ESPN Experts Split Between Chiefs & One Challenger for AFC West Crown

Travis Kelce

Getty When Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs take the field in Week 1, will they still be the favorites to win the AFC West?

The arms race in the AFC West was no joke over the 2022 offseason. Davante Adams, Russell Wilson, J.C. Jackson, Chandler Jones, Khalil Mack and many other NFL pros joined the division with one common goal in mind — dethroning the Kansas City Chiefs.

When general manager Brett Veach chose to move on from wide receiver Tyreek Hill, this seemed possible for a brief moment, but then the Chiefs rebounded with value signings in free agency and a top-graded draft class.

Now it’s hard to argue that Kansas City isn’t still the favorite to win the west behind Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, but one division rival is getting a whole lot of attention from the NFL media.

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Analyst Calls Chargers Super Bowl Contender

During a May 17 edition of ESPN’s “Get Up,” a panel of experts including insider Jeremy Fowler, ex-NFL linebacker Rob Ninkovich, ex-NFL safety Ryan Clark and sports anchor Ryan Smith debated who will win the AFC West in 2022. In the end, the four analysts came to a split decision between the Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.

“It’s coming, it’s [the Chargers’] year,” began Fowler. “They got a top-six quarterback, I don’t trust [the] Denver [Broncos] yet — even though they have the acquisition of Russell Wilson, he’s got something to prove — the Kansas City Chiefs are a little flawed even though I just pumped them up, and then the [Las Vegas] Raiders haven’t won the division since like boy-bands were popular back in the early 2000s so the stage is set for the Chargers. They’ve got the best offensive personnel in the division and the defense just loaded up with free agents and draft picks, they’re going to be a lot better.”

Clark agreed with the ESPN insider’s assessment.

“I’m going with the Los Angeles Chargers,” he voiced. “I talked to [head coach] Brandon Staley at the LSU pro day this year and for 30 minutes he talked to me about the way they needed to improve their defense because they understood who Justin Herbert was on offense. And he asked me a simple question: If you can build an offense around a great talent at quarterback, why can’t you build a defense around a great talent at safety like Derwin James? That’s what J.C. Jackson was about, that’s what Khalil Mack was about, that’s what the draft picks on defense [were] about.”

Clark concluded: “This was a team that could move the football on anybody and understood they could have an MVP-level quarterback in his third season, but what you now have is a defense that can get stops, get stops in crucial moments, turn the football over, and create short fields for this offense. I think the Los Angeles Chargers are going to be a team that [has] an opportunity to challenge the Buffalo Bills to win the entire AFC.”

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Chiefs Name Still Holds Weight

Clark talking about the AFC championship game and not mentioning the Chiefs is somewhat disrespectful, considering Kansas City has played in it in four straight seasons. Going one step further, people forget that Mahomes has never missed an AFC title game since taking over as the Week 1 starter for the franchise.

Ninkovich was very aware of that and he stuck with KC in 2022.

“I’m not betting against the Chiefs,” the linebacker replied. “You got Patrick Mahomes, you got Andy Reid, they have a track record, their offense is always explosive.” Don’t forget Travis Kelce, Nink.

Smith called himself a Chiefs “believer” as well, touting Mahomes and Reid as the two reasons he’s backing Kansas City. “As long as they have those two elements, they’ve got to be considered a favorite,” he added.

Continuing: “I know everybody else has been on the come-up, I know that all these other teams are looking really strong, but this team gets it done every single year — they just seem to find a way. They’re in such sync as coach and quarterback that I just think you still [have] to consider them the team to beat.”

As true as Smith’s answer might be, it raises a concern. With all the moving parts of the offseason, will Kansas City play with that sync and chemistry? — as they normally do.

Veterans like Kelce and Chris Jones will be key in this regard. Leaders that can show younger talents how this offense and this defense work. Long-time coordinators like Eric Bieniemy and Steve Spagnuolo, as well as Matt Nagy, will also be crucial in getting this new roster prepared for Week 1.

An influx of talent can add singular victories in the NFL, but coaching and teamwork generally win championships.


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