Burning Question for each team in the AFC West
The AFC West produced two playoff teams in 2022 (Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs) and one of them went on to win their second Lombardi trophy within a four-year span (Chiefs). Since the offseason commenced, the Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers have added and subtracted prominent pieces to their rosters. In this article, each team’s concerns are brought to the forefront.
1. Las Vegas Raiders: How will Garoppolo’s health affect his 2023 season?
The 2023 NFL season is the first campaign where current Saints quarterback and former Raiders quarterback Derek Carr won’t be under center for the Raiders since 2014. Las Vegas decided to move on from the four-time pro-bowler after nine seasons that included one postseason start in 2021 (Wild Card loss vs. Bengals).
The Raiders signed former 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo during the offseason, as he was selected 36 spots after his predecessor in the 2014 NFL draft. Unlike Carr, Garoppolo has experienced postseason success after being Tom Brady’s understudy for three seasons in New England (’14-’17).
Since being traded to the 49ers from the Patriots in October of the 2017 season, Garroppolo led San Francisco to two NFC championship game appearances (2019 vs Green Bay and 2021 vs Los Angeles Rams) and an appearance in Super Bowl 54 vs. the Chiefs. The former second-round pick had a 38-17 record at the helm for the 49ers and won four out of his six playoff games.
Garoppolo’s health is a prominent concern heading into the 2023 season, which will be his tenth season in the NFL. In 2022, Garroppolo played in only 11 games due to a broken foot he suffered in a week 13 matchup against the Dolphins.
Las Vegas signed the former 49ers quarterback in hopes to contend in a quarterback-heavy AFC conference that features the likes of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Los Angeles’s Justin Herbert and newly acquired New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers just to name a few. Garoppolo has been impressive so far during joint practices between the 49ers and Raiders. On day 2 of the practices, Garoppolo led the offense to two touchdowns and put the offense in position to score a successful field goal while also finishing 12 of 18 in three possessions.
Garoppolo has shown that he can be a solid enough quarterback to lead a team to championship contention throughout his career, and that is what the Raiders are hoping for since they only have two playoff appearances since 2002 (Loss vs. Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII).
2. Los Angeles Chargers: Can Kellen Moore take Justin Herbert to the next level?
The Los Angeles Chargers signed quarterback Justin Herbert to a lucrative 5-year, 262,500,00 million dollar contract during the offseason as he has been one of the NFL’s prominent passers
Los Angeles is heading into the 2023 season after losing in the Wild Card round to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 playoffs after a blown 27-0 lead at halftime. After only scoring three points in the second half of the playoff loss, former Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was relieved of his duties and replaced by former Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Moore spent four seasons (’19-’22) as the play caller in Dallas and led the Cowboys’ offense to number one in total offense twice (2019 and 2021), respectively. The 35-year-old offensive coordinator aided Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to thrive in the offense, as he threw for nearly 5,000 yards in his first season with Moore (4,902 passing yards in 2019) along with 30 passing touchdowns to only 11 interceptions.
Moore will have the responsibility to develop one of the NFL’s young stars in Herbert as he heads into his fourth season. Herbert was the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft and has since thrown for over 4,000 plus yards in each of his three seasons as the Chargers’ starting quarterback (had 5,014 passing yards in 2021). The former Oregon quarterback possesses all the tools to be a prolific quarterback in the NFL, and with a proven offensive mind in Moore, expect Herbert to have his best statistical season in 2023.
3. Denver Broncos: Can Sean Payton turn around Russell Wilson’s career?
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson had his worst season in the NFL in 2022. Wilson spent ten seasons with the Seattle Seahawks before being traded to the Broncos during the 2022 offseason.
In 2022, Wilson had a career-low in completion percentage (60.5), touchdown passes (16) and quarterback rating (84.4), respectively. As a starter, Wilson led the Broncos offense to a league-worst in scoring offense with 16.9 points per game. Due to the performance of Wilson and the Broncos offense throughout the season, former Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired which led to the acquisition of former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Sean Payton is regarded as one of the greatest offensive-minded coaches in NFL history. Payton spent fifteen years (’06-’21) in New Orleans and led the franchise to three NFC championship game appearances (’06, ’09 and ’18) and a Super Bowl victory (Super Bowl XLIV vs. Colts). Payton along with former Saints quarterback Drew Brees were responsible for having one of the most prolific offenses the NFL has ever seen. The current Broncos head coach aligned with Brees in New Orleans in 2006 after Brees departed San Diego due a career-threatening shoulder injury. Brees went on to snag multiple passing yardage and completion percentage records with Payton orchestrating the offense.
Wilson’s stock took a hit in 2022, but with a future hall-of-fame head coach in Payton that is known for his aggressive play-calling, there is a probable chance the 2012 NFL draft pick can turn his career around.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: Who is Patrick Mahomes throwing to other than the obvious?
Patrick Mahomes since being drafted tenth overall in the 2017 NFL draft by Kansas City has been the most consistent and productive pass thrower in the NFL. Since becoming the full-time starter in 2018, Mahomes is a two-time league MVP (’18, ’22), a two-time Super Bowl Champion (LIV, LVIII) and led the Chiefs on a 2010s-like Patriots run to the AFC championship game with five consecutive appearances (’18-’22).
Former Chiefs and current Miami Dolphins wideout Tyreek Hill was one of Mahomes best targets before Hill took a payday with the Dolphins prior to the 2022 season. When Hill departed, fans and analysts questioned could Mahomes still be able to post prolific numbers without arguably the fastest pass catcher in the history of the NFL.
Mahomes not only proved he could post big numbers without Hill, he also proved he could win without the speedy receiver by leading Kansas City to their second Super Bowl victory in a four-year span. Pro Football Focus ranked the Chiefs pass catching room in 19th place prior to the start of last season. In 2022, Mahomes weapons consisted of then-rookie Skyy Moore, Juju Smith Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney and arguably the best tight end in NFL history in Travis Kelce.
The two-time league MVP along with this core led the league in passing yards (5,250), touchdown passes (41) and ranked second in passer rating (105.5) only to Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who only played 11 games in 2022, respectively.
The Chiefs head into 2023 without Smith-Schuster, as he signed with the New England Patriots in the offseason. The pro-bowl wideout was the second-most productive pass catcher for the Chiefs by having posted 933 reception yards along with 78 catches. Moore likely will have a more prominent role in the Kansas City offense without Smith-Schuster as he heads into his second season. Valdes-Scantling has the ability and stature to be a legitimate deep threat as he stands at 6-foot-4. Toney, who holds the record for the longest punt return in Super Bowl history (65), will be a key factor in the Kansas City offense. The former Giants wideout was traded to Kansas City in October of the 2022 season after being sidelined to a hamstring injury he suffered in week 2. Toney played in seven regular games for Kansas City and contributed with a crucial touchdown catch in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LVII against the Eagles.
Kansas City’s pass-catching room is mostly unproven, but Kelce has been the Chiefs’ constant key piece on offense for the better part of seven years. Since 2016, Kelce eclipsed 1,000 plus reception yards in each season along with having the most games of at least 100 receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history (35). Mahomes and Kelce at this rate has the potential to be one of the league’s best quarterback-receiver duo in NFL history when it’s all said and done, as they continue to post bountiful numbers and win championships together.