs from making historical past? 

Every of the groups talked about above had been particularly held again by one factor. Age caught as much as the ’68 Packers and ’80 Steelers. Accidents slammed the door shut on the ’90 49ers and ’76 Steelers, who each managed to get to inside a sport of the Tremendous Bowl. John Elway’s offseason retirement ended any shot the Broncos had of a three-peat. A horrid rash of turnovers to open the 1994 NFC Championship sport doomed the ’94 Cowboys. The ’74 Dolphins and ’05 Patriots merely misplaced to raised groups within the playoffs. 

What would be the Chiefs’ undoing? It will not be age, as Kansas Metropolis continues to be a comparatively younger crew sans Travis Kelce. It’s going to possible be both accidents (which largely contributed to the Chiefs shedding Tremendous Bowl LV), a foul day on the workplace (see the second half of the 2021 AFC Championship) or not having the ability to overcome a few of the holes on their roster. 

Final yr, they proved that they will undergo the AFC with out having the highest seed. However L’Jarius Sneed, who performed a major position within the Chiefs’ profitable playoff run, was shipped to Tennessee this offseason, thus making a gap in Kansas Metropolis’s secondary that been “stuffed” by Jaylen Watson, a 2022 seventh-round choose who made eight begins throughout his first two seasons. 

Together with the secondary, the Chiefs’ receiving corps continues to be a query mark.

Newcomer Marquise Brown’s manufacturing up to now in his profession has been neutered by accidents. Rashee Rice is probably going dealing with a suspension for his involvement in an vehicle accident earlier this offseason. Rookie Xavier Worthy is promising, however his lack of dimension is regarding. Thankfully, the Chiefs have a quarterback who appears to virtually at all times get probably the most out of his talent gamers. 

Talking of quarterbacks, that place is the supreme difference-maker in at the moment’s NFL. In case you have an elite quarterback, you may have a practical shot at profitable all of it. For those who do not, nicely, have enjoyable making an attempt to make the playoffs. Thankfully for the Chiefs, they’ve the perfect quarterback within the enterprise in Patrick Mahomes. The unhealthy information for the Chiefs is that they share a convention with seven of the NFL’s different prime quarterbacks in Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa and C.J. Stroud

Sans Herbert, the opposite six quarterbacks talked about above are on groups which can be sturdy sufficient to problem the Chiefs in 2024. However, if historical past is any indication of what’s going to occur this yr, the Payments and Ravens have not been capable of crack the Chiefs’ code in earlier playoff showdowns. That leaves Houston and Cincinnati as the highest candidates to unseat Kansas Metropolis. 

Can both crew upset the Chiefs? Houston has the crew to do it, led by Stroud, wideouts Stefon Diggs, Tank Dell and a protection that solely bought higher this offseason. However that is an enormous ask of a crew that’s nonetheless on the up and up. The Bengals, alternatively, have already confirmed that they will defeat the Chiefs within the playoffs having accomplished so in 2021. Cincinnati represents the perfect likelihood of an AFC crew knocking the Chiefs off their pedestal. 

Miami may additionally be a worthy challenger, however Mike McDaniel’s crew has to keep away from the late-season slumps that plagued them every of the final two years. The Dolphins even have to determine play higher in chilly climate, as they’re winless of their final 11 video games the place the temperature was beneath 40 levels at kickoff. 

As I alluded to earlier, the Chiefs proved final yr they will overcome their flaws and formidable competitors en path to profitable the Lombardi Trophy. You’ll be able to’t ever depend Mahomes out, and I will not dare to take action now. It would not shock me within the least if Mahomes and Co. make historical past and win a 3rd straight Tremendous Bowl. I am simply not relying on it. 

Los Angeles Chargers: Can Harbaugh lead L.A. to the playoffs in 12 months 1? 

I undoubtedly see a state of affairs the place the Chargers are capable of snag one of many AFC’s three wild-card spots. If that occurs, Harbaugh will possible be on his option to profitable Coach of the 12 months a yr after main Michigan to its first nationwide title in 26 years. 

Los Angeles underwent a whole lot of turnover this offseason, most notably the departures of wideouts Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and working again Austin Ekeler. The Chargers, although, did job of changing these gamers. 

At wideout, they drafted Ladd McConkey, who will complement Josh Palmer and 2023 first-round choose Quentin Johnston within the beginning lineup. To exchange Ekeler, Harbaugh signed two of his older brother’s former gamers in Baltimore in J.Okay. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Dobbins, a 2020 second-round choose, loved a blazing begin to his profession earlier than accidents worn out a lot of the previous three seasons. 

Two of the Chargers’ most underrated signings had been at tight finish with the signings of Will Dissly and Hayden Hurst. Dissly was a dependable goal all through his profession at Seattle. Hurst, a former first-round choose, is 2 years faraway from having an enormous yr catching passes from Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. 

On protection, Los Angeles nonetheless has among the best exterior linebacker duos within the NFL in Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa. The Chargers, regardless of having Professional Bowl security Derwin James, had been thirtieth within the league in passing yards allowed in 2023. Los Angeles is definitely hoping that former Titans second-round choose Kristian Fulton will understand his potential whereas serving to repair the Chargers’ sagging move protection. 

Actually, the largest purpose for optimism right here is Herbert, who has loved a substantial quantity of success within the NFL thus far regardless of the entire turnover that is transpired round him. To enhance Herbert’s odds at having success, the crew spent this yr’s first-round choose on Joe Alt, this yr’s top-ranked offensive sort out prospect. 

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A number of issues should go the Chargers’ approach if they’re going to make the playoffs. Their wideouts should come of age, Dobbins might want to keep wholesome, and the secondary should make a famous leap. However there’s sufficient constructive issues occurring in Los Angeles to persuade me that the subsequent chapter in Harbaugh’s really distinctive teaching journey will embody a playoff berth for his new crew in 2024. 

Denver Broncos: Who will likely be QB1? 

What makes this a tough query to reply is the truth that Sean Payton has by no means been on this scenario earlier than. The Broncos coach had Drew Brees all through his tenure with the Saints and began his Broncos tenure with Russell Wilson. Will Payton give rookie Bo Nix a change proper out of the gate, or will he as a substitute go along with considered one of his veterans? 

Every quarterback has their very own distinctive benefit. Together with being probably the most athletically gifted participant of the three, Zach Wilson additionally has 33 regular-season begins beneath his belt. Jarrett Stidham has the good thing about enjoying in Denver’s system final yr. For Nix, it is the benefit of being a first-round choose and the chance that presents. 

Nix has additionally made his personal luck. The Broncos have been impressed with Nix’s pre-snap work that features processing play calls, making checks and getting the snap off on time. 

“He is farther alongside than most rookies,” Payton mentioned of Nix, through The Athletic. “We’re speaking a few participant who has performed 61 video games. He is extraordinarily good. He is picked it up in a short time.”

At this stage, Payton is giving every of his quarterbacks work with the first-team offense. That should change, nevertheless, when the crew kicks off coaching camp subsequent month.

In my thoughts, the job if Nix’s to lose. Payton did not spend a first-round choose on Nix to observe him trip the bench. And after jettisoning Wilson out of city (and paying him $39 million not to play for them this yr), Payton wants considered one of three quarterbacks to pan out. Given the scenario, it is smart for Payton to go along with his man. 

Whoever wins the job will not have a foul scenario. The Broncos have a stable receiving corps (that features rookie wideout Troy Franklin, who was Nix’s teammate at Oregon), offensive line and working sport. Defensively, Denver has two of the NFL’s prime defensive backs (cornerback Patrick Surtain II and security Justin Simmons) and a move rush that ought to be bolstered by the arrival of rookie Jonah Elliss, who tallied 12 sacks throughout his closing season at Utah. 

Las Vegas Raiders: Will Davante Adams be traded? 

Davante Adams’ future is not a hot-button matter proper now, however relaxation assured will probably be if the Raiders’ season goes off the rails. 

It will not be any enjoyable if the Raiders are both 8-9 or 9-8, however their roster suggests that could be what’s in retailer for Las Vegas in 2024. Whereas the roster options a number of studs like Adams and Maxx Crosby, the Raiders are largely comprised of stable but unspectacular veterans. It ought to be famous that the Raiders’ beginning lineup will possible embody rookies Jackson Powers-Johnson and Brock Bowers. Their development this season will likely be one thing to keep watch over. 

All issues thought-about, the Raiders’ success this season will largely fall on how nicely the crew’s beginning quarterback performs, which will likely be both Gardner Minshew or Aidan O’Connell

A real gunslinger, Minshew’s fearlessness can result in some dazzling performs, however it may well result in utter catastrophe for his crew. O’Connell has comparable traits; he threw 12 touchdowns but additionally tossed seven picks whereas going 5-5 because the Raiders’ starter final yr (his rookie season). 

My guess is that Adams will not be a Raider when this yr’s commerce deadline involves move. Adams, in spite of everything, continues to be a high-level participant who could possibly be the distinction for a crew that’s heading to the playoffs. The truth is, if Adams is certainly traded, two attainable locations could possibly be the Packers (his former crew) or the Jets (who make use of Aaron Rodgers, his former quarterback in Inexperienced Bay). Relaxation assured that the Raiders will likely be handsomely compensated in the event that they commerce Adams. 

A six-time Professional Bowler and three-time All-Professional, Adams is on the back-nine of his profession. Whereas he is accomplished nearly the whole lot a soccer participant can do, Adams has but to win and even play in a Tremendous Bowl. He ought to get one final alternative to take action earlier than he calls it a profession, even when meaning parting methods with the franchise he grew up cheering for. 

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