How Strength of Schedule will Affect the AFC West

AFC West

The scheduling structure of the NFL is a meticulously thought out process to ensure the best teams from each division, including the AFC West, are sent to the playoffs each year. Each team has 14 games with shared opponents, and the last three games are decided by placement in the division the previous year.

If your team finishes last in their division the following year, their schedule will be filled out with other teams that finished last. The goal is to create as many close matchups as possible while at the same time giving bad teams a slight advantage akin to the draft order.

What impact will this have on what is debatably the best division in football, the AFC West? To start the division’s landscape last year was interesting, to say the least.

Three AFC West games separated first and third, and the Raiders and Chargers looked like they might tie in the season’s finale and send themselves along with the division-winning Chiefs to the playoffs. However, Las Vegas’ walk-off field goal was a message to division foe and spectator alike: “In this division, every game counts.”

(7-10) Denver Broncos: NYJ, BAL, CAR

The Broncos finished last in the division last year, not surprising since they had Drew Lock as their starter, the same man who will be playing behind Geno Smith.

With Denver’s improvements at the QB position, expect them to bring more offensive heat and a top defense. With a new head coach, the Broncos are on everybody’s radar. Only time will tell if they will step up to the plate.

The Jets and Panthers look to be easier games on Denver’s AFC West schedule this year. Though both teams have made slight improvements over the offseason, I still think both should be easy work for this Denver squad.

Baltimore got last in the division off tiebreakers with Cleveland last year, much to my shock, and I believe the Ravens have a good shot at causing the Broncos some problems.

My prediction: (2-1) L to Baltimore.

(9-8) L.A Chargers: CLE, ATL, MIA

Don’t let last year’s 9-8 record fool you. This AFC West team was 2 seconds away from being in the playoffs. The additions to the defense, like Khalil Mack and J.C Jackson, help cover up some weak spots last year’s squad encountered.

Justin Herbert has proven himself to be the real deal, and expect him only to get better.

I think the Browns and Falcons will be easy for L.A., Especially once you consider they get Cleveland Week 5 long before Watson takes the field.

The Dolphins look to be a tougher squad this season, adding Tyreek Hill, but I’m not sold on Tua and believe that the Chargers have what it takes to beat Miami. The Chargers are the real winners when it comes to scheduling pulling teams that aren’t on the same level as them.

My Prediction (3-0)

(10-7) Las Vegas Raiders: NO, NE, PIT

Vegas loved to win close games last year, with 8 of their 10 wins being one-possession games. The Raiders went out and got some big names to help them win more convincingly. Davante Adams reunites with Derek Carr as they try to recreate the magic they had at Fresno State. Chandler Jones will help the defense as an upgraded pass rusher.

The Patriots and Steelers aren’t the teams fans are used to when seeing those logos. Mac Jones though dependable, is nothing special, at least for the moment, it seems, and the Steelers just announced that Mitchell Trubisky will be their starter.

Both AFC West teams are in rebuilds which will benefit Vegas. However, New Orleans still is poised to be a competitive team. Jameis Winston isn’t the 30/30. This is the Jameis Winston Tampa Bay thought they were drafting. Last year before the injury, Winston was putting up great stats.

With what’s expected to be a top 3 defense and Alvin Kamara running the ball, Vegas will have their hands full.

My Prediction: (2-1) L to New Orleans

(12-5) Kansas City Chiefs: TB, BUF, CIN

The Kansas City Chiefs is the only AFC West team to take a step back from last year. But hey, that’s just the nature of it when you lose a Tyreek Hill, Tyrann Mathieu, or both.

The Chiefs did go out and try and find some patches, and JuJu Smith-Schuster and Justin Reid will do fine. They found replacements across the board but don’t expect them to be the same dominant team that fans have been used to in the past couple of years.

Kansas City truly is the real loser when it comes to scheduling. The Buccaneers, Bills, and Bengals could all serve as a real threat to the Chiefs, with all three teams looking to be playoff contenders.

The combination of the Chiefs taking steps back and the Bills and Bengals improving could spell difficulties for Kansas City, which could end up hurting them in a division where every game counts.

My Prediction: (1-2) Ls to BUF and CIN

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