The Kansas City Chiefs have had the AFC West on lockdown for so long that it can be tempting to sort of overlook the divisional path to the postseason. That's what seven consecutive seasons atop your rivals will do for a fan base, which is why Chiefs Kingdom has so enjoyed this golden era of football with Andy Reid at the helm.
However, it's important to remember how difficult it is to win in the NFL in general and that sustained success is rare for good reason. Reid himself stresses to reporters each week that his players and coaches take things one game at a time, and fans would be wise to follow suit. The difference between winning and losing is quite thin in the National Football League and the slate is now blank once again for other teams to hope in a different outcome.
So how will things shake out in 2023? What should we expect? Let's make some divisional predictions with how the AFC West will shake out this season.
Even if we want to make sure and give more credit to the rest of the AFC West (see below), we're also not crazy enough to put the Chiefs anywhere but atop the division once again in 2023. If Patrick Mahomes and company can blitz through the likes of the Bengals and Eagles in the postseason when it matters most then we're not too concerned about their ability to outlast their rivals in the AFC West.
Yes, there are questions at wide receiver and if the worst-case scenario plays out with Chris Jones, then the pass rush is a major concern, but this defense is as deep as it has ever been in the Mahomes era with the most talent in the second and third levels. The offensive line has been remade and looks deeper than ever as well, and Mahomes-Reid-Kelce is the riding tide that raises all offensive boats.
What's going to be fun this year is to see how defenders like George Karlaftis and Trent McDuffie fare in their second seasons. If they turn the corner toward cornerstones of their respective units, this defense could be capable of carrying the team at times. That's a very, very dangerous idea for the rest of the league.
Prediction: 14-3 with another Super Bowl appearance in sight
It can be easy to bury the Chargers as a team with injury problems or coaching concerns, but they always rise to meet the Chiefs with a competitive game for 60 minutes each time around—as illustrated by last season's point differential of only six points between two losses.
The Chargers are going to be interesting to watch in the years to come as they navigate a payroll with an expensive quarterback for the first time in years once Justin Herbert gets his big-money extension. Until then, however, they should be considered just as dangerous as ever in 2023 with a loaded round of playmakers catching passes with one of the league's best QBs at the helm. And in case you think Mike Williams and Keenan Allen aren't reliable enough, the team just invested a first-round pick in Quentin Johnston to make sure moving the chains is never an issue.
It should also be noted that the Chargers offensive line issues are now largely behind them—a big reason why the Chiefs were able to get the best of them in previous seasons. Corey Linsley is a nice anchor in the middle and Rashawn Slater is a cornerstone, but last year's rookie guard tandem of Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer both fared well and the Bolts are now stronger in the trenches than ever.
Can Staley prove himself worth of such a loaded roster? Can J.C. Jackson bounce back? Can Joey Bosa stay healthy? Can Trey Pipkins rise up to provide even average play at right tackle? What does Tuli Tuipulotu add to the pass rush? There are still some major concerns here but that's true for any team right now as well.
Prediction: 11-6 with real hope for a deep playoff run
Roll the dice on this one, because this year could go either way for the Broncos.
To be fair, if you're a Denver fan, this year holds a ton of intrigue and that's exciting this time of year. Last year was a frustrating one for obvious reasons after the team went all-in on Russell Wilson and the experiment failed in his first season outside of Seattle. That said, Chiefs fans know as well as anyone that a competent head coach can make all the difference and Sean Payton was likely the single most valuable hire during this NFL offseason.
Don't forget this: last year's Broncos lost 12 games but three of those were in overtime (the team was 0-3 in extra time) and two more losses were by a single point. They went 0-2 again versus the Chiefs, but even those defeats were by a combined 9 points. How many of those games turn out differently if it's Sean Payton calling the shots instead of Nathaniel Hackett?
If we're projecting better things for the Broncos, we might as well add the presence of rookie Marvin Mims to a nice receiving corps and, of course, Patrick Surtain leading one of the league's best secondaries. But unfortunately that's where it all stops. For all the ways in which Denver should feel better about moving past Hackett, they're still trying to piece together a solid offensive line and an average pass rush. And if you can't win in the trenches, you're not ready for anything other than topping the Raiders.
Prediction: 9-8 with a realization that this is their ceiling without significant help up front
This feels like the year the wheels come completely off for the Las Vegas Raiders.
That might sound silly for a franchise that hasn't really put any real wheels on in recent years, but the truth is that the Raiders have made the playoffs twice in the last seven seasons. In that time, they've made desperate attempts to cash in on Derek Carr's prime with seismic moves that shifted entire NFL markets (e.g. trade for DaVante Adams, sign Chandler Jones) to varying effects, but the truth is that the Raiders have been stuck in the Chiefs' shadow for a long time now and there's no real hope on the horizon.
Case in point: the Raiders swapped Carr for Jimmy Garoppolo, took a project in the first round in Tyree Wilson, and still have significant holes on defense in a league scoring points more efficiently than ever.
Look, the Raiders have some nice players on both sides of the ball, including Maxx Crosby on what is otherwise a very porous defense. The receiver room will make most Chiefs fans green with envy with Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Hunter Renfrow and Michael Mayer is a solid replacement for an aging Darren Waller. No doubt the Raiders will score points in 2023, but there are o-line issues to go with significant defensive weaknesses and that's going to lead to a very long season in Las Vegas.
Prediction: 4-13 with a real chance to bring in Caleb Williams to the AFC West