The AFC West has become one of the most intriguing divisions in football. Four weeks into the season, the Kansas City Chiefs were undefeated and the Los Angeles Chargers were winless, with the Oakland Raiders splitting the difference at 2-2.
Now, everything is changed. The Chiefs have lost six of their last seven games, including four straight, while the Chargers have put together two three-game win streaks since Week 5. The Raiders have been hot and cold, yet wins against the Denver Broncos and New York Giants the last two weeks have helped them gain a share of the three-way tie in the division at 6-6.
But make no mistake, this is the Chargers division to lose.
Coach Anthony Lynn and Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have their offense peaking at the right time. They have seen their team produce more than 400 yards of offense in each of the last three weeks and, overall, are only being forced to go three-and-out 28 percent of the time; only three teams, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers, have been better in this regard in 2017.
By sustaining drives, quarterback Philip Rivers and receiver Keenan Allen can continue to punish opposing secondaries — the duo has combined for 33 completions, 436 yards and four touchdowns over the past three games, with Allen becoming the first player in NFL history to record at least 10 receptions, 100 receiving yards and one touchdown in three consecutive games. Rivers has been no slouch with the rest of his receiving corps, either, completing 72 percent of his passes for 1,029 yards and six touchdowns without an interception over the past three weeks. According to Elias, Rivers’s 120.5 passer rating over this span is the highest for a three-game stretch since the 2014 season.
Defensively, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are creating havoc on a weekly basis. According to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Bosa and Ingram rank 6th and 8th, respectively, among 59 qualified edge rushers this season, combining for 123 total sacks, hits and hurries in 2017.
Sacksonville’s Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are the league’s second-best duo with 107 total pressures.
The well-balanced effort makes Los Angeles 2.8 points per game better than an average team after adjusting for strength of schedule, the fifth-best adjusted margin in the conference this season. The Chargers also have an easier remaining schedule than either the Chiefs or Raiders.
According to the same win probabilities that fuel our weekly power rankings, Los Angeles figures to be favorites in each of its remaining four games, which feature, in order, the Washington Redskins at home, the Chiefs and New York Jets on the road and the season finale against the Raiders at StubHub Center.
The Raiders are favored in just two of their next four games, per our rankings, Weeks 14 and Week 15 against the Chiefs (64 percent win probability) and Dallas Cowboys (65 percent). They will face the Philadelphia Eagles (44 percent) and Chargers (45 percent) over the final two weeks of the season. The Chiefs are favored in just one game for the rest of the regular season: their Week 16 matchup against the Miami Dolphins (52 percent).
Based on that, here is how the AFC West should look by the end of the regular season, keeping in mind teams with six wins through 12 games average 8.1 wins by the end of the year.
|AFC West||Projected wins in 2017|
|Los Angeles Chargers||8.4|
|Kansas City Chiefs||7.7|
As you can see, it is no slam dunk the Chargers will hold on to their first share of the divisional lead since Week 6 of the 2014 season, but based on the way they are playing, in addition to a weaker schedule in front of them, they have everything they need to win the division for the first time since 2009.
Read more on the NFL: