Why Sports Illustrated is Wrong About the AFC West

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Phillip Rivers’ ultimatum to the Chargers could be the perfect excuse to move on from the veteran QB and invest in the future of the franchise. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers is a darn good quarterback. No doubt, he has earned his place as an NFL starter. And many fans in the Kansas City area would probably trade Alex Smith for him in a heartbeat. People even call Rivers elite sometimes.

According to ESPN’s stats, Rivers’ top five receiving targets in 2014 were Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal, and Branden Oliver. Definitely a serviceable group to work with. Those players accounted for 3,509 yards, and 30 touchdowns through the air. Both stats much higher than the Chiefs’ top five pass catchers (of which only two, Dwayne Bowe and Albert Wilson, were actually wide receivers).

Yet the Chargers were ranked 17th in total offense last year by pro-football-reference.com, which was one spot below the Chiefs.

Rivers may be a better quarterback than Smith, but that did not prevent San Diego from finishing with the exact same record as Kansas City last year. And it did not prevent S.D. from dropping the last game of the 2014 season, at home, to Smith’s backup.

In addition, while the Chiefs should only be getting better in the passing game by swapping Bowe for Jeremy Maclin on the roster, the Chargers will be at a likely net loss with the departure of Eddie Royal.

S.D. may still have a better passing game than K.C. this year, but they did last year and it did not seem to matter. Now that the gap is getting smaller, Rivers should be less of a reason than ever to pick the Chargers over the Chiefs.

Improved Offensive Line

Chiefs fans can relate well to this one. Several of SI’s staff noted that the O-line for San Diego last year was sub-par. The reason this year should be different is the addition of Orlando Franklin. If you look at their depth chart, you can see he is the only player starting on the line who was not on the roster last year.

One new starter does not make an entire line.

SI’s Chris Burke noted the return of San Diego center Chris Watt as one of positives for why he picked the Chargers. But I am not sure why Watt returning is all that special.

According to pro-football-refernce.com, he was one of five different Chargers to start at center last year, and did not even receive the most starts at the position (that was Rich Ohrnberger).

In fact, Watt only started five of the 12 games he played. I have not broken down his film, but those numbers suggest that S.D. did not have complete confidence in Watt as a center.

Kansas City’s story at this position area is pretty similar. Horrible performance last year leads to reshuffling this year, including bringing in a veteran Pro Bowl guard, Ben Grubbs. The center position is also reliant on a young player (Watt was a rookie last year, and the Chiefs will be starting either second year man Eric Kush or rookie Mitch Morse) whose overall ability is not fully known.

Both teams ought to be better, and both still have some unknowns. I would call this a draw until we see how each unit performs in a game.

Next: Mini Charles?