An AFC West Preview: Kansas City, then who?

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Before our AFC West preview, Dianna has some big news.

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What Dianna’s Hearing: Don’t just read Scoop City

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If you have enjoyed reading our football intel and analysis so far, we have some great news: Soon you’ll also be able to listen to all the juice!

On July 16, longtime NFL quarterback Chase Daniel and I team up for the first episode of the Scoop City podcast. You can get it anywhere you get your podcasts, or watch it on YouTube.

Our first guest? Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. We ask him all about managing superstar athletes like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce (you may have noticed he’s gone a little Hollywood), how much longer he plans on coaching and why he only has five-minute team meetings. (Oh, and we had to get the scoop on his Hawaiian shirts!)

We’ll have two episodes per week all football season. Here’s a little sample before you subscribe.

Back to you Jacob!

2024 NFL Team previews: AFC West

The Chiefs have dominated the AFC West since 2016, winning eight straight division titles (and three Super Bowls). With all-world Patrick Mahomes entering his prime at age 28, they have a real chance to break the NFL record of 11 straight division wins held by — who else — Tom Brady’s Patriots.

Let’s look at the division:

Chiefs in 2024

Biggest question: Can Kansas City produce the first three-peat of the Super Bowl era? 

The Packers have twice won three straight NFL titles, but all came before the Super Bowl, salary cap and the NFL’s additional 16 teams. The Chiefs are the ninth team to win consecutive Super Bowls, but all eight of their predecessors failed to even make the Super Bowl for a third-straight season. Still, none had a combination like Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, although the 49ers’ Joe Montana and Bill Walsh came close.

Pop quiz: Which famous coach owns the trademark to “three-peat”? Answer is at the end of this newsletter.

Position to watch: Wide receiver. 

After the Chiefs’ worst offensive season in the Mahomes era, they smartly added speed in veteran Marquise Brown, traded up in the first round for 4.21-speed rookie Xavier Worthy and re-signed Mecole Hardman. All should open space for 34-year-old star Travis Kelce and sophomore Rashee Rice. (The latter impressed as a rookie, but his availability is clouded by a potential violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.)

Fantasy sleeper: WR Marquise Brown. 

On a one-year, prove-it deal, the 27-year-old joins the league’s best quarterback after a forgettable season in Arizona (where he was largely without Kyler Murray). Brown had impressive periods, averaging 85.3 yards in the first eight games of 2021 and 80.8 in the first six weeks in 2022, but each ended after the 5-9, 180-pound Brown was injured.

Better than in 2023? Just as strong.

Losing CB L’Jarius Sneed hurts, but with all other key pieces of the back-to-back Super Bowl winners returning, plus what should be an improved offense, it’s impossible to bet against these Chiefs.

Latest read: Eight most intriguing Chiefs to watch in training camp

Raiders in 2024

Biggest question: Who will play quarterback? 

Raiders HC Antonio Pierce was clear that he didn’t want a band-aid solution. Naturally, the Raiders enter training camp with two band-aid solutions: either Aidan O’Connell, now a sophomore who showed little potential to be a franchise quarterback, or Gardner Minshew, a journeyman, “little-ass boy” (according to Maxx Crosby) and 2023 Pro Bowl alternate.

Better question: Is there a difference? During OTAs, Tashan Reed noted both players struggled with accuracy, turned the ball over too frequently and failed to consistently push the ball.

Position to watch: Running back. 

The former heart of the Raiders offense, Josh Jacobs, is now in Green Bay, so Zamir White is the favorite for the starting job. With Jacobs missing last season’s final four games, the Raiders leaned on White, who posted the league’s third-most rushing yards in that span as the Raiders went 3-1. I expect White to fend off former Viking Alexander Mattison and sixth-round pick Dylan Laube. White is one of Jake Ciely’s breakout fantasy running backs. Speaking of fantasy …

Fantasy sleeper: TE Brock Bowers. 

Rookie tight ends are risky, yes. But as Nate Tice noted, only 44.7% of Bowers’ college snaps were from a TE alignment. So while you can play Bowers as a TE, you may have actually drafted a big slot receiver. As Vic Tafur explained, the Raiders plan to line Bowers out wide and behind the quarterback. Imagine George Kittle, to whom Dane Brugler compared Bowers, primarily catching passes in the slot. Giddy up.

Better than in 2023? Yes.

They added star power in DT Christian Wilkins and Bowers while beefing up their offensive line in the second and third rounds of the draft. This team could scrape out a positive record, although a tough schedule (ranked ninth-hardest by Sharp Football) won’t help.

Latest read: Minshew or O’Connell?

Broncos in 2024

Biggest question: Can first-round QB Bo Nix be the guy

HC Sean Payton boasted that Denver would nail the quarterback decision. He’s still confident after drafting the third-oldest first-round quarterback in NFL history, Bo Nix (halfway through his 24th year). At the end of the offseason program, Payton said Nix had been everything they thought he’d be. Our beat reporter, Nick Kosmider, believes Nix will be the Week 1 starter unless “he’s vastly outplayed” by Jarrett Stidham or Zach Wilson.

Position to watch: Secondary. 

DC Vance Joseph watched as his defense finished 27th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed, including an unforgettable 70-point drubbing by the Dolphins. Could they afford to lose three starters in their secondary, including Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons? No, but that’s their reality. With a new defensive backs coach and plenty of competition, it’s a new era for this secondary.

Fantasy sleeper: RB Jaleel McLaughlin. 

Despite running behind an offensive line that ranked fourth in PFF’s run-blocking grades, Javonte Williams averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry. McLaughlin, who is turning heads this offseason, led the team with 5.4 yards per carry, a mark that ranked third in the NFL behind only Christian McCaffrey and De’Von Achane. With an Austin Ekeler-like makeup, McLaughlin could play a valuable role.

Better than in 2023? Yes and no.

Do I think another year developing under Sean Payton helps this team? Yes. Does that mean they improve on their eight wins in 2023? No. One of the NFL’s toughest schedules (eighth-hardest, per Sharp Football) won’t help.

Latest read: A closer look at five positions up for grabs

Chargers in 2024

Biggest question: Can they stop the pass? 

While Jim Harbaugh preaches about the offensive line as the key to success, the Chargers’ biggest weakness (outside of Brandon Staley’s frustrated press conferences) has been their pass defense. They allowed the eighth-most points and fifth-most yards in the league, giving up the third-most passing yards. This will be a focus of new Chargers DC and Michigan alum Jesse Minter, who oversaw a Ravens secondary in 2020 that ranked sixth-best in passing yards allowed.

Position to watch: Running back.

The Chargers averaged 96.6 rushing yards per game last season, good for 25th in the NFL. I guarantee that number will be higher under Harbaugh, who reunited former Baltimore thumpers J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards with OC Greg Roman. While Chargers beat reporter Daniel Popper expects Edwards to start, he said, “There is a lot to like with both players,” after watching four games of film. Keep an eye on rookie RB Kimani Vidal.

Fantasy sleeper: WR Ladd McConkey. 

Someone has to replace the production of departed Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, as the Chargers have a league-leading 395 targets up for grabs. Enter second-rounder McConkey, a polished route runner who is looking like a perfect fit for Justin Herbert. The Chargers traded up for McConkey, and I’m not worried about Joshua Palmer or Quentin Johnston, while free-agent addition DJ Chark should help open underneath routes. McConkey could easily be the most-targeted rookie WR.

Better than in 2023? Yes.

No Staley, a new culture and smart additions across the board. Combine that with the second-easiest schedule, per Sharp Football, and the Chargers are projected by most sportsbooks to hit around 8.5 wins. Ladies and gents, the Harbaugh effect.

Latest read: Which UDFAs have the best shots at making the roster?

Jacob’s Picks

📕 Dane Brugler looks at the 2025 class of quarterbacks, which isn’t nearly as exciting as 2024’s but is led by Georgia’s Carson Beck and Colarado’s Shedeur Sanders. (The Athletic)

📺 Missed the second episode of the Giants on “Hard Knocks”? Dan Duggan shares his takeaways on an episode that dove deeper into the Saquon Barkley drama. (The Athletic)

🎙 More AFC West? Derrik Klassen joined Robert Mays to discuss outstanding questions for the Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders and Chargers. Worth listening for the Aiden O’Connell comments alone. (The Athletic Football Show)

Speaking of podcasts, you’ll be glad you subscribed to the Scoop City podcast, which goes live next week. Click here to learn more.

Trivia: Which famous coach owns the trademark to three-peat? Former Lakers HC and current Heat GM Pat Riley, who’ll be a Chiefs fan this season (he receives royalties whenever companies license the phrase for merchandise).

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