Leading up to the beginning of the season, a question asking which NFL division was the best would have been answered with a nearly unanimous response. For good reason, the AFC West earned its respect before a single game had been played this season. Now that the four franchises are through their first two games, more clarity has been provided on how each team stands. With that being said, let’s take a look at how the teams of this projected powerhouse division have performed through their first two games via classroom grades.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)
It’s hard to justify criticism when you open the season with two straight wins over top 2021 teams. However, not all wins are created equal. For instance, the hammer that the Chiefs dropped on the Arizona Cardinals certainly felt more powerful than any regular victory. The 44-21 win was never in doubt as quarterback Patrick Mahomes dealt five touchdown passes to put things out of reach. While one could hypothetically attribute the dominant victory to the Cardinals’ defensive woes more so than the Chiefs offensive excellence, it wouldn’t justify anything lower than an elite grade. Kansas City doubled-down on solid showings with a 27-24 victory over the Chargers on Amazon’s first edition of Thursday Night Football. Although the Chargers controlled the first half, the Chiefs ultimately got the job done and picked up a victory in arguably their most important game of the season. For now, an “A” belongs to Kansas City.
Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
The Chargers couldn’t afford a slow start to the season, with their first two games featuring divisional rivals. Good news for Los Angeles fans, it wasn’t a slow start. However, the bad news is it wasn’t a great start either. Rather, it’s been a step above average, as the Chargers split their first two contests. Brandon Staley’s crew was able to hold on to a narrow 24-19 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders before falling 27-24 to the Chiefs in the following week. It’s important to note that the Chargers were likely one bad play away from earning an even higher grade, as a 99-yard interception return demolished Los Angeles’ odds of pulling off an upset at Arrowhead. Of course, one play can’t be the sole scapegoat for a loss, but the Chargers looked to be on their way to a victory before catastrophe struck. Overall, that unpleasant finish in Kansas City knocks their grade down to a “B+” and below the Chiefs. The group looks to be close, but being close doesn’t put you at the top of your class.
Denver Broncos (1-1)
Similar to the Chargers, the Broncos have split their first two games. Unlike the Chargers, things looked more hideous for those wearing orange and blue. In an anticipated Monday Night Football matchup, Russell Wilson’s homecoming to Seattle, Denver fell flat on their face at multiple spots. Sports talk radio hosts could justifiably fill hours of radio time ranting about the Broncos’ play calling inside the red zone, turnovers, clock mismanagement, questionable field goals, etc. Even the most optimistic Broncos fans must feel some level of uneasiness after Nathaniel Hackett’s first pair of games as head coach, as similar questions drifted their way into Denver’s home opener against the Houston Texans. However, the Broncos did find a way to win a game. There may be no better explanation of the brewing situation at Mile High than a 16-9 victory over the Texans feeling like a sigh of relief. Not all wins are created equal, but they surely matter more than everything else. With that said, the Broncos picked up a victory, even if it wasn’t in pretty fashion. A loss to Houston could have put the Broncos at the bottom of the AFC West class, but a victory brings Hackett’s squad to a notch below mediocrity. A “C-” isn’t anything to brag about, but this could have easily been worse.
Las Vegas Raiders (0-2)
It’s hard to achieve a passing grade when you leave the first two weeks of the season winless. In the Raiders’ most recent game, their home opener, it looked like they had a victory sealed as they entered halftime with a 20-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals. There’s simply not many excuses for being held to a sole field goal in the second half by a team who was picked apart by your rival the week before. However, that was reality for Las Vegas as they were out scored 29-3 in the second half and overtime. The first half version of the Raiders looked like a team deserving of a much higher grade, but they were unable to finish the race. The other loss came against the Chargers in the form of a 24-19 defeat. While the game was certainly competitive, a commonality to the Arizona game was turnovers. Between three interceptions in Los Angeles and a game-ending fumble at home, turnovers have haunted Las Vegas. There may be no quicker way to drop a grade than turning the ball over. With that said, some cleaner, more consistent play could elevate that grade down the line.