The Kansas City Chiefs own the AFC West. They have three straight division titles and five playoff appearances in Andy Reid’s six years as head coach.
Sure, the Chiefs haven’t won a postseason contest in that stretch, though there’s a chance to snap that streak Sunday afternoon against Indianapolis. But, to focus on that ignores a greater point.
Kansas City is the AFC West gold standard.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wants to own this division. Doing so will require beating the team current sitting on top.
That means doing better than the Chiefs and Reid, his longtime friend and colleague.
The Raiders have a long way to go to reach the level of consistency that has produced a 65-31 record in the last six seasons. The Raiders have a long way to producing even a stellar one-off season capable of winning this division.
Even 2016’s 12-4 Raiders campaign was foiled by Kansas City, which finished with an equal record but won the division on a tiebreaker.
All that was before quarterback Patrick Mahomes burst on the scene. He’s an MVP favorite in his first year as a starter, considered by many to a top tier talent at 23 years. Barring injury, Mahomes is capable of dominating the division (and the league, for that matter) for an extended stretch.
The Chiefs also have great offensive weapons in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. They have some holes on defense, and give up far too many yards and big plays. That unit can play well from ahead, and have a low bar to clear for victory considering the offense averages 35.3 points per game.
The Raiders were dead last in the division after Gruden’s decision to tear the roster down. He doesn’t have Khalil Mack or Amari Cooper but is loaded with assets aimed to reconstruct the roster as he sees fit. The Raiders have four NFL draft picks in the top 35 overall, including three in the first round. He has roughly $78 million in salary cap space, with flexibility to increase that sum with penalty-free cuts. The Raiders also don’t have a major extension upcoming, meaning Gruden can turn this roster over quickly.
That provides hope the Raiders can go from worst to playoff contention. That will only happen makes the right choices and finds impact players.
He doesn’t have to copy the Chiefs model, but he needs to find quality pass rushers and athletic cover guys at linebacker and safety to complete a deep safety. The offensive line must also return to dominant form and, of course, the quarterback must be awesome.
While the L.A. Chargers are also a forced to be reckoned with, the Raiders have to be major players within the division to be the steady playoff contender and AFC force expected when Gruden was re-hired to lead the Raiders football operation.
Reaching such heights is certainly possible, but there’s a lot of work ahead and smart acquisitions to make before consistently competing within the division and its title holders in Kansas City.