The following is an excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2024 Football Preview book. In addition to Warren’s deep, detailed write-up on all 32 NFL teams, each chapter features page after page of full-color charts, stats, and heatmaps as well as penalty analysis from Joe Gibbs. Click here for a full FREE chapter from the 2024 Football Preview.

Penalties are an under-discussed aspect of NFL success and failure. Average teams can become playoff contenders with good discipline, and good teams can become great simply by winning the penalty battle.

Let’s look at how the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Denver Broncos performed from a penalty perspective in 2023 and where they can improve in 2024.

Penalty Analysis for All 32 NFL Teams
AFC East
AFC North
AFC West
AFC South
NFC East
NFC North
NFC West
NFC South

How Did Penalties Impact the Kansas City Chiefs?

The Good

  • The Chiefs ranked 29th in pre-snap penalties per game. A below-average 29% of their penalties occurred pre-snap with 80% of these assessed on the offense
  • The offense racked up more beneficial defensive holding calls than any other offensive unit in the NFL. The Chiefs have ranked No. 1 in this category in back-to-back seasons
  • The defense was efficient and one of the least penalized via passing plays. Their one area of weakness was defensive pass interference. Having said that, this team played from in front for the majority of the season and faced more pass attempts than most teams
  • The Chiefs surrendered even fewer automatic first downs via penalties than they did in their Super Bowl winning 2022 season. This defensive unit received its share of praise, but it was perhaps even better than advertised. They were extremely physical but very disciplined. A tough combination to pull off
  • The tight ends and wide receivers were both below league average penalized units

The Bad

  • The Chiefs led the NFL in offensive holding penalties in the 2023 regular season
  • The offensive line issues contributed in large part to 66% of the Chiefs’ overall penalties being committed by their offense
  • An above-average 35% of the Chiefs’ overall penalties were committed on third down plays

The Chiefs had a rinse and repeat performance from 2022. Outside of the aforementioned offensive holding, this team was exceptional in the majority of areas where it matters.

The reality is offensive holds in the Patrick Mahomes era are consistently above league average, although 2023 was the worst year to date.

Kansas City’s offensive line issues were well documented throughout the regular season. However, what was a liability heading into the playoffs all but evaporated. 

The NFL reduced offensive line penalties versus regular season averages in order to put forth a more aesthetically pleasing product in the playoffs.

The Chiefs were the No. 1 beneficiary of this adjustment in their run to a second straight Super Bowl.

It’s difficult to see the defense being as dominant and efficient from a penalty perspective as it was in 2023. That decline will be offset by a more vertical offense that benefits from additional defensive pass interference calls. Expect to see a more explosive Chiefs team in 2024, similar to the 2019 version.

With a front-loaded schedule, the Chiefs face their toughest stretch of opponents early in 2024. If they successfully navigate that scheduling minefield, they should coast to another AFC West title.

Then it’s a matter of can an opponent put it together for one game in the playoffs and dethrone the champs. If that doesn’t occur, we will witness the first Super Bowl three-peat in February 2025.

How Did Penalties Impact the Los Angeles Chargers?

The Good

  • The Chargers ranked 31st in pre-snap penalties per game. Only the Rams were better in 2023 
  • The Chargers committed the fewest false starts of any offense
  • The Chargers were a below-average penalized team for offensive holding penalties. Jim Harbaugh teams are built around a run-oriented offense and limiting self-inflicted errors. This offense checks the boxes in that regard
  • The Chargers ranked 31st in penalties per game at home in 2023. That feat is all the more impressive given the limited, if any, home-field advantage they have at SoFi Stadium
  • The offense was responsible for 53% of the team’s penalties. Due to the low team penalty count, the actual hard numbers had the offense ranked in the bottom 10 of least penalized offensive units
  • The Chargers defense ranked fifth in generating offensive penalties per game on the opposing offense
  • The Michigan Wolverines were the least penalized team in college football in their 2023 National Championship run, averaging a ridiculously low three penalties per game. That attention to detail aligns perfectly with this Chargers team from a penalty perspective
  • The Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers teams were one of the least penalized for offensive holding in his final three seasons in San Francisco

The Bad

  • The Chargers committed an above-average 29% of overall penalties on third downs with 66% via the defense
  • The defense surrendered 45% of their automatic first downs via penalties on key third down plays

As these numbers indicate, the Chargers’ subpar results in 2023 were not discipline related. The Bolts lost close games more efficiently than anyone in the NFL, often due to questionable coaching decisions.

The term “Charger-ing” became a catchphrase after the debacles of recent seasons under Brandon Staley.

The Jim Harbaugh era ushers in a total team reset. He made the 49ers and Michigan powerhouses by building dominant offensive lines.

The Chargers are the ideal landing spot for Harbaugh to immediately build a team his way. Their personnel provide the pieces to dominate opponents along both lines of scrimmage.

Whether this is enough to be a playoff team in 2024 remains to be seen, but Harbaugh represents one of the biggest year-over-year coaching upgrades in NFL history, so doubling up to 10 wins is not out of the realm of possibility.

That alone would ensure this Chargers team is a big improver and in the playoff hunt, but they are likely still a year away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender in a loaded AFC.

How Did Penalties Impact the Las Vegas Raiders?

The Good

  • The Raiders averaged the fewest penalties per game of any team in the NFL last season. It was an amazing turnaround from a franchise synonymous with undisciplined football
  • In straight-up hard numbers, no offense committed fewer pre-snap penalties than the Raiders in 2023. Avoiding negative plays via penalties is essential for a team with subpar quarterback play, and the offense did that effectively last season
  • The defense ranked No. 1 at generating offensive holding penalties on opposing offenses 
  • Additionally, the offense ranked 30th in offensive holding penalties. That discrepancy resulted in the Raiders having the best for and against in this category, at an almost three-to-one ratio in their favor

The Bad

  • Obviously, the least penalized team would surrender some of the fewest automatic first downs via penalties. The negative is 58% of these occurred on key third down plays, where the Raiders ranked in the top 10
  • A slightly above-average 27% of the Raiders’ overall penalties were on third downs with 70% being committed by the defense

The Raiders aren’t a franchise normally associated with discipline, so the penalty numbers posted in 2023 are a credit to new coach Antonio Pierce.

Gardner Minshaw was brought in to compete for the starting quarterback job, and he had an excellent 2023 season. But remember, that was under offensive mastermind Shane Steichen.

Former Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is now in Vegas in the same role. If Getsy brings anything resembling the Bears’ offensive penalty numbers to the Raiders, this team is in big trouble. 

The Raiders cannot afford to be playing behind the chains on a regular basis because of excessive pre-snap errors.

Raiders coach Antonio Pierce created a stir with his “Mahomes Rules” in the off-season. There is no guide that I’m aware of detailing these sets of rules, but having a dominant defensive front would be the foundation of any plan to limit Patrick Mahomes.

In that department, the Raiders check all the boxes. Led by Maxx Crosby and Christian Wilkins, this defensive line is one of the best in the NFL.

Ultimately, until the Raiders acquire a legitimate franchise quarterback, their ceiling will remain low in 2024 and beyond in a conference stacked with talent at the most important position.

How Did Penalties Impact the Denver Broncos?

The Good

  • After their disastrous first month of the 2023 season, the Broncos averaged just 5.07 penalties per game thereafter, compiling a 7-6 record
  • The defense had a significant decline in allowing automatic first downs versus their 2022 numbers, and their defense improved greatly after a rocky first four weeks of the season
  • The defense accounted for only 37% of the team’s penalties
  • The Broncos ranked seventh as a beneficiary of penalties via passing plays, with defensive pass interference the primary driver of this number. Courtland Sutton was the primary target when benefitting from these penalties

The Bad

  • The Broncos averaged 8.25 penalties per game in an extremely rocky 1-3 start to the 2023 season
  • The Broncos ranked No. 1 in offensive pass interference penalties per game. It’s not a high-volume infraction but is impactful when called

There were some positive takeaways from 2023 in Sean Payton’s first season, but overall the Broncos organization remains in a state of flux.

Post Russell Wilson, the pressure in Denver shifts to the Payton – Bo Nix combination to get this operation on a winning trajectory.

The Broncos are now the team that’s two years away from being two years away.

Expectations for 2024 are low, although the pressure to get things right is a mile high in Denver.

It’s a total reset year, with success being defined as Nix unquestionably being the franchise quarterback of the future in Denver. 

The fact is that Payton has to get this Broncos organization on the right track or he could be facing a complete roster rebuild heading into the 2025 NFL season.

This analysis continues in the 2024 Football Preview

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