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AFC West Is An Arms Race: Are The Chiefs Losing?

With the AFC West getting stronger, are the Chiefs losing the arms race?

After a record six-consecutive division titles for Kansas City, the West is out for revenge.

The NFL’s legal tampering period kicked off on Monday, March 14th. This means that teams can agree to deals with would-be free agents, making those deals official once the league’s new year and official free agency period opens on March 16th. Even this early in the offseason, before the new League Year is officially underway, there has been plenty of insane action throughout the league.

Much to the chagrin of Brett Veach and the Chiefs, much of that action has been in the AFC West. Based on PFF’s Improvement Index, the Broncos (leading by an immense margin) and Chargers headline the most improved teams early this offseason.

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Both the Chargers and Broncos have made large splashes early this offseason. Although with lesser moves, the Raiders haven’t been entirely quiet either. The AFC West is an Arms Race this offseason. Division rivals are no longer content to sit idly by and watch the Chiefs dominate the division. After a record six-consecutive division titles, the West is out for revenge. Even with the large splashes by Division Rivals, are the Chiefs losing?

The Broncos

The 2021 Broncos finished 7-10 and fourth in the AFC West. They started the offseason by firing former Head Coach Vic Fangio. They ranked 23rd in points scored last season but third in points allowed. The Broncos, for anyone watching, have been building a strong, rounded roster for the better part of three seasons. Entering last season, it seemed Denver was just a quarterback away, with hopes that Teddy Bridgewater could be that solution. Bridgewater wasn’t the solution, but the Broncos have more than squared away the position this offseason.

The Broncos acquired Franchise Quarterback Russell Wilson in a trade package featuring two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and three players. Wilson joins one of the league’s worst passing attacks and will certainly help turn the tide in that regard. The Broncos’ offense boasts plenty of elite playmakers in Courtland Sutton, standout rookie Jovante Williams, and former-15th overall pick Jerry Jeudy. On offense, the Broncos are set up for immense improvement. The offense should enter the top-10 in points scored next season, with a ceiling for even more.

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On defense, the Broncos have already seen promising results. Bradley Chubb, former fifth-overall pick, struggled last year with injury and on the field, starting seven contests and tallying zero sacks. He gets help this offseason as the Broncos bring in Randy Gregory. One of the top edge rushers available this offseason, Gregory, joins a defensive front that tallied just 36 sacks in 2021. A strong 2021 draft by the Broncos saw them acquire Baron Browning (58 tackles in nine starts), Caden Sterns (two interceptions and two sacks in two starts), and Patrick Surtain II (four interceptions and 58 tackles).

The Broncos also boast plenty of veteran talent in the secondary, with their elite safety duo of Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons. Across the entire roster, the Broncos don’t have too many glaring holes. In the draft, they could truly take the top available talent on the board, emphasizing further Offensive Line help or more edge rushers. The Broncos developed their roster, then spent up at a premium to acquire one of the very best Quarterbacks in the NFL. The Chiefs may very well lose their first matchup versus Denver since 2015 next season. Denver is on the rise and ready to compete. More moves are certainly on the way.

The Chargers

The Broncos have made the largest splash this offseason. It’s worth considering, though, how they were able to make so many upgrades. The Broncos finished with just seven wins last season and last in the division. The Chargers, however, were just one win away from the playoffs. They started the season 4-1 (with a win over Kansas City) before dropping seven of their final twelve contests. The Chargers have their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert. They have an elite receiving duo in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. They have a strong defense, headlined by Derwin James. The Chargers were already very close last season and have improved more than any team other than Denver this offseason.

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The Chargers, like the Broncos, have been building a strong roster through the draft for multiple seasons. In 2018 they drafted Derwin James 17th overall. 2019 they drafted standouts Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley. Alongside Herbert in 2020, outstanding young Linebacker Kenneth Murray joined the Bolts. Then, in 2021, the Chargers hit success again, drafting Pro-Bowl tackle Rashawn Slater and rookie standout CB Asante Samuel Jr. Alongside that talent, the Chargers have added even more this offseason:

The Chargers have shored up the interior of their defensive front with Joseph-Day and Johnson. Joey Bosa now has a partner on the opposite side of the line in elite edge rusher Khalil Mack. The Chargers acquired Mack via trade with the Bears, sending just a second-round and sixth-round pick in return. Not finished, the Chargers then signed the top cornerback on the free-agent market, Mr. Interception, JC Jackson. The Chargers’ defense will now be a top-three unit in the entire NFL. The Chargers locked up their own on the offensive side, signing WR Mike Williams to a large five-year extension. If the Broncos roster seems well-rounded, the Chargers put that to shame.

Plenty of offseason remains, including the NFL Draft and more free agency action. Even still, if the season started today, the Chargers would be Super Bowl favorites for many.

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Is Kansas City Losing?

Plenty has changed in the landscape of the AFC West. Two of the NFL’s best secondaries call the AFC West home; the Chiefs aren’t one of them. Three of the NFL’s best pass rush tandems call the AFC West home; it doesn’t belong to the Chiefs. Without a doubt, the Chiefs’ rivals in the AFC West have closed the gap over the past couple of seasons, especially this offseason so far. To this point in the offseason, it’s even possible they have pulled even. But the future isn’t so bleak for Kansas City.

The best WR in the AFC, one of the best in the entire NFL, still plays for the Chiefs. The best tight end in the NFL still plays for the Chiefs. Three of the best quarterbacks in the entire NFL now play in the AFC West; the Chiefs still boast the best of the bunch. Perhaps most importantly, the best offensive line in the AFC West still belongs to the Chiefs and is locked up for the next three seasons at least. The Chiefs have already made a move this offseason. They signed young, standout Safety Justin Reid to a three-year contract. Reid will fill the role that Tyrann Mathieu played last season.

Of course, the real story to take away is that there’s plenty of offseason remaining. Last offseason, Joe Thuney signed on March 15th. Jarran Reed didn’t sign until March 28th. The Orlando Brown trade didn’t happen until April 23rd. And, of course, the NFL Draft isn’t until late April. There is more than enough time for the Chiefs to put an exclamation point on their offseason. Several top free agents, including Bobby Wagner, Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Allen Robinson, Stephon Gilmore, and Za’Darius Smith, remain. Those are just the cream of the crop. Plenty of other free agents could cap off an elite offseason that will catapult the Chiefs once again back into the top of the league.

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Even without those additional moves that are surely on the way, the Chiefs still have the highest odds to win the AFC in the entire AFC West, trailing only the Bills. Later this week, the Chiefs will cap off some cap-saving moves. Restructures are coming for Patrick Mahomes and Joe Thuney. Extensions for Tyreek Hill and Orlando Brown Jr. would free up even more cap space. The Chiefs have renegotiated Frank Clark’s contract saving over $10 million against the cap. Once those cap savings are in line, look for the Chiefs to be aggressive in bringing in top-tier talent. The Chiefs should still be the favorite in the AFC West, and their moves over the coming days and weeks will further cement that notion.

The AFC West is massively improved. The Chiefs are just getting started.

With the AFC West getting stronger, are the Chiefs losing the arms race? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.

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Written By

I'm a life-long Chiefs and Royals fan from Liberty, MO. I've since moved to Seattle, WA. I love the west coast life with my wife, two beautiful children, a german shepherd, and chihuahua. It's my pleasure to grow Stadium Rant as Director of Content, but I still love writing as well about what topics I'm passionate about.

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