My weekly NFL preview takes a trip to the AFC West this week where the Oakland Raiders are favored to win the division followed by Kansas City, the LA Chargers and Denver, in that order.
I do not see a ton of value from a futures perspective in this division but there is one season win total I think makes a lot of sense and provides a solid positive expectation opportunity on the betting board involving the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City had a strong 12-4 campaign a season ago and the Chiefs were a good team but were also the beneficiaries of a lot of luck, winning a ton of close games and picking up victories in games where they lost the box score on more than one occasion but thanks to trick plays, pick sixes and winning the turnover battle in so many games, the Chiefs were able to win more games last season than their stats would indicate.
Kansas City was a lackluster offensive team last season. Alex Smith is a solid but not great QB and there are questions aplenty on that side of the football coming into this season. The Chiefs have an offensive line that got dominated in their playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. Eric Fisher is a pedestrian left tackle while right guard Parker Ehinger has yet to suit up in training camp as he recovers from a torn ACL injury.
The Chiefs selected Kareem Hunt in the third round of the draft, so he’ll be able to challenge incumbent RB Spencer Ware, or at the very least, form a committee with him, but this still remains a questionable running back unit. The WR corps is very thin as the Chiefs seem to be putting all their eggs in the basket of their speedster Tyreek Hill who blasted on to the scene last season. KC does have one of the league’s premier TE’s in Travis Kelce but there are depth concerns, without a doubt, in terms of pass catchers. The Chiefs will be relying on the defensive side of the ball to carry them.
However, even that stout group has some question marks. The secondary looks very strong on paper but there are holes to fill along the defensive line and at LB. Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe left the team, creating two substantial holes on the DL. Bennie Logan was signed to fill Poe’s spot. Logan is coming off a down year because of injuries so whether he can rebound is in doubt. Another concern is whether inside LB Derrick Johnson, who tore his Achilles late last season, can stay healthy. At 34 years of age and returning from a brutal injury, it’s not automatic to assume Johnson can be the dominant player he was prior to the injury.
Then there is the very tough schedule that lies ahead for the Chiefs. Four of their first nine opponents (Patriots, Steelers, Raiders, Cowboys) are expected to contend for the Super Bowl this year and they also must face LA Chargers, Washington, Philadelphia, Houston and Denver during that stretch and none of those games present them with an automatic victory. I think the arrow is pointing down a bit on Kansas City this season and I will bet them Under 9 wins at near even $$ close to -110.
The Big Ten conference is the one that goes under the microscope this week. In the East Division, there are three legitimate contenders, not just to win the division but also to compete for a national title, in Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State who are all less than 22-to-1 to win the title. It should be a very competitive division and I wouldn’t completely rule out the likes of Michigan State and Maryland being a factor either.
In the West Division things are much more cut and dried with Wisconsin the heavy favorite to emerge with the division title.
Nebraska and Northwestern are really the only two teams that pose any sort of potential fly in the ointment to the Badgers’ reign atop this division.
So where does the value lie here in the Big Ten? I think one of those aforementioned teams in the West has the potential to be a good, if not very good, team this season and that squad is Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats.
Northwestern is currently lined at 8 regular season wins shaded to the Over at -130 but I think that is a win total they can eclipse here in 2017. Fitzgerald enters his 12th season as head coach of Northwestern and his team’s offense should be very good as it is anchored by one of the conference’s better backfields and a veteran offensive line.
Northwestern features a terrific RB in Justin Jackson, who soon will become the school’s all-time leading rusher. They should get improved play from a more experienced Clayton Thorson who has a 17-9 record as the team’s starting QB. He can be expected to put up better numbers and be more efficient at the QB position. Garrett Dickerson and Oregon transfer Jalen Brown should help bolster a receiving corps that didn’t light it up with big plays in the passing game all that much a season ago.
The defense looks to be a major strength of the team. The defensive line and secondary for the Wildcats have the potential to be the strongest and deepest personnel groupings this squad has had in years. Veterans Tyler Lancaster and Jordan Thompson lead arguably the best group of defensive tackles since Fitzgerald has been head coach here in Evanston. The secondary has plenty of playmakers including CB’s Montre Hartage and Keith Watkins II (back from injury) along with veteran safeties Godwin Igwebuike, Kyle Queiro and Jared McGee who combined for 7 INT’s last season.
The schedule is manageable for Northwestern as they avoid playing Ohio State or Michigan in their East Division crossover games. They must face division favorite Wisconsin on the road but they do get Penn State out of the East at home. Outside of those two tough tests, every other game and opponent on the Wildcats schedule is a winnable football game.
I like Northwestern Over 8 wins at -130 and also think Northwestern +2200 to win the Big Ten is a future that presents some good value because if they can manage to push past Wisconsin for top spot in the division and get to the Big Ten Championship game, it would present a solid hedging opportunity down the line.
Ian Cameron has been handicapping and betting sports year-round for over a decade. He has been with Sportsmemo.com since 2012, using his knowledge and handicapping techniques to make insightful winning selections.