Posted on January 11, 2023
Yes, just like your high school yearbooks, I’m going to hand out one “award” for each west team along with their final placement in the power rankings.
For some teams, it will give them another reason to remember the 2022 season. For other teams, it will be one more thing to forget about the past 18 weeks.
I won’t make you wait any longer. I’m sure fans of some of the west teams can’t wait to move from this season. So, just accept this final award, and then you can officially set your brain to 2023 mode.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3-0)
Award: Most Likely to Dominate the League for the Next DecadeIf there was ever going to be a year that the Chiefs regressed, it was going to be this one. The offense would be without a major weapon in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and wasn’t supposed to be the same.
Well, that surely didn’t happen. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was as good as ever despite Hill’s absence. Like, MVP-level good.
And tight end Travis Kelce remained an elite weapon while running backs Isaiah Pacheco and Jerrick McKinnon were welcome surprises.
And the Chiefs as a whole were just as good as usual as well. They locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a 31-13 win over the Raiders on Saturday.
This season may just be proof that there is nothing that can prevent the Chiefs from being contenders. As long as Mahomes is wearing a Kansas City uniform, the Chiefs are going to be one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
2. San Francisco 49ers (13-4-0)
Award: Most Likely to Succeed with a Random Rookie at QuarterbackAt this point, it doesn’t matter who the 49ers’ quarterback is.
Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brock Purdy, Joe Montana (at his current age)—they would win with any of them.
Most teams can’t survive one season-ending injury to their quarterback, let alone two.
But the 49ers somehow looked better once Purdy took the reins, including a 38-13 win over the Cardinals on Sunday to clinch the second seed in the NFC.
Part of the reason the 49ers have been able to weather the quarterback storm so well is the defense.
And it’s not just elite because of defensive end Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner, both of whom should be serious Defensive Player of the Year contenders.
San Francisco allowed the fewest points in the league and the second-fewest yards (by just four yards). That is the making of a defense that is strong all-around, from the stars to the rotational pieces.
All in all, the 49ers had an incredible season and are a legitimate contender to win the Super Bowl, which would be an equally incredible way to end the season.
3. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7-0)
Award: Most Likely to Make a Confounding Coaching DecisionThe Chargers ended the season playing very well, which is the main reason why they had already clinched the top wild-card spot by the time their game started on Sunday.
So, head coach Brandon Staley made another one of his head-scratching decision when he elected to play his starters. Not just for a quarter or a half, but for the majority of the game, which ended up being a 31-28 loss to the Broncos.
At times, Staley’s coaching style has overshadowed the product on the field, but it shouldn’t. The Chargers have been a very good team this year, at least once they truly figured things out.
Even with big free agent acquisitions outside linebacker Khalil Mack and cornerback J.C. Jackson not panning out exactly as expected, Los Angeles has managed to have a great season.
Much of that credit belongs to quarterback Justin Herbert, whose superstar ascension has not slowed down this year. Running back Austin Ekeler also deserves some praise for having another quiet yet incredibly productive season.
Ultimately, the Chargers did what they set out to do this season and made the playoffs. They’ll have to keep it up if they don’t want the season to end, but this team is talented enough to do exactly that.
4. Seattle Seahawks (9-8-0)
Award: Most Likely to Rebound Well From a BreakupThe Seahawks went through a bad breakup over the offseason. Of course, that is a reference to quarterback Russell Wilson, who was dealt following a few contentious seasons.
But, Seattle bounced back in a major way, not letting the public divorce hold it down.
The Seahawks had one of the most shocking seasons in the league this year, and it’s not over yet, thanks to a 19-16 win over the Rams on Sunday and a little help from the Lions.
Sure, it helps when quarterback Geno Smith steps in and puts together a Pro-Bowl season that no one saw coming.
But really, it was the young crop of talent stepping up that helped the Seahawks exceed expectations.
Running back Kenneth Walker, cornerback Tariq Woolen, and tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas were all major contributors as rookies. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks and outside linebacker Darrel Taylor also had good seasons early in their careers.
In all likelihood, the Seahawks’ season will come to an end this week in the opening round of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean this was not an extremely impressive season for them.
5. Las Vegas Raiders (6-11-0)
Award: Most Likely to Waste All-Pro SeasonsThe Raiders did manage to salvage their season after a less-than-ideal start. But they ended it on a down note following a 31-13 loss to the Chiefs.
The worst part about the Raiders’ struggles is that they actually had plenty of great individual performances.
Running back Josh Jacobs led the league in rushing yards while wide receiver Davante Adams led the league in receiving touchdowns. They also got a great year from defensive end Maxx Crosby and nearly the entire offensive line.
Jacobs, Adams, and Crosby could all get some All-Pro consideration but somehow that did not lead to much team success.
It’s not a great look for Las Vegas to be squandering that much top-tier talent. Yes, the Raiders made quarterback Derek Carr the scapegoat when they benched him heading into week 17, but this season was certainly far from his fault alone.
The Raiders can use the positives of this season to build momentum for next season but if they don’t fix the glaring issues, then 2023 may be more of the same.
6. Los Angeles Rams (5-12-0)
Award: Most Likely to Take an Extended VacationThe Rams won the Super Bowl last year, in case you weren’t aware after watching them play this year. They deservedly got to celebrate that achievement over the offseason, but it looks like that celebration went a bit too long.
The Rams were so excited about their 2021 season that they forgot to show up for the 2022 season.
There were times that they played well, like their 19-16 loss to the Seahawks in week 18, but, for the most part, things went poorly this year.
Injuries definitely played a massive role in the disappointment of this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald all missed significant time.
But let’s be real, even if the Rams were healthy things wouldn’t have been that much better.
Los Angeles had some huge problems, mainly the offensive line and the running game, that took far too long to get fixed.
If the Rams can stay healthy in 2023 and breakout players such as running back Cam Akers can carry over their success to the next season, then the Rams have a chance to return to prominence and make everyone forget about the extended vacation they took this year.
7. Denver Broncos (5-12-0)
Award: Most Likely to Make a Bad HireMost coaches at least make it a full season with their new team before being fired. Nathaniel Hackett apparently isn’t like most coaches.
Hackett was fired after week 16 after a very unfortunate season. And it wasn’t due to some off-field concerns like Urban Meyer; Hackett was let go purely because of what he did on the sidelines.
The Broncos rebounded fairly well after the firing, including a 31-28 win over the Chargers to end the season, but the damage was already done.
Obviously, the biggest question is how much Hackett contributed to the apparent demise of quarterback Russell Wilson. The best-case scenario for Denver is that this was just a very, very off year for Wilson, although that doesn’t appear very likely.
If Wilson and the rest of the offense can bounce back in 2023 then there is some hope for the Broncos. The defense was legitimately good this year and is ready to win now.
It is all going to come down to the next hire Denver makes. If the Broncos get a coach that can maximize Wilson and the rest of the talent—Sean Payton, anyone?—then this team will look drastically different next season.
8. Arizona Cardinals (4-13-0)
Award: Most Likely to Fall Apart While Filming a DocumentaryThings couldn’t have gone much worse for the Cardinals this year.
Not only did they go 4-13, fall 38-13 to the 49ers in week 18, lose quarterback Kyler Murray to a torn ACL, and fire their coach and general manager, but they did it all while appearing on the in-season version of Hard Knocks.
It’s fitting that fans got to watch the Cardinals implode both on and off the field down the stretch.
It’s uncertain where things go from here for Arizona. Obviously, a new coach will be the first step, but this team is locked into a now-injured Murray for a significant amount of time and money.
Having the third overall pick will help build them back up, but unless they can select the entire 2007 Patriots, it won’t be enough.
Maybe things will be better in 2023. Hey, the Giants were good this year and no one saw that coming.
But what is clear is that the Cardinals did not set themselves up well heading into next year, so it may not get better anytime soon.
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