Today we continue discussing where the NFL is going in 2022 with a look at the AFC West. Our NFL projections are based on a forecast of team performance and a subjective assessment of each team’s quarterback’s storylines.
The team win forecast is primarily driven by a new advanced QB metric called QB Wins. The preview is intentionally QB centric. These players disproportionately drive on-field success, fan interest, and salary cap issues. The NFL is the dominant sports league across just about every demographic group, and the QBs are the stars. We will publish a new division each week. See last week's AFC South division preview here.
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1. Kansas City Chiefs & Patrick Mahomes
The Mahomes’ story is set on repeat. Mahomes is the heir apparent to Brady, and Mahomes’ storyline will revolve around whether he can get back to the Super Bowl. In some ways, it’s a tough place to be – Super Bowl or failure.
The twist this year is that Tyreek Hill is gone. This year, making a championship run will be taken as extra evidence of Mahomes’ greatness. Mahomes is an elite talent based on the QB Wins metric with win contributions of 3.2 in 2019, 3.3 in 2020, and 1.7 in 2021.
There is also a reversion to the mean and competitive balance effects. Always drafting late and losing guys wanting to get paid after Super Bowl runs pushes teams back to parity. It’s “interesting” when it doesn’t because it says something special is happening. That special thing could be Patrick Mahomes (similar to Tom Brady in New England).
Chiefs Forecast: 11 wins
Chiefs Fan Base Ranking: #19
Media Narrative Grade: B
2. Raiders & Derek Carr
Carr has been trending downward on the QB Wins metric. He has fallen from 1.95 wins in 2019, to 1.25 in 2020 and .7 wins in 2021. For 2021, I use a rough average of the last two years and project Carr as a plus 1 QB. The forecast is for the Raiders to be about the same as last year with 9.5 wins. If there is a story, it is that the Raiders overpaid for Carr. But it’s not much of a story because the QB market is what it is.
The Raiders came in at a surprising #6 in the Fan Base rankings. The Raiders charge the highest ticket prices in the league. There is excitement around a new team and a new stadium, but this doesn’t seem sustainable. The marketing story is can the Raiders continue to charge the highest ticket prices in the league.
The AFC West is an interesting division when the focus is on the QBs. The other three clubs have compelling storylines at the QB position. I also think any of the other three teams could win the division (based on previous or trending QB performance). I have the Raiders picked second in the division, but Carr might be the least impressive QB in the division.
Raiders Forecast: 9.5 wins
Raiders Fan Base Ranking: #6
Media Narrative Grade: C
3. Chargers & Justin Herbert
Justin Herbert is very good. His QB Win score over his career is about 1.5 wins. This puts him in the second-level QBs (guys below Rodgers or Mahomes). But even with Herbert the Chargers are pretty average, winning just 9 games last year.
In terms of media and marketing, while they play in a major market, it’s not a major NFL market for fandom. The story is a very good young QB on an average team. A potential media story is the battle for LA dominance. The Rams have an LA history and last year’s Super Bowl, so if the Chargers want to be LA’s team, Herbert needs to get to the next level. Assuming Herbert stays at a 1.6 win contribution, the Chargers are projected at 8.6 wins. But, given Herbert's career so far, getting to the next level would not be a surprise. I've only done three years' worth of data, and Herbert has the best first two years in the data.
Herbert is young, and his first two years are outstanding. This may be a situation where the team is holding Herbert back from stardom. This is also the type of situation where there will be increasing pressure to pay Herbert. Considering Herbert’s numbers and trajectory, the Chargers should lock him up as soon as possible.
Chargers’ Forecast: 8.6 wins
Chargers’ Fandom Ranking: 15
Media Narrative Grade: C+
4. Denver Broncos & Russell Wilson
This is one of the easiest stories. Russell Wilson gets a lot of love from fans and the media. He is now with the Broncos, and the question is whether he can make the Broncos a contender. This is the same story as the Colts and Matt Ryan but in a more passionate NFL market and with a bigger star in Russell.
Russell’s average QB wins contribution over the past three seasons is about .9 games, but trending downward. Teddy Bridgewater is a breakeven QB in the data. The forecast for the Broncos is 8.4 wins. This could turn into a fairly negative narrative as the forecast places the Broncos in last place.
The Broncos have Wilson under contract for just two years. There is likely to be some interesting negotiating and posturing here. Wilson will be 36 to start the 2024 season. Maybe too old to get another $150 million type deal, especially if the Broncos are a last-place team.
Broncos’ Forecast: 8.4 wins
Broncos’ Fan Base Ranking: #8
Media Narrative Grade: B
AFC West Summary:
The AFC West has a solid set of storylines as we go into 2022. The Mahomes narrative is set on repeat with the small plot twist in 2022 of him losing his primary WR target. Justin Herbert is an up-and-comer in a tough media market. Russell Wilson is a possible redemption story. I don’t think (based on the QB Wins forecasts) there is much-guaranteed drama in the AFC West, but there is potential.
As I read over this article, I find myself thinking that I may be underselling this division. It's got good stories with Mahomes and potentially great stories with Herbert and Wilson.
Check out our other divisional projections here:
All Divisional Projections
Stream the podcast discussion of the preview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.