AFC Contenders who could challenge the KC Chiefs in the playoffs

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 19: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs holds up the Lamar Hunt trophy after defeating the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs defeated the Titans 35-24. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 19: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs holds up the Lamar Hunt trophy after defeating the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs defeated the Titans 35-24. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock
DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 29: Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos sets to pass in the first quarter of a game against the Oakland Raiders at Empower Field at Mile High on December 29, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Tier Four

The fourth and final tier of teams that could make a playoff push in 2020 is for those like the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, Cleveland Browns, and Los Angeles Chargers. All of these teams have considerable question marks, but if everything were to go right, could be dangerous teams come January.

Denver Broncos

General manager John Elway has provided second-year quarterback Drew Lock with everything he needs to be successful in his first full season as a starter. Bringing in playmakers like running back Melvin Gordon via free agency, and drafting wide receivers in the first two rounds Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, Lock has all of the firepower needed to prove himself in 2020. While there is still improvement needed along the offensive line, the depth of weapons that Lock has at his disposal is outstanding.

The defense ranked 13th in “Weighted Defense” in 2019, according to Football Outsiders. While the loss of Chris Harris Jr. will hurt, trading a whopping fifth-round pick for cornerback A.J. Bouye should be enough to take over that lead role. Denver added to their defensive line by trading for defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Bradley Chubb will return from injury to work opposite Von Miller solidifying the pass rush. While there are still several holes, including inside linebacker, cornerback, and offensive line, Lock improving with his deep class of playmakers could take the Broncos to the playoffs as the second team in the AFC West.

Cleveland Browns

Everyone remembers the hype that surrounded the Cleveland Browns entering the 2019 season. Regardless of the talent on paper, the team is going to have to prove to everyone that they are a contender. The talent was there in 2019, but the lack of leadership, discipline, and drama killed any chance of competing. Whether or not the new coaching staff and front office will get things on track will be something to watch in 2020.

Baker Mayfield struggled in 2019 after his flashes of excellence down the stretch of 2018. The offensive line was a weakness last season, but with upgrades at both tackle positions and hiring one of the best offensive line coaches in Bill Callahan, Mayfield should have a more stable unit protecting him in 2020. The biggest question will be whether Kevin Stefanski can control all of the strong personalities in the locker room. If he can, this team has the personnel to make a playoff push.

Los Angeles Chargers

Over the last five years, the Los Angeles Chargers have been the pick to win the AFC West following the offseason by many national analysts. While that is highly unlikely, they have the opportunity to compete for one of the final seeds in 2020. Philip Rivers is gone, and the Chargers find themselves with a new quarterback for the first time 2005. Tyrod Taylor is the veteran presence with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert coming in from Oregon.

Herbert will have a learning curve coming into the NFL. He has the arm talent to be special, but whether or not he can process things fast enough or how long it will take him to adapt will be telling of the Chargers season. Taylor is not going to win many games for Los Angeles, no matter how good the defensive side of the ball looks. The defense has the roster to be among the best in the NFL. How long until Herbert hits the field, and how quickly can he learn and process? The national pandemic already is giving rookies an even shorter time to work with their new team, so will Herbert play at all in 2020?

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