All eyes will be on the AFC West this season.
The division is widely regarded as one of the best in the league, as each team made major moves to revamp their rosters this offseason.
With training camp looming — the Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos get going this week, while the Raiders have already started — let's take a look around the division for a quick preview.
Chargers.com reached out to internal media reporters Matt McMullen (Chiefs), Aric DiLalla (Broncos) and Levi Edwards (Raiders) to get a sense of where each team is at in late July.
Let's (obviously) start with the quarterbacks. What's the big storyline around your QB as camp opens?
Matt: There are several new faces in Kansas City heading into 2022, but there's a familiar one at the most important position in all of sports in quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The 2018 NFL MVP has never finished shy of the AFC Championship Game in his career, but if he wants to make another run at the Super Bowl this upcoming season, he'll need to continue developing a rapport with his new-look wide receiver corps. That group includes Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and rookie Skyy Moore. There's plenty of reason to believe he'll be able to do that, and offseason practices were very encouraging, but that will be the major storyline heading into Mahomes' fifth year as Kansas City's starting quarterback.
Aric: How quickly can Russell Wilson get the offense rolling? Wilson is a massive upgrade from any player the Broncos have had at the quarterback position since Peyton Manning retired, but he still faces a tough task ahead of the season. For the Broncos to return to contention, he has to help an offense that's full of talent realize its potential — and quickly. With a tough end-of-season schedule, the Broncos have to get off to a quick start, and that means the offense has to jell. Wilson's play is obviously the most important factor, and Broncos fans will be watching closely to see if he can return to his previous heights.
Levi: The biggest storyline revolving around Derek Carr is what he accomplishes with his new wide receiver Davante Adams. The two are good friends off the field and have established chemistry together from their time at Fresno State. Adams has become one of, if not the, best wide receiver in the NFL since he last played with Carr, so it will be interesting to see how much they can elevate each other's game this season.
Which camp battle are you looking forward to following?
Matt: The Chiefs added a bunch of young players through the draft this year with 10 selections, and there's a real chance several of them could contribute early in the season. Specifically, I'm interested to see if safety (and second-round pick) Bryan Cook can earn the third safety spot in Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's secondary previously occupied by Daniel Sorensen. The Chiefs play a ton of three safety looks, and Cook fits the mold of a guy who could thrive there. He'll need to earn that role though, and the Chiefs feature some other players – including veteran Deon Bush – who could fill that void. In that same vein, I'm curious if third-round pick Leo Chenal can emerge as the Chiefs' third linebacker. Nick Bolton and Willie Gay are firmly entrenched as Kansas City's top two linebackers, but Chenal has the classic skillset of a "SAM" linebacker and a situational blitzer. He'll need to beat out veterans Elijah Lee and Jermaine Carter among others.
Aric: The Broncos don't have too many starting spots up for grabs, save for at right tackle and alongside of the interior of the offensive line. The more compelling battle, though, will be between Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III at running back. I'd be surprised if Williams doesn't end up as the starter, but the coaching staff has given no public indication of which player will be the No. 1 back. Even if Williams does earn the job, there's the question of how much run Gordon will get. The Broncos could split carries 50-50 like they did last season — both Williams and Gordon had exactly 203 carries in 2021 — or use Williams as the primary back.
Levi: The competition for the backup quarterback job will be interesting. While Derek Carr has solidified the starting role, he has two capable competitors behind him in Nick Mullens and Jarrett Stidham. Mullens comes with a great deal of experience already in the league, while Stidham is familiar with Josh McDaniels' scheme after two seasons in New England. UDFA Chase Garbers is also in the mix and will look to prove himself through training camp.
Who is a rookie to watch on your squad?
Matt: The Chiefs made two picks in the first round, each of whom will likely play a big role this season, but I'll focus specifically on defensive end George Karlaftis. The pass-rush was an area in which the Chiefs sought to improve heading into this season, and Karlaftis was the biggest investment in that area. There's a lot of young talent at the second and third levels of the defense that I think will impress this season, but it all starts with the pass-rush, and Karlaftis' ability to get after the quarterback will have ripple effects throughout the rest of the defense. For what it's worth, he had a really strong offseason workout program, and he has a great opportunity to be the other starting defensive end (opposite Frank Clark) with a solid camp.
Aric: Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto was the team's top pick, but third-round tight end Greg Dulcich has the better chance to make an instant impact. Dulcich caught 10 touchdowns at UCLA over the last two seasons, and his athleticism and catch ability could make him an underrated addition to Denver's offense. During the offseason program, Dulcich saw some reps with the first-team offense before he was held out of the final two weeks with a minor injury. It's worth noting that he has spectacular hair, too.
Levi: The most high-profile rookie the Raiders drafted is Zamir White. White joins a deep running back room after being an integral part of a Georgia Bulldogs team that won a National Championship last season. In the limited amount I've seen of White in the first week of camp, he's a physical specimen with a nice burst to him. Will be exciting to see how he does in the preseason.
It's July, but give me a reason your team will make the playoffs in 2022.
Matt: The answer to this one is simple: there's no better duo in the NFL than Head Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Since Mahomes became the team's starter in 2018, the Chiefs have the most regular-season (50) and postseason (8) wins of any team in the league. Kansas City has won the AFC West six consecutive years and has made the playoffs in each of the last seven years. There has been plenty of change in Kansas City this offseason, but as long as Reid and Mahomes remain in place, the Chiefs will consistently be a postseason contender.
Aric: Russ. It's that simple in Denver. There's been a notion for several years that the Broncos' roster was good enough to compete, but they didn't have the quarterback to make things happen. That excuse is gone now, and the Broncos should be in every game with Wilson under center. The AFC West is obviously brutal, but if Denver can find a way to split its divisional games, the rest of the schedule is manageable. There are some potential wins on the schedule in the opening months, and the Broncos' toughest stretch comes at the end of the year when the offense should be finding its stride.
Levi: Honestly, the team has no set expectations and is just looking to get better every day. The Raiders have a lot of talent on their roster and have done a great job of staying even keeled and letting things organically fall in place. If they continue to do that throughout the season, sky is the limit for them.
Finally, what's a game you already have circled on the schedule?
Matt: I've been around the Chiefs long enough to know that they truly don't look past the next game, but if you're asking me personally, it has to be the game against Cincinnati in Week 13. The Chiefs only lost to one team following Week 7 of last season: the Bengals, twice. The first loss prevented Kansas City from capturing the top overall seed in the AFC, and while that ultimately didn't matter, the second defeat prevented the Chiefs from winning a third-straight AFC title. Kansas City held double-digit leads in both of those games only for Cincinnati to come back and tally victories each time. Again, I'm certain the locker room isn't thinking about anything but Week 1 against Arizona, but if you ask the fanbase, that Cincinnati game is circled in red pen.
Aric: No disrespect to what will surely be a couple of entertaining games against the Chargers, but it has to be a Week 14 "Sunday Night Football" matchup with the Chiefs. Until the Broncos knock off Kansas City — Denver has now lost 13 consecutive games to the Chiefs — that will be the benchmark game. If all goes to plan, both teams should be in the thick of the playoff race and competing for a division title. At home in prime time, the Broncos should have a great chance to knock off their rival and snap the streak.
Levi: Week 1, SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles Chargers. The season finale between the two teams was one of the most intense NFL games in recent memory with what was at stake. Both teams have vastly changed their rosters from last season, so it could be an exciting opening matchup with no love lost between the two AFC West foes.