The reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs aren't chasing the other teams in the AFC West: They're chasing Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and football immortality. Their seven consecutive division titles are tied for the second most in NFL history with the 1970's Los Angeles Rams (1973-79) and trail only the New England Patriots' record of 11 division titles in a row (2009-19) for the longest runs of divisional supremacy.
It's a streak that began with the final two years of Alex Smith's tenure as the Chiefs quarterback in 2016 and 2017, seasons he earned Pro Bowl selections in, and has continued into each year of Patrick Mahomes' reign as Kansas City's starting quarterback. A year ago at this point in the offseason, it appeared that each of their divisional rivals -- the Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Denver Broncos -- all may have had a case for why they could dethrone the Chiefs. Now, the Raiders have quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo's foot, and the Broncos are trying to revive Russell Wilson's career with new head coach Sean Payton after he put up career worsts in nearly every statistical category in 2022.
That leaves the Chargers as the lone, real contenders to square up against Andy Reid's and Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs for the division crown. Here's a look at how each of these two teams powered by two of the best passers in the game can win the AFC West.
Kansas City Chiefs
This entry could be two words: Patrick Mahomes. The 2022 NFL MVP and Super Bowl LVII MVP is inevitable. He led the league in passing yards (5,250) and passing touchdowns (41) while ranking second in passer rating (105.2) despite losing All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. The Chiefs led the NFL in scoring offense (29.2 points per game) and total offense (413.6 total yards per game) while Mahomes recorded his second-lowest pass yards per attempt of his career (8.1). He turned into an incredibly efficient short and intermediate passer, tying an NFL record with 28 passing touchdowns to running backs and tight ends, something done only one other time by Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle in 1963. Whatever his situation is, Mahomes will adapt and find a way to win.
The only hope anyone can have in knocking them off is if Mahomes puts one too many throws up for grabs in a few games, or injuries. Kansas City is rolling with a new offensive tackle combination of Donovan Smith, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jawaan Taylor, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It will be interesting to see how they acclimate to their new team, but knowing Reid and Mahomes, the transition will likely be fairly seamless. Defensively, it's a lot of faith in their young guys, but they started a number of rookies en route to a Super Bowl title a year ago. Probably not much to worry about for the defending champs
Los Angeles Chargers
Face-of-the-franchise quarterback Justin Herbert finally has a new offensive coordinator: it's former Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator ! He led productive offenses in Dallas as they boasted a top-five scoring offense in 2022 (27.5 points per game, the fourth-most in the NFL) and averaged 354.9 yards per game. The development of Dak Prescott, who broke the Cowboys single-season passing touchdown record in 2021 under Moore, was "at the center of Kellen's impact," according to Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy, who wanted to take the reigns back and call plays again.
Moore paired with Herbert, who has the most passing yards (14,089) through a player's first three seasons in NFL history and the second-most passing touchdowns (94) through a player's first three seasons in NFL history, will likely lead to many more fireworks at SoFi Stadium. Former offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's Chargers offense averaged an NFL-low 6.34 air yards per pass attempt last season, woefully underutilizing one of Herbert's biggest strengths. Dak Prescott averaged 8.41 air yards per pass attempt over his four seasons with Moore as his OC, the ninth-most in the NFL in that span. Herbert should see a similar uptick in that department, only strengthening Los Angeles' aerial attack.
The Chargers ranked 13th in scoring offense (23.0 points per game) in 2022 despite having Herbert, running back Austin Ekeler -- the NFL's scrimmage touchdowns leader in each of the last two seasons -- and an outstanding wide receiver duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. That duo has since become a trio with 2023 first-round pick Quentin Johnston (21st overall) out of TCU now onboard. In Moore's four seasons (2019-2022) calling plays for the Cowboys, Dallas ranked second in scoring offense (27.7 points per game) and total offense (391.0 total yards per game) behind only the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs (28.8 points per game and 401.5 total yards per game). Better use of Herbert's and his playmakers' talents should have Los Angeles' offense playing much more prolific football.
If the Chargers can keep their offensive line and defensive stars -- like four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa and three-time Pro Bowl safety Derwin James -- healthy, a huge IF given their injury woes the last couple of seasons, they'll have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Mahomes and the Chiefs.