With the Denver Broncos on their bye this week, it’s never too early to see how the team stacks up against the rest of the AFC West. Things out West remain as competitive as ever; the Kansas City Chiefs are the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL, while the Broncos and Raiders have been very solid. The only disappointment’s been the Los Angeles Chargers who are winless and keep blowing close games despite an entirely new coaching staff.

Denver’s already played and beat both LA and Oakland this season, so we’ve had plenty of live looks. Meanwhile, KC’s had some statement victories on national TV almost every week, so we’ve already got to see them plenty in 2017.

Here’s how we rank the West by unit heading into Week 5.

Defense

1) Denver Broncos

2) Kansas City Chiefs

3) Los Angeles Chargers

4) Oakland Raiders

With Denver’s return to dominating against the run, this became an easy pick. The Broncos have been the NFL’s best pass defense the last two years, and they’re still stingy on the back end. Now that they’re the best defense against the run in the league, they remain an easy choice as the West’s best. Denver will have some room to grow defensively, as well, once Shane Ray comes back into the fold.

The Chiefs suffered a big loss with safety Eric Berry’s injury, but they’ve managed to stay afloat. They’ve also found Justin Houston back at full strength which makes a massive difference. It was a real toss up between them and the Chargers, who likely have more talent on paper. The Chargers right now have the division’s best edge rushing duo, but it’s on the back end where they’re not as dangerous without cornerback Jason Verrett who’s still week-to-week with a knee injury. LA’s also struggling mightily to stop the run where they’re 31st in the league allowing 163 yards per, that’s what gives the Chiefs the edge here.

The Raiders are in the bottom 10 of the league in rushing yards allowed and in the bottom 15 in passing yards allowed. Their ‘D’ still hasn’t come along, their biggest issue. They were clearly at the bottom of the division here.

Offense

1) Kansas City Chiefs

2) Denver Broncos

3) Oakland Raiders

4) Los Angeles Chargers

At full strength, the Raiders should be higher on this list, but with how things have gone thus far this season, their offense has shown some limitations. That becomes especially true with the latest injuries to two essential players like Derek Carr and Micheal Crabtree that have slowed them down. Add Amari Cooper’s struggles and Marshawn Lynch leaving something to be desired, and it feels like they’ve taken a bit of a step back this year.

The Chargers should be higher, too, but their line’s had problems and their running game’s been abysmal.

The big surprise has been the Chiefs who aren’t just the West’s best but possibly the NFL’s best offense. Their running game has been something from another planet with their use of rookie running back Kareem Hunt and Alex Smith on triple options with Travis Kelce sprinkled in. They’re currently top of the league in rushing yards and are second to only the New England Patriots in offensive yards totaling an average of 405 per game. Even by analytical standards, their the NFL’s top attack rankings as Football Outsiders best offense per DVOA. They’re the clear best unit and will be hard to stop going forward.

Denver settles in as the second-best offense led by a running game that’s third in the league with 143 yards per game. The Broncos are also utilizing their two star-receivers a bit better this year which is crucial in their ranking. Denver’s had its issues putting up points with consistency but what puts them over the Chargers and Raiders is their combination of production with the potential upside they have thanks to their personnel.

Quarterbacks

1) Alex Smith, Chiefs

2) Derek Carr, Raiders

3) Phillip Rivers, Chargers

4) Trevor Siemian, Broncos

This is by far the most up for debate ranking of the four categories, as just about any of the four signal callers in the division could be ranked one through four. However, this is based on the performance we’ve seen thus far this season, and with that Alex Smith is the clear top dog.

Smith’s often been criticized for being a limited passer, but the way in which he’s commanded the Chiefs league-best offense has been impressive. He’s in control, taking more deep shots and showing off more skills as a runner. His ability to avoid mistakes on top of everything else is why he’s leading the NFL in quarterback rating.

Rivers versus Carr becomes an interesting debate especially with Carr being sidelined for a brief stretch. With Rivers’ slight decline and inability to avoid costly turnovers Carr has the edge.

Rivers has as many interceptions (4) as Siemian does on the year. Siemian’s likely been more consistent, but he’s also aided by a better run game and receiving corps—not to mention a better coaching staff. Rivers still has the edge, but as the years start catching up the debate is becoming much more real.

Coaching Staffs

1) Kansas City Chiefs

2) Denver Broncos

3) Oakland Raiders

4) Los Angeles Chargers

With two new coaching staffs and a Chiefs staff that’s been masterful in the early, going this was a fun ranking to do. KC obviously has the edge with how they’re shredding the league on the ground. They also deserve credit for how they’ve maintained a solid level defensively despite some injuries and offseason losses.

The Chargers are also the obvious choice at the bottom, as the new staff is simply not getting it done. The talent is all there, but it’s not working out on the field as they can’t get out of their own way. Those issues all start with the coaches.

The Raiders, on their end, haven’t shown many improvements from a year ago and the staff hasn’t been best at developing some of the talents they’re leaning on most—Cooper is a prime example. They also made a change at offensive coordinator swapping Bill Musgrave with their former quarterback coach Todd Downing, and so far Downing hasn’t been able to keep the offense as productive as it was in 2016.

That’s where Denver slots into second place pretty easily as the improvements made by the new staff are clear, especially in the ground game, where Denver’s running the ball and stopping the run at close to an NFL-best pace. While Denver’s shown great improvements, the Chiefs are clearly at the top of the totem pole.

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Born in Boulder and raised in Milan, Italy like Danilo Gallinari. Also like Gallo, I moved to the States at 18; unlike Gallo, I wasn’t drafted by the Knicks but came to attend Western State Colorado University (go Mountaineers!). I graduated in 2009 with a major in Communications and Media and two minors in Journalism and Philosophy. After working in the linguistic field for a few years and listening to sports radio ALL DAY at work, I decided to do it myself and it changed my life around. (Now, I can say I couldn’t be happier and am proudly married to the love of my life Kate.) I moved back to Gunnison and started volunteering for the NPR affiliate up in Crested Butte, while also starting to contribute on an NFL podcast for playitusa.com. A 10 minute bit on one podcast turned into being a regular, year-round on three different podcasts on the NFL, College Football, and the NFL Draft. I’ve since started writing on trueblueblog.net and playitusa.com as well as writing in depth Draft analysis for footballnation.it in the past 3 years. I love the Draft and knowing the stars of the future before everyone else. My sports mount Rushmore is Terrell Davis, Patrick Roy, Italian soccer star Roberto Baggio, and John Elway, deal with it! Hit me up at @andresimone to talk NFL, NCAA football, NFL Draft, CSU football, Nuggets or anything else Colorado or Italy sports related.

  • What a great post. I wonder what it would be like to rate each on a scale of 1 to 10. I think Denver’s spot as number 1 in defense almost doesn’t do the Broncos justice> LOL I mean by that, I think they are a lot better than the other three.

    Also KC’s beat down of the Patriots is not as impressive now that I have watched the Pats over the next four weeks. They really are not a good team right now, especially on defense. I continue to expect Bellicheck to fix them, but the way they played against Tampa Bay was pathetic. They should have lost to that team–that had only 1 sack going into the game! Incredible.

    I want to say the Chargers should be rated higher in a couple areas, but I think Rivers is worse with the new coaches. He said four years ago that McCoy revived his career. You could see him improve. But then the injuries hit. He’s always playing with a porous O-line or a bad defense or a missing starting wideout or RB. Now that everyone is healthy, it all should be clicking, but the coaching . . .

    I’m still mystified about the media response to Lynch “coming home” to the Raiders and expecting him to put them over the top, but at the same time giving Denver absolutely no love for now having Jamaal Charles. At this point in the season, I think Denver is the team that is far better for having added a former Pro Bowler.

  • Well done article. Only some minor nits:

    I think Rivers is a much better QB than Carr. In fact, Carr is the most overrated of the bunch. Meanwhile, Rivers is the most dangerous coming back from a deficit of all four. The game is never over until the final whistle with him. If he was playing behind the Raiders or Chiefs line he’d easily be at the top of the list and the turnovers would go way down too.

    I think your very last sentence is incorrect. I don’t think you meant to say the Chiefs are at the bottom of the totem pole for coaching improvement. I’m guessing you meant the Chargers. I would say that the Chiefs are actually most improved. Reid has abandoned his unwarranted conservatism, given his personnel, and become more creative and aggressive. He’s allowed Smith to become the QB he always was. Reid was always the one holding him back ala Dan Reeves and Elway. Beating the Patriots at Gillette was a master stroke. It’s a long season and Reid has a history of cratering at the end but right now he’s coaching the best ever in his career.