Having introduced the series with the NFC West last week, it feels only fitting to introduce the AFC Conference via the West division too. This division features the new mega powers of football Kansas City Chiefs, the perennial chokers LA Chargers, 90s rap apparel brand Las Vegas Raiders and the highest team in the league, the Denver Broncos.
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Kansas City Chiefs
KC are the new kids on the block in terms of playing exciting, winning football. They are a powerhouse in the AFC and have made the Super Bowl in the last two seasons, winning two years ago but losing out to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this year. The Chiefs are like Man Utd in the late ’90s; perennial success, a boatload of talented players led by a prodigious QB and coached by the best coach in the league in most people’s eyes. If there were a treble to win in the NFL, then Kansas City would probably win it.
Star Man – Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes is an exceptional talent who is already being talked about as one of the best Quarterbacks to ever play the game, despite having only played in 3 full seasons. He really is a marvel and so much fun to watch. His skill and innovation are a sight to behold, and his vision and execution are sublime. He is as close to a Messi-type player you will get in the NFL. An utter genius and an international superstar who is changing the landscape of his position.
One to watch – Travis Kelce
The Tight End is a one-person wrecking ball that plays like a wide receiver in a wrestler’s body. His trademark move seems to always create separation from a defender to give him space to receive the ball. To a novice, it seems unfathomable he is constantly open, but he is just that good at what he does. Think Didier Drogba; Speed, power and on his day virtually impossible to mark. He is a player who always shows up in the big games.
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The Chargers are a real work in progress, but they have many pieces of the puzzle to succeed this year. They possess a young Quarterback who is coming off the back of a record-breaking season and a young coach coming off a similarly impressive period as defensive coordinator at city rivals LA Rams. Last season, they essentially did the equivalent of conceding an injury-time winner every week. The Chargers have the air of the 2004 Chelsea team. After a season playing under Claudio Ranieri, they were the nearly men plagued by tactical deficiencies. Then they hired a new coach, Jose Mourinho 1.0. A football obsessive, defensive tactical genius who built on previous successes to propel Chelsea to major trophies. If Brandon Staley is to be ‘the special one’, he has a good squad to work with to make it so.
Star Man – Justin Herbert
Herbert’s immediate impact is akin to how Micheal Owen or Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene so early in their career. As soon as he entered into the league, he was an instant success, causing defences all sorts of problems with his bullet arm and razor-sharp intelligence. He looks set to have a long and sustained career at the top if last season was anything to go by. However, I would imagine Herbert will hope for Rooney’s longevity over Owen’s injury-plagued 2000s.
One to watch – Joey Bosa
Joey Bosa is a turbocharged defender who causes Quarterbacks all sorts of issues as an edge rusher. He is probably closest to a John Terry type of character, a defensively superb enforcer who is relentless in the standards he sets and the quality performances he produces.
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Las Vegas Raiders
This will be the Raiders second season in their new home of Las Vegas. The whole Wimbledon / MK Dons type relocation happens more regularly in the NFL than the Premier League, so it is not uncommon for a team to swap cities. The team has yet to perform in front of its new fanbase due to the pandemic restricting crowds. However, with fans finally allowed into the stadium, they can belatedly settle into their new home. The Raiders tend to do things their own way and were a bit hard to watch last year. Their draft strategy, courtesy of General Manager Mike Mayock, is a bit off-piste and does not seem to be yielding many successes. Their Head Coach, Jon Gruden, is essentially the NFL’s Jose Mourinho 2.0, a man who was highly successful years ago and a bit of a maverick. But, since he has come back to the league, he seems out of place as the game has moved on without him. Another challenging year looks in the offing for the Silver and Black unless there are some significant improvements.
Star Man – Darren Waller
A decent comparison for the big Tight End would be Carlos Tevez. They each have excellent movement and are particularly great at finding space. They are both tough, powerful and great finishers. Furthermore, like Tevez, Waller possesses a bit of an edge, as well as star quality, that makes him one of the leagues best in his position,
One to Watch – Henry Ruggs
This wide receiver was a highly touted first-round draft pick last year who has failed to build on his promise and hype. He has all the physical attributes to be a star in the league, but in his rookie year, we only saw glimpses. The team is hoping that this will be his breakthrough season, as the Raiders will need him if they are to improve on offence. Ruggs is very much in the Nani mould, rapid, all the tricks in the book, but doesn’t always put it together, but when he does, he is explosive.
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The Broncos have a glaring problem, their Quarterback. Although, It does not appear that they think this situation is as bad as I do, passing on potential franchise quarterback Justin Fields during the 2021 draft. This Broncos squad is borderline ready to be competitive, with some outstanding players in attack and defence. However, they feel a bit lightweight in the match-winning position of Quarterbacks. They currently possess two players in the position who have always seemed to be deemed ‘not quite good enough’ by many, Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgwater. It’s essentially the equivalent of already having Ade Akimbiyi upfront and continually backing him publicly to win you games whilst bringing in Jozy Altidore for some much-needed competition. The Broncos historically prioritise strong defence, building their most recent Super Bowl victory on a Catenaccio like rearguard with a top-level leader to guide them over the line. In that sense, they are like AC Milan in 1994, who deployed the likes of Baresi, Costacurta, Tassotti, Maldini and Panucci. They were a high-class team built on the ultimate defence with players like Desailly marshalling them to a Seria A, Italian Cup and Champions League treble. Sadly, I am not so sure the Broncos will be so successful though.
Star Man – Von Miller
This legendary linebacker has been selected eight times for the Pro Bowl, the NFL equivalent of the league team of the year, and is very much cut from similar cloth to Patrick Viera, a true leader who is very good in all areas of the pitch. He is aggressive in the tackle, reads the game exceptionally well and is a serious difference-maker.
One to Watch – Kyle Fuller
Newly signed Fuller is a talented player looking to return to past glories under a familiar coach. It is not quite a Niko Kranjcar situation, but Fuller’s arrival to work with the defensive guru and former coach Vic Fangio feels very much like Harry Redknapp with his arm out the window, saying he is delighted to sign someone he knows he can bring the best out of because he is a ‘top top player’.
Three Key Terms You Should Know:
AFC and NFC Conference
In a nutshell, there was a merger of two separate leagues in the ’70s. The two leagues now form the two conferences but unite under the banner of the NFL. There are 16 teams in each conference split into four divisions. Each year, via the playoffs, an AFC and NFC conference winner emerges, and those two teams face off in the Super Bowl.
A Linebacker is a defensive player in the second line of defence after the big guys in the defensive line. They usually prowl and stalk, trying to determine what type of play the offence is likely to execute. Their role is to position themselves in the best possible spot to positively affect the play, whether that be tracking a running back on a rushing play or covering receivers or tight ends in the middle of the field on a passing play. The players who play this position are usually very fast, very tough, very athletic, and scary.
Players enter the NFL via a draft system where the 32 teams can select from a pool of college players that make themselves eligible during a particular year. If drafted, they enter their rookie (first) year in the NFL. Rookie players are on lower-paid contracts for the first four years, which is an essential factor in keeping the wage bill down.