Tough division with a talented group of QBs

Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson warms up before a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Aug. 20, 2022 AP Photo/Joshua Bessex

By Arnie Stapleton

DENVER (AP) — The AFC West no longer looks like a no-brainer for the Kansas City Chiefs since Tyreek Hill sped past defenders in Miami.

Not only the bosses Patrick Mahome’s top receiver to the Dolphins for a handful of draft picks, but their rivals all made big moves in hopes of ending Kansas City’s division dominance.

– That Charger invested more than $70 million in defensive free agents as they surround QB Justin Herbert with a better roster. They acquired LB Khalil Mack and ex-Patriots CB JC Jackson, who had an NFL-high 25 interceptions over the past four seasons. They also made Derwin James the highest-paid safety in the league on a four-year, $76.5 million contract.

– That robber hired Josh McDaniels as coach to replace interim Rich Bisaccia, who helped lead them to the playoffs for the second time in 19 years. They also acquired Star DE Chandler Jones and traded for Star WR Davante Adams, who left Aaron Rodgers to rekindle his college connection with his Fresno State teammate, Derek Carr.

– That Broncos changed head coaches, starting quarterbacks and even owners. Rob Walton paid a worldwide sports record $4.65 billion for the franchise and sophomore GM George Paton replaced Vic Fangio with rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett before making five picks and three players for Russell Wilson, their sixth opening day starter in six years, traded to Seattle.

With the Broncos finally sorting out their quarterback problems, the AFC West now has perhaps the best group of QBs of any division in the league.

“There’s a lot to love in this division,” said veteran sportscaster Joe Buck. “It’s the best division by far with the best quarterback game by far.”

It should also get more competitive in 2022 as the Chargers, Broncos and Raiders look to end Kansas City’s six-year reign at the top of the division.

The Broncos haven’t won the West since 2015. The last time the Chargers won was in 2009, and the Raiders’ last crown came way back in 2002.


The Chiefs can’t replace Hill’s explosive speed, but they’ve provided Mahomes with plenty of new playmakers to complement TE Travis Kelce. They signed JuJu Smith-Schuster from Pittsburgh and Marquez Valdes-Scantling from Green Bay and used a second-round pick against West Michigan’s Skyy Moore.

Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes warms up before the preseason game against the Washington Commanders, Aug. 20, 2022 AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

“We’re going to be different,” Mahomes said, “but I think we’re still going to be able to go out there and have a lot of success.”

Maybe, but it won’t be easy for the Chiefs to host a fifth straight AFC championship game. Aside from playing in football’s toughest league, where all four teams have legitimate playoff ambitions, the Chiefs also face the AFC South and NFC West alongside the Bills, Buccaneers and Bengals.


No one had more passing yards, completions and TD throws than Herbert in his first two years in the NFL, and he could make a big leap in performance this season now that he’s more comfortable on the Chargers offense.

Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert (10) during a combined NFL practice session with the Dallas Cowboys August 18, 2022. AP Photo/Ashley Landis

“It’s just a lot looser than usual. It’s just a lot more comfortable. When you come in freshman year you’re a little shy and don’t want to talk much,” said wide receiver Mike Williams. “But now he’s taken control and been himself.”

The Chargers’ significant defensive upgrades can only help Herbert’s growing confidence.

“I’m really looking forward to this team. I think we’re miles ahead of where we were at this point last year,” said Herbert, who threw for a franchise-record 5,014 yards and had nine 300-yard passing plays last season.


Wilson is the Broncos’ 11th quarterback since Peyton Manning retired, and the new transplant has seen plenty of fellowship with the Hall of Famer, who still lives in Denver and was a frequent visitor to training camp.

“We talked a lot,” Wilson said. “Ever since I’ve been here, he’s taken me under his wing in a wonderful way. (Peyton’s wife) Ashley (Manning) has taken ‘Ci’ (Ciara) under her wing helping with thought, schools, this, that and where to eat.

“What Peyton and I both love is football. We can watch football together all day,” Wilson added. “It’s fun to be with arguably the greatest player in the world to have ever played in this position.”

And one who went through what Wilson is about to experience.


McDaniels is getting his second chance as head coach in the same division he flared up in less than two seasons with the Broncos more than a decade ago.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot,” said McDaniels. “I feel like it’s slowed down for sure for me.”

Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr (4) after an NFL preseason game against the New England Patriots August 26, 2022 AP Photo/John Locher

McDaniels is a notoriously creative play-caller, leading an offense that includes an established QB and one of the game’s best passing trios. Adams has averaged 108 catches since 2018, TE Darren Waller is one of the best at his position and slot WR Hunter Renfrow had 103 receptions for 1,038 yards last season.


Estimated Finishing Order: Chargers, Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders.


AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow and AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta and Joe Reedy contributed to this story.

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