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AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

How much is there to really say about the Chiefs? They won the Super Bowl last season, kept the core of their team intact including offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and look set to have another strong season. They extended Patrick Mahomes so they have him for ten years, extended disrupted defensive tackle Chris Jones and drafted a new running back for the offence. Said offence should stay one of the most fearsome in the league and may even be stronger given that Mahomes missed two games with injury last season. The defence will be back under Steve Spagnuolo for a second year and having improved their ranking from twenty-seventh by DVOA in the 2018 season to fourteenth in 2019, all they need to do is maintain a ranking somewhere around there to keep the team winning. You can never guarantee anything in the NFL, particularly this season but the Chiefs feel like one of the safest bets to be making a noise in the play-offs. Given how fun it is to watch an Andy Reid schemed offence, yet alone one helmed by a quarterback of the talents of Mahomes, I am sure everyone is planning to watch the Chiefs a lot this season. I certainly am.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have not made the play-offs since they won the Super Bowl and have had a losing record  in each of the last three seasons, but there is some hope for the 2020 Broncos as there’s a possibility that John Elway has found a franchise quarterback. It was always going to challenge to follow Peyton Manning, even if he was limited in his passing ability during the final Super Bowl winning year. However, after a number of false starts the Broncos made second round draft pick Drew Lock the starter for the last five games of the 2019 season where he went 4-1. Now judging a quarterback solely on wins is a massive oversimplification so we should be wary of drawing too much from such a small sample of games, but it has at least given the Broncos a plan for the season. In his second year as head coach, Vic Fangio will be looking to get the defence to improve after it was ranked thirteenth by DVOA last season and losing a corner of the ability of Chris Harris will hurt but as defence tends to be more volatile from season to season than offence, a lot could rest on the Broncos being able to maintain a similar standard of defence and the offence improving. This is particularly the case with Bradley Chubb still making his way back from injury and All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller dislocating an ankle tendon and facing the real possibility of being out for the season. These previews have been giving me a series of things that I want to follow this season, and I think I need to take a look at Lock to see how he plays pretty soon. I’m not sure that the Broncos can compete for the playoffs, although with the expanded format it is possible, but it might not take too much to catapult the Broncos up there so definitely a team to keep an eye on.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders get to open the Death Star, or Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas as it’s properly called behind closed doors, and there is still much to uncover about this team. Last season’s 7-9 record was an improvement for Jon Gruden but he has yet to have a winning season since re-joining the Raiders in 2018 and will be looking to get back to winning ways this year. There are still questions about Gruden’s commitment to his starting quarterback Derek Carr, but the offence really wasn’t the problem last season. A ranking inside the top ten by DVOA on offence will not satisfy Gruden, but it was a defence that was ranked thirty-first and special teams that ranked twenty-fifth that sank last season’s team. Ex-Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther had good success in Cincinnati when he took over their Defence from Mike Zimmer, but with the Raiders the signing of Vontaze Burfict backfired, and the loss of big hitting rookie safety Johnathan Abram didn’t help. I don’t know if Guenther will be able to improve a defence that has ranked thirty-first by DVOA for two seasons in a row, but if he can’t that will only increase the pressure for Gruden to improve the offence. There seems to be a rotating cast of receivers, although last year’s rookie running back Josh Jacobs impressed until his shoulder injury hampered his ability to get on the field late in the season. This is another team where there is a lot up in the air and with the shortened off-season I don’t know what to expect, but I think the season likely rests on getting the defence to at least be respectable.

LA Chargers

The Chargers are something of an enigma. They have a talented roster but have struggled on the offensive line and have been bitten by the injury bug often. They may have an advantage compared to the rest of the league when playing in empty stadiums as unlike last season where their home games often had more away fans than their own, at least they can control the environment in the shiny new SoFi Stadium. I like Anthony Lynn as a coach and there is a lot of intriguing talent on the roster, but they paired a twelfth ranked offence by DVOA with the twenty-fifth ranked defence and were dead last special teams. Even with Philip Rivers moving to Indianapolis there is hope for the offence and the Chargers have just extended the contracts of pass rushing duo Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but the injury bug has already bit with last season’s rookie sensation First-Team All-Pro safety Derwin James on IR with a torn meniscus. The Chargers won or were within a touchdown in fourteen of their sixteen games last season, so they were close to a much better record, but in a tough division where they have to face the Chiefs twice and travel to face Denver in high-altitude I don’t know if they can expect a huge turn around. I think it is possible, but they would need to be healthy for once and have some bounces go their way. It feels like the Chargers are due a run of luck, but with Tyrod Taylor as starting quarterback it is hard to predict that they will do much more that be competitive this season unless Taylor improves on his previous record.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Last season the 49ers finally delivered on the promise they have flashed through the rebuild masterminded by head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch. A fearsome defence ranked second only to the Patriots by DVOA was paired with a top ten offence that Shanahan schemed to enough success for them all the way to the Super Bowl and they should be in contention again this year. However, they did trade defensive linemen DeForest Buckner away to allow them the cap flexibility to retain other players and they are already having problems at receiver with multiple players injured before the team have taken a competitive snap against another team. Shanahan is such a good coach that unless the number of injuries gets too big they 49ers should be able to compete, but the NFC West looks like a fearsome division so there could be a surprise or two in store.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks come into the 2020 season on the back of eight consecutive winning seasons, despite having to overhaul the vaunted Leigion of Boom defence in the last couple of seasons. In Russell Wilson they have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and last year’s rookie receiver DK Metcalf flashed alongside Tyler Lockett whilst Chris Carson was again the running back required to fit the run focussed offensive game plan that Pete Carroll wants to run. I do wonder how much home advantage the Seahawks will lose by not being able to play in front of their famously loud home crowd, but it is hard to see them do anything other than compete as that is Carroll’s mantra and even at the start of his time in Seattle, Carroll’s two losing seasons were still 7-9. That said, the usually strong defence was only ranked twenty-first by DVOA and whilst you have to go back to 2016 to find them ranked inside the top ten, their offence has not been that explosive so we shall have to see how this team does without the help of the home crowd.

LA Rams

The Rams failed to make the play-offs for the first time in Sean McVay’s three years with the franchise, and there was plenty of talk that teams had worked out the McVay’s offence. That said, the Rams still went 9-7, and later in the season the Rams started to use more 12 personnel as McVay adjusted to the adjustments opposing defences had made to his scheme. The Rams were also not helped by the dip in play from Todd Gurley that led to him being cut in the off-season and this was one of a number of adjustments the Rams had to make to the roster to get themselves under the salary cap. They also fired defensive coordinator Wade Philips, which is one of bigger decisions McVay has made in his tenure and could be an interesting one to monitor as  the defence was ranked top ten by DVOA last season and Philips is very experienced coach, but the only big names left on the defence are Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Now Donald is arguably the most important non-quarterback in the league and a bona fide pass rush nightmare, but Donald plus a lockdown corner in Ramsey does not a defence make and with a number of defensive starters gone from last season it is not hard to see a slip on that side of the ball this year. I wouldn’t count the Rams out, but there are enough questions that you can’t simply put them in the play-offs. With the expanded wildcard slots I wouldn’t rule out them being there or there abouts, but this could be a big season for McVay’s long term prospects in LA.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals knew they were in for a long rebuild going into last season, but their 5-11 record was not actually that bad considering the 3-13 disaster it followed and there were some promising things to take away. Although Kyler Murray (their second first round quarterback selection in two years) didn’t set the league alight, he showed promise and proved that he could get through a season despite the size that many were worried about. Murray looked to have the Russell Wilson knack of not taking the big hit and although his college now NFL head coach Kliff Kingsbury had to adjust his scheme when it didn’t work when facing NFL defences, he did just that and so they come into the season hoping to build on last year. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins is upgrade to the Cardinals’ receiver group, although the continuing presence of Larry Fitzgerald also reassures but he must retire soon and so Hopkins is a valuable addition for the next couple of years at least. The defence still needs work but I am curious about how this team does so I look forward to monitoring how they progress this season.