Thursday, September 7, 2023

2023 NFL Predictions: AFC West

Before the start of the season, I will post my division-by-division predictions for the 2023 NFL regular season and postseason.

Instead of projecting an outright winner and loser in all 272 regular-season games, I've assigned a win probability to each team in every game and totaled them up.

Check out our 2023 NFL Predictions page for other divisions.

With that said, here are our early AFC West projections for each team including their win total.

1. Kansas City Chiefs - Projected Wins: 10.7

The Chiefs are the defending champs! They have the league's best quarterback and reigning NFL MVP, and one of the best coaches of all time.

Two big challenges could be the absence of Travis Kelce and/or Chris Jones. Kelce has seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons heading into his age-34 season. While he's been incredibly durable, the offense centers around Kelce and he's currently dealing with a hyper-extended knee. It's possible that only causes him to miss one game, if any, but his status is a reminder of how much his absence could impact the offense.

JuJu Smith-Schuster departed in free agency, and the team is likely to rely on Skyy Moore to lead the receiving corps in receiving and he posted a 22/250/0 line as a second-round rookie last year. The Chiefs also have one of the league's best offensive lines — an elite interior line returns and will be joined by newcomers Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor to play tackle.

Meanwhile, Jones was a 2022 AP First-Team All-Pro selection and had a dominant season with 15.5 sacks, the second time of his career with exactly 15.5 sacks). Per PFF, he led all interior defenders with 77 total pressures last season, and the next closest was Dexter Lawrence (63). The Chiefs will have a mediocre defense for as long as Jones continues his holdout.

MORE: Kansas City Chiefs 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

2. Los Angeles Chargers - Projected Wins: 8.96

The Chargers won 10 games in 2022, but only one of those wins came against an opponent that finished with a winning record (Miami), who is also their Week 1 opponent.

The offense will be one of the best in the league. Through the first 49 games of a career, only Patrick Mahomes (15,092) has thrown for more yards than Justin Herbert (14,089), per Stathead. Through his first three seasons, he has posted a 94-to-35 TD-to-INT ratio. With Kellen Moore taking over the offense, however, we should see a version of Herbert that pushes the ball down the field more often. If the receiving corps stays healthy, the Chargers have a talented group of pass catchers with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, Quentin Johnston, etc. Meanwhile, Jamaree Salyer played well last year at left tackle, but the offensive will be much better with a healthy Rashawn Slater back from injury.

The Chargers ranked middle of the pack in sacks (40) and interceptions (14) in 2022, while starters Joey Bosa and J.C. Jackson both missed 12 games last season. In addition, safety Derwin James missed three games. The defense allowed a league-worst 5.4 yards per carry, but season-ending injuries to Austin Johnson and Otito Ogbonnia contributed to that disappointing result. If the Chargers get better health from their stars on defense, 2023 should look much different than 2022 did.

MORE: Los Angeles Chargers 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

3. Denver Broncos - Projected Wins: 7.63

Bringing in Sean Payton should lead to an overall improvement in efficiency and production for Russell Wilson and the offense in general. The team invested heavily in the offensive line this offseason, giving massive contracts to Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers. Unfortunately, Tim Patrick is out for the season (again!), and Jerry Jeudy is currently dealing with a hamstring injury.

When at full strength, however, Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and second-rounder Marvin Mims provide Wilson with a talented trio.

Per Football Outsiders, the Broncos had the most Adjusted Games Lost to injuries in 2022. Despite that, the Broncos ranked sixth in the NFL in 2022 in yards allowed per play (5.04). They earned the second-best coverage grade, per PFF, and Denver has one of the league's best young cornerbacks (Patrick Surtain II) and safeties (Justin Simmons).

MORE: Denver Broncos 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

4. Las Vegas Raiders - Projected Wins: 7.03

Replacing Derek Carr with Jimmy Garoppolo is not an upgrade, and he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. Davante Adams, who turns 31 in December, is coming off one of his best seasons (100/1,516/14), and he now has double-digit touchdowns in six of the past seven seasons. Contract differences aside, Josh Jacobs is back with the Raiders after last season's rushing title.

Maxx Crosby led all edge defenders in snaps played (1,082) in 2022, and he is one of the league's most underrated talents. Crosby is one of only two edge defenders to post an 80-plus grade as a pass rusher and run defender in 2022, according to PFF. The addition of first-rounder Tyree Wilson will give a boost to the team's pass rush, but they have one of the league's worst secondaries and have to play four games against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Meanwhile, no team recorded fewer takeaways than the Raiders (13) in 2022.

On a positive note, nine of the 11 games the Raiders lost last season were one-score games.

MORE: Las Vegas Raiders 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

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