Chiefs destined to reign in the AFC West for the foreseeable future



December 5, 2019 - 9:42 AM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A national TV network isolated Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium, “flexing” it to late afternoon to showcase its first-place-on-the-line stature. They brought in their top broadcasting crew. They ran teaser commercials throughout the week, billing it a must-watch game.

Over 2 hours and 48 minutes, the Chiefs delivered a resounding message of another kind. They’re not only well on their way to another AFC West crown after a 40-9 blowout against the Raiders, but they provided evidence that the gap within the division has few, if any, signs of narrowing.

The Chiefs can clinch the division title and accompanying playoff berth as early as this weekend (with a win and Oakland loss), placing their reign atop the West on the verge of becoming four years.

And it could last awhile longer.

“I know where they are as a football team,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said after the game. “We have work to do, and we are going to continue to try to catch the Chiefs.”

It’s a recognizable, undeniable chase. The Chiefs are 25-3 against AFC West opponents since 2015, an in-division winning percentage that would make even New England envious. That past success is well-documented.

But consider the future. Is there any reason to believe the Chiefs’ ownership of the West is anywhere close to extinction?

Their high-end talent remains youthful, particularly 24-year-old quarterback Patrick Mahomes. At the most important position in sports, the remaining three teams in the division are, well, trying to figure it out.

The Raiders have greatly improved in 2019, but quarterback Derek Carr still fell to 2-10 all-time against the Chiefs, and he’s never won a game inside Arrowhead Stadium. His passer rating there has never even reached 80 in any of Oakland’s six games there during his tenure. (For comparison, Mahomes has already won twice in Oakland.)

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has shown signs of regression in his age-38 season, particularly in recent weeks. He has eight interceptions in the past three games and is posting his worst season-long rating since 2007, his second year as a starter. There is no apparent successor ready in L.A., either.

The Broncos have turned to rookie Drew Lock, a Lee’s Summit native and Missouri product. And maybe in time he will prove to be the answer for Denver. Nevertheless, it remains to be determined, and they’re on their third quarterback this season.

Put it all together, and it leaves the Chiefs in the proverbial driver’s seat, potentially for years to come. Things can change, of course. Injuries happen. Game-changers happen. Nothing says the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers can’t hit it big on a draft prospect.

But those are the “what if” scenarios. The reality is the Chiefs are best positioned of these four teams for the long-term future. Maybe with two slight exceptions.

The Broncos, Chargers and Raiders have younger rosters than the Chiefs do, though the average age difference is less than a year. All four teams rank in the youngest half of the league.

Among the four, the Chiefs have the least projected cap space next season, according to Spotrac, and they have contracts for impact players inching closer to expiration, though that’s at least partially a product of talented players costing money.

But their current superiority isn’t dependent on one player, or even one phase of the game. They have the quarterback. They have the potent offense. And yet they also rank 14th in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA, which trails only Denver’s 12th-place ranking among AFC West teams. Kansas City is also seventh in special teams DVOA, while the remaining three rank among the bottom 10 in the league.