Ranking the AFC West by Unit: Where do the Broncos stack up?

[get_snippet] [theme-my-login show_title=0]

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.


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.


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.


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.

Not subscribed yet? Click below to for full access: