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AFC West preview: Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs will be tough to topple

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes during an NFL football training camp.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes guided the team to its first Super Bowl victory in 50 years last season.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
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A team-by-team breakdown of the AFC West along with the predicted order of finish for the 2020 season.

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1. Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

2019 | 12-4, 1st in West

Last year in playoffs | 2019

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WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

The Chiefs got off to a slow start, losing three of their first four home games. They would rally back and assemble a season for the ages. They went 12-4, had comeback victories over Houston and Tennessee in the playoffs and toppled San Francisco for their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Patrick Mahomes. He’s been an NFL MVP, a Super Bowl champion, has a record-breaking contract extension and is the face of the league. The Chiefs have done a good job of keeping their roster largely intact, and paying their quarterback. This is the team to beat.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Clyde Edwards-Helaire. This 5-foot-7 rookie running back from Louisiana State could help give Kansas City the ground game it lacked last season. Edwards-Helaire, the last selection of the first round, gained 1,414 yards rushing and caught passes for 453 more in his final season with the Tigers.

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2. Las Vegas Raiders

Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs during practice.
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

2019 | 7-9, 3rd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2016

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

Fresh off a 4-12 season, the Raiders got off to a respectable 6-4 start before the wheels came off. They wound up losing five of their final six to finish 7-9, although they weren’t eliminated from playoff contention until the last week of the season.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Josh Jacobs. As a rookie last season, the running back ran for 1,150 yards despite missing three games. Coach Jon Gruden plans to increase his workload this season, and Jacobs is capable of shouldering that load. He’s running behind an excellent offensive line too.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Henry Ruggs III. The Raiders used the No. 12 pick on this Alabama star, a blistering-fast wideout. He joins a receiving corps that includes Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow, and allows the Raiders to attack defenses at all three levels. Tight end Darren Waller gives Las Vegas even more receiving options.

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3. Los Angeles Chargers

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa stands during practice.
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

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2019 | 5-11, 4th in West

Last year in playoffs | 2018

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

A year after finishing 12-4, the Chargers took a big step backward. They went 5-11 with nine of those losses coming by a touchdown or less. The team could never get into a rhythm, and the losses came in spurts of two, three, three and three in a row.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Pass rush. The Chargers have a devastating tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge, and that sets the tempo for a secondary that can feast on opportunities. This could be a big year for defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, last year’s first-
round pick, who has played some end in camp.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Justin Herbert. With Philip Rivers in Indianapolis, No. 6 pick Herbert gets the keys to the offense. But that transition might not be immediate. The Chargers have a good bridge quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, who can make plays by running and has pinpoint accuracy on deep passes.

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4. Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock passes in practice.
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

2019 | 7-9, 2nd in West

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Last year in playoffs | 2015

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

The Broncos sputtered on offense and started 0-4 for the first time since 1999, when the team was adjusting in the aftermath of John Elway’s retirement. But Denver recovered last season and went 7-5 the rest of the way, winning every division game except the two against Kansas City, the eventual Super Bowl champion.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Drew Lock. A second-round pick in 2019, Lock spent the bulk of his rookie season on injured reserve with a thumb injury but came back to go 4-1 as a starter and infuse the fan base with hope. He threw for 1,020 yards and completed 64.1% of his passes in those games.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Defensive line. Von Miller is a superstar, and Bradley Chubb knows how to get to quarterbacks too. Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe is gone, having signed with Baltimore, but the Broncos replaced him with former immovable Titans fixture Jurrell Casey.