AFC West Odds, Picks, & Predictions: NFL Betting Preview

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Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

The Kansas City Chiefs, who have won the past five AFC West crowns, are the heaviest favorite to win a division in the NFL for the second consecutive season and also the NFL betting choice to win the Super Bowl, just ahead of defending champion Tampa Bay.

But the Chiefs do have warts, and it’s unlikely they’ll finish six games clear of the rest of the West pack again this year.

Elsewhere the LA Chargers, Denver, and Las Vegas have combined for zero winning seasons the past two seasons and are looking to at least fight for a wild-card berth, if not give the Chiefs a stiff battle.

Below are the NFL betting odds for the division/Super Bowl:

AFC West OddsDraftKingsFanDuelBetMGM
Kansas City Chiefs-250/+500-280/+500-278/+450
LA Chargers+400/+3000+500/+3300+500/+3000
Denver Broncos+550/+3500+600/+4400+600/+5000
Las Vegas Raiders+2500/+10000+1900/+7500+1800/+8000

Here’s a forecast on how the division should play out:

No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs

Coach Andy Reid and his Chiefs have gotten off to fast starts every year since 2017,  becoming the only team in history to open 4-0 or better four straight seasons. But it’s going to be tough to making it five straight considering they have the hardest pair of games in Weeks 1 and 2 of any team in the league based on their foes’ win expectancy — first at home vs. AFC North favorite Cleveland and then at  Baltimore..

Plus, KC will be dealing with the standard Super Bowl losers’ hangover, thanks to its 31-9 loss to Tampa Bay that was the Chiefs’ most lopsided defeat since 2016. Thirteen times over the past two decades championship game runners-up have gone .500 or worse their first four games the next season. None has gone 4-0.

But those teams didn’t have Patrick Mahomes, mega speedy WR Tyreek Hill and record-setting TE Travis Kelce.

Mahomes did have offseason foot surgery but should be a full-go this season and more mobile than he was for most of the past playoff run.

The main concern for the Chiefs on offense is an entirely new offensive line. But with the addition of two-time Pro Bowl OLT Orlando Brown from Baltimore and ex-Patriots mainstay guard Joe Thuney things should percolate well with a little meshing time in the preseason. Helping to cure any ills will be Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a guard. He’s back after opting out last season to provide medical assistance during the COVID pandemic in Canada.

The running game isn’t near as spectacular as the air game, but second-year RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire did have 803 yards and a 4.4 norm in 13 games.

Defensively, the linebacking seems to be mediocre at best and the team is in need of a stouter pass rush that resulted in only 32 sacks last season, down from 45 its Super season. The secondary is sound, led by All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu, who had six INTs last year. Overall, good enough.

The Chiefs were a gamblers’ nightmare late last season, finishing 1-9-1 ATS, including playoffs, despite winning nine of those 11 games. It’s reminiscent of the 2007 Patriots, who opened 8-0 ATS during their perfect regular season only to finish 2-9 ATS and fall in the Super Bowl to the Giants.

No. 2 LA Chargers

 There are high hopes that LA, off a 7-9 season in which it won its last four games, can make a playoff run this year behind QB Justin Herbert, the 2020  NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

But there’s a bunch of new faces on the sideline that could affect his comfort zone. A rookie head coach, Brandon Staley, takes over for Anthony Lynn. Staley was defensive coordinator for the Rams’ top-ranked defense last year. There’s also a rookie defensive coordinator and new OC. Plus a new quarterbacks coach. 

But at least for the first time since their last season in San Diego in 2016, the Chargers likely will have a home-field advantage now that they aren’t playing in that dinky soccer stadium in LA and last year in empty SoFi Stadium.

The Chargers’ record in 2020 didn’t mirror their performance. LA had the best margin of offensive/defensive snaps at plus-130 and thus were one of three teams that were ranked in the top 10 on offense and defense (ninth, 10th), along with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. But LA was the only one not to make the postseason. Then again, they were No. 1 in both categories 10 years earlier and didn’t make the postseason then, either.

Their downfall last year was blowing double-digit leads, suffering losses four times from Weeks 2-8. Three times in a five-week stretch they squandered advantages of 17 points or more. Good grief!

The offense should benefit from the return to health of RB Austin Ekeler, who averaged 4.6 yards/carry but missed six games last season (foot, neck). LA went 2-4 in his absence. The team also should get a boost  from the addition of ex-Packers stalwart center Corey Linsley, who will join ORT Bryan Bulaga, a former Green Bay teammate. 

On the negative side, gone is TE Hunter Henry and on defense CB Casey Hayward and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who combined for 28 starts last season.

Finally, Chargers fans shouldn’t get too excited over that 4-0 finish last year. The streak came against  Atlanta, Las Vegas and Denver (combined mark of 17-31) and a rout of Kansas City’s JV in the finale.

The last time a rookie head coach took over a team with a losing record and led his squad to the NFL title was in 1945, when Adam Walsh was coach of the Cleveland Rams. The next year the team was in Los Angeles.

No. 3 Denver Broncos

Coach Vic Fangio and the Broncos did little solve the team’s quarterback troubles, settling on Carolina castoff Teddy Bridgewater to vie with incumbent Drew Lock, who was the league’s 32nd-ranked passer last year and was 4-9 in his 13 starts. But that’s a better than Bridgewater’s 4-11 mark with the Panthers. Already this spring Bridgewater has been panned for his INTs in seven-on-seven drills.

It’s not like Denver hasn’t been this route before. In their 2015 Super season, Peyton Manning “led” the team to a title despite being the league’s worst-rated QB with nine TDs and 17 INTs in the regular season. The squad’s top-rated defense carried that team, but the Broncos were only ranked 21st last year, so such a title repeat is unlikely.

In the good-news department, ex-Chargers standout RB Melvin Gordon is excited about the possibility of being the top dog in the backfield this season now that Phillip Lindsay has departed. Also, second-round pick Javonte Williams, an RB out of North Carolina, has drawn raves.

Among receivers, Denver welcomes back Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton, who missed all but one game in 2020 after tearing an ACL.

Defensively, the Broncos are hinging their hopes on a solid secondary and an improved pass rush now that Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are both ready to go. Three years ago, they teamed for 26.5 sacks.

Note: Fangio has had three straight losing seasons since taking the Broncos’ reins in 2018. The last coach to start with four losing years in a row and not lose his job was Cincinnati’s Dave Shula (1992-95). He wound up getting fired seven games into his fifth year. And then there was Dallas Hall of Famer Tom Landry, whose expansion Cowboys were losers his first five years from 1960-64 before breaking through.

No. 4 Las Vegas Raiders

QB Derek Carr is coming off a career year, with a 101.1 passer rating, 10th best in the league, and five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.  And RB Josh Jacobs had his second straight 1,000-yard rushing to go along with sensational tight end Darren Waller who had 107 catches, good for fourth on the chart, totaling 1,196 yards and nine TDs.

Yet, coach Jon Gruden’s  Raiders finished only 8-8 last season thanks to a crash-and-burn 2-5 finish to the season. Sound familiar? A year earlier they opened 6-4 before losing five of the last six.

The defense gets much of the blame, with the team having a minus-44 point differential despite the offense’s heroics.

And with regard to Jacobs, he averaged 4.8 with an injured shoulder in 2019 but only 3.9 last season. And WR Nelson Agholor, who averaged a stupendous 18.7 yards on 48 receptions, left for New England.

On defense, with the pass rush and linebacker expected to be liabilities yet again, LV could be in for a rough year, especially when considering the following…

It’s bad enough the Raiders have the league’s hardest schedule based on win expectancy, but they also tied for the league-high with four games back East three time zones away. Included is a Week 2 “jet lag’ game in Pittsburgh coming on short rest after playing host to Baltimore on MNF.

Best Sports Betting Value

The Chiefs aren’t worth the trouble and their rivals aren’t worth a hoot, but the team with the best chance to make a few bucks will be the Chargers to win the Super Bowl. They won’t, of course, but if they can get past the wild-card round starting hedging your bets and going with the enemy.

About the Author

Bob Christ

Bob Christ, based in New Mexico, has been a gaming writer (primarily the NFL) for almost four decades, with his work appearing in publications/websites across North America. He's a big fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks, Philadelphia's Eagles and Phillies, and inexplicably the NHL's Winnipeg Jets.

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