Training camps are underway, and the 2023 NFL season is right around the corner.
To get you ready for the season, The Playbook is breaking down each division, identifying who to watch and what to look out for, position odds, and much more. Starting this series off with the AFC West and the reigning Super Bowl Champions only makes sense.
The only way is up for the Denver Broncos (+475)
The Denver Broncos were arguably one of the most disappointing teams in 2022.
They finished the season 5-12, ranking 31st in the league for points per game (16.9). It was not the outcome Denver fans expected after their blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson in the off-season. The poor results led to the firing of Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett. And so begins the Sean Payton era.
Payton last coached the New Orleans Saints in 2021 and earned a Lombardi trophy with the team in 2009. His year off from coaching made him the hottest commodity for coach-needy teams at the end of last season. His success with Drew Brees under center makes him a great candidate to revive Wilson’s career. The two have often drawn comparisons due to their smaller size.
The team remains generally the same heading into this season. Their young core defense ranked 7th in yards allowed per game last year. Payton has been brought in to fix the offense and if he can do that, they may slip into a Wild Card slot.
Ceiling: Wild Card spot, a playoff win.
Floor: 7-10 record, an improvement on last year.
The favorite for, well, everything: Kansas City Chiefs (-150)
There is a reason the Kansas City Chiefs are one of the few teams with minus odds to win their Division: Patrick Mahomes II.
It may get tiring to hear how great he is, but he continues to prove it year in and year out. Last year, the Chiefs’ offense was mostly counted out after losing Tyreek Hill. But Mahomes led the Chiefs’ offense to number one in passing yards and points for enroute to a second Super Bowl win in four years. Not to mention a second MVP award.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) July 26, 2023
The offense will still need to figure out a true number one receiver, but the dynamic duo of Mahomes and TE Travis Kelce has shown no signs of slowing down. The biggest question mark going into training camp is the contract status of DT Chris Jones. The defensive player of the year candidate is currently holding out for a new contract. If he can come to terms with the team, there is little reason to expect a drop off from their 14-3 record and a chance to defend their title.
Ceiling: Another Super Bowl ring.
Floor: Try and imagine Patrick Mahomes not in this year’s AFC championship game. You can’t.
How far can Jimmy G take the Las Vegas Raiders? (+1200)
Las Vegas moved on from long time signal caller Derek Carr (now with the New Orleans Saints) and signed veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s a valuable distributor, and with Davante Adams, anything is possible.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) July 26, 2023
But despite his experience leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl, the Raiders don’t have nearly the firepower as those San Francisco teams. This off-season, they lost TE Darren Waller and All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs hasn’t reached a deal with the team yet. The Raiders are in a tough division and seem to be heading in the wrong direction in the short term.
If the defensive front of Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones and new 7th overall pick Tyree Wilson can attack opposing quarterbacks and stop the run the Raiders could stay competitive. It is still a lot of pressure to put on one unit and likely not enough for a playoff shot.
Ceiling: Wild Card spot.
Floor: A record that’ll put the Raiders in conversation for one of next years’ superstar QBs in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Time to deliver for the Los Angeles Chargers (+325)
There was no bigger upset in the playoffs last season than the Chargers losing a 27-point lead to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite the epic meltdown, Head Coach Brandon Staley returns to the headset and brings in offensive coordinator Kellen Moore from the Dallas Cowboys. Moore had great success statistically with the Cowboys and looks to bring his power running game and dynamic passing game to the Chargers.
Crucially, Moore now knows he has his star quarterback Justin Herbert on a long-term basis. The 25-year-old signed a 5-year deal reportedly worth over $260 million earlier this week. The Chargers know they have a special talent with Herbert and his ability to work with Moore will determine their success this year.
— NFL (@NFL) July 25, 2023
It does not come without challenges though. Pro-Bowl running back Austin Ekeler is headed for a holdout this training camp and won’t play without a long-term contract. The Chargers ranked 30th in rushing yards per game with Ekeler at RB last year. Moore was brought in to help change that, but needs talent carrying the ball. Without Ekeler’s dynamic ability to catch and run the ball, the Chargers will rely on Herbert and rookie wide receiver Quintin Johnston. Herbert was the second most one-dimensional quarterback ranking 2nd in pass attempts per game, 41.9.
If they aren’t able to find balance, their return to the playoffs looks tricky.
Ceiling: A Wild Card spot and a deep playoff run.
Floor: An injury-ravaged losing season, which will likely be the end of Brandon Staley.
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