Williamson’s look around the league: AFC West
Las Vegas Raiders (last year’s record: 10-7)
- The Steelers host the Raiders on Saturday 12/24, Week 16 of the NFL season. It’s Pittsburgh’s only game against an AFC West opponent this year.
- As was the trend in this division, Las Vegas caused a stir by reuniting college teammates Derek Carr and Davante Adams, giving Carr a superb receiving trio in Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. The Raiders have fantastic receiving weapons, but last year they threw the ball almost 63% of the time, which was fourth most in the league.
- The Raiders’ defense gave up just 5.2 yards per game, which was seventh-best in the NFL last season. But they only won the ball 15 times. The Jaguars and Jets were the only team with fewer takeouts. This organization gave Maxx Crosby a big contract to keep him in a Raiders uniform, then signed Chandler Jones, another high-end defenseman.
- The Raiders’ average regular season game ended with Las Vegas losing by 3.8 points, 10th-worst in the NFL. Still, Las Vegas finished the season with 10 wins and a playoff berth. The Raiders also had a -11 turnover differential, sixth-worst in the league. Josh McDaniels becomes the head coach of Vegas. The Raiders didn’t make their first draft pick until 90th overall, but they landed Adams to keep up with the arms race in what could be the NFL’s most competitive and exciting division.
Denver Broncos (last year’s record: 7-10)
- Only eight teams are averaging fewer points per game than Denver in 2021. The Broncos’ offense has valued football, however, with just 18 turnovers. It was the fifth best. Denver has been on the hunt for a quarterback since Peyton Manning retired and, in turn, made one of the NFL’s biggest moves this year by trading for Russell Wilson. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon each carried the ball 203 times last year and while Gordon was brought back after hitting the free agent market, that backfield is expected to be dominated by Williams in his second season. Determining Wilson’s preferred target between Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick is more difficult, however. Only nine offenses have run the ball a higher percentage on time than Denver did last year. This may change in the future.
- The only teams that gave up fewer points per game than Denver last year were the Bills and Patriots. But former head coach Vic Fangio, widely considered one of the finest defensive minds alive, no longer holds sway over Denver’s defense. Randy Gregory was added to complement Bradley Chubb as Denver’s leading passers, but after going all-in for Wilson, Denver didn’t have many resources left to make big moves with the rest of their roster.
- Times have changed very quickly for the Broncos. Not only does Denver have a new starting quarterback, they also have a new head coach in Nathaniel Hackett as well as a new ownership group arriving. The Broncos didn’t make their first draft pick until the final second-round selection, but this offseason is all about acquiring Wilson. Will that be enough to make Denver a Super Bowl contender in a very tough division?
Kansas City Chiefs (last year’s record: 12-5)
- The Chiefs 5.9 yards per play was better than every team except the Cowboys, Rams, 49ers and Buccaneers. Kansas City also averaged the fourth-highest points per game. That offense produced points on a whopping 51.6% of their drives, best in the league, as well as finishing their drive with a touchdown, the highest percentage in the NFL. But Kansas City took a huge step by dealing Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. They will look to replace Hill’s production with plenty of pass catchers, including JuJu Smith-Schuster. It looks like the Chiefs will spread the ball more and maybe rely a little more on their running game and excellent offensive line that they rebuilt an offseason ago. Kansas City threw the ball in the sixth-highest percentage in the league last year.
- The Ravens’ defense was the only one in the league last year to give up more yards per game than Kansas City. The Chiefs have won the ball 29 times, fifth-best in the league. Signing Justin Reid could spark Kansas City’s secondary, but they really need to improve on their 31 sacks for the year, fourth-worst in the league. Also, only one team allowed more yards per rush attempt than the Chiefs did last year.
- The Chiefs’ average game ended with a Kansas City win by 6.8 points. It was the best in the AFC West and only four teams had a better points differential in the entire league. Kansas City made two first-round draft picks and two more in the second. They selected six players from the top 135 overall picks, with Skyy Moore the only offensive player in that group. This team is going to be a little different this season.
Los Angeles Chargers (last year’s record: 9-8)
- The Chargers offense averaged 5.9 yards per game, fifth-best in the NFL last year. They also produced the fifth most points per game. Only five offenses produced runs more often on a higher percentage of their drives than the Chargers and Kansas City was the only NFL offense that ended their offensive drives with a touchdown a higher percentage of the time. The Chargers’ biggest offseason moves came on defense, but they extended Mike Williams and brought in Gerald Everett at tight end. Last year, the Chargers threw the ball higher than all but three offenses.
- Los Angeles gave up 5.6 yards per play. Only eight defenses gave up more on average. And only the Lions and Jets have allowed more points per game than the Chargers. Los Angeles made a huge trade with the Bears to nab Khalil Mack, who could give the Chargers potentially the league’s best tandem with Joey Bosa. Los Angeles also signed free agency’s top cornerback JC Jackson and provided much-needed help on the run defense by signing Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson to plug in midfield on their defensive front. The Chargers allowed 4.6 yards per rush attempt in 2021.
- After all of their pre-draft moves, the Chargers’ draft wasn’t too bumpy, but they fortified their offensive line with Zion Johnson in the first round, who should plug into guard immediately. There are high expectations for Brandon Staley’s second season as head coach and Justin Herbert’s third season in the league. It could be a huge breakout team in 2022.