As any casual fan of the National Football League knows, there are eight divisions. In both conferences, the North, South, East, and West are represented by four teams each. Every division has a guaranteed playoff berth, but not all divisions are created equal. Of all eight divisions, it’s becoming clear that the AFC West is the best of the best.
The AFC West Is the Best
Before breaking down why the AFC West is the best, it’s worth noting that the NFC East is pretty good too. There isn’t a bad team in the division. Depending how the next few weeks play out, it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see any of the four teams win the division. The Dallas Cowboys are currently leading, but with the upcoming quarterback controversy, that could be troublesome.
The Oakland Raiders
Currently, the Oakland Raiders are first in the division, but that might not last long. Oakland has some issues that need to be fixed, and in this division, the drop from first to worst isn’t that large. However, there’s a lot that this team does well. Derek Carr is the best young quarterback in the NFL, he plays behind arguably the best offensive line in football, and the duo of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper is a nightmare for defenses.
Their defense may be terrible, but their offense is equally impressive. When healthy, this offense is one of the best in the league. The returns of Mario Edwards and Aldon Smith could help clean up this defense, making the Raiders one of the more dangerous young teams in all of football.
The Denver Broncos
What is the ultimate goal in professional football? To win the Super Bowl. Who won the Super Bowl last season? The Denver Broncos. Denver’s crushing defense has suffered from a couple of off-season losses and injuries, but they’ve remained elite. They lead the NFL in sacks with 21, and Von Miller has to be the early favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. They’ve dropped two in a row, but the defending Super Bowl champions are still very, very dangerous.
The Kansas City Chiefs
Many people were eager to bury the Kansas City Chiefs after they started 2-2 and were absolutely destroyed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. But they took their bye week, came back, and embarrassed the division-leading Oakland Raiders in a 26-10 win that saw Andy Reid‘s defense shut down Oakland’s offense.
Alex Smith may not be the sexiest option at quarterback, but there’s no question he is good for the team. He can get the ball to Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, and they have no shortage of talented rushers. Jamaal Charles may be nearing the end of his career, but the likes of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware seem to be filling his shoes nicely.
The defense has struggled to pressure the quarterback so far, but that should change as Tamba Hali gets healthy and Justin Houston returns from injury. Even though they have struggled to hit the quarterback, that’s not to say the defense is bad.
Kansas City’s nine interceptions are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the most in the league, and while that’s mostly because Ryan Fitzpatrick had a historically bad game against them, there’s no question that their opportunistic secondary isn’t afraid to go after errant passes. Eric Berry is one of the best safeties in football, and Marcus Peters‘ five interceptions are the most in the league.
The San Diego Chargers
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same is true for divisions. The reason that the AFC West is the best division in football is that even at 2-4, the San Diego Chargers have to be considered a threat to any team on any given Sunday. In the entire league, only the red-hot Atlanta Falcons have scored more points than Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense. In fact, the only thing separating the San Diego from an undefeated record is a series of unfortunate events.
The Chargers blew a 21 point lead against the Chiefs, fumbled twice late in their game against the Indianapolis Colts, fumbled twice again late against the New Orleans Saints, and botched a field goal snap late against the Raiders. Their two wins came as they upset the Broncos on Thursday Night Football and blew out the Jacksonville Jaguars. Frankly, the only team that has beaten the San Diego Chargers has been the San Diego Chargers.
Considering how close every game has been, the Chargers could beat any team on any given Sunday. Hypothetically, this is true for all thirty-two NFL teams, but with San Diego, it’s true. Rivers has been carrying this offense, and Joey Bosa is a growing force on defense.
With the AFC being as week as it is, it’s completely possible that the west sends three teams to the playoffs. In all honesty, the only way they don’t send three teams to the playoffs is if they all beat each other. As the cream rises to the top, don’t be surprised if the AFC West Champion doesn’t get a first round bye.