2020 AFC West divisional betting preview

The Super Bowl favorites should run away with this one.

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We go from a two-team race in the AFC East preview to a one team runaway in the AFC West. The Chiefs are current favorites to win the Super Bowl, which means being -455 favorites to win the division is justified. There really isn’t too much to be excited about in this division outside of the Chiefs, except perhaps for a young but improving Broncos team. Listed below are the Vegas odds for each team to win the AFC West:

  • Chiefs (-455)
  • Chargers (+800)
  • Broncos (+900)
  • Raiders (+1200)

Who does the AFC West play this season?

As mentioned in the AFC East preview, each season the divisions are paired up with a chosen division in the opposite conference to make up one quarter of their schedule. This year, the AFC West is paired with the NFC South which contains the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Of these four teams, both the Saints and Bucs crack the top 5 in odds to win the Super Bowl, however, they are still behind the all-out favorite Chiefs. 

Outside of the NFC South, and the traditional six games against division opponents, the remaining games are against a rotation of same-conference opponents.

Who will win the AFC West?

Kansas City Chiefs -455

This division should be a runaway for Kansas City, as long as Patrick Mahomes can stay healthy. The Chiefs led the division last year with 12 wins, while the Broncos and Raiders tied for second place with 7 wins and the Chargers finished with 5. We will discuss offseason changes below, but you’ll see that these teams didn’t change drastically enough to give the Chiefs a run for their money. If you’re into betting heavy favorites, the Chiefs are essentially a free square. 

Los Angeles Chargers +800

The Chargers being the second favorite to win this division is confusing. They do sport a solid defense, but they are losing their starting quarterback and running back, while Mike Williams (their wide receiver two) is set to miss a few weeks with a shoulder issue. A team that went 5-11 last year got worse on paper. No thanks. 

Denver Broncos +900

This is the team that should be the closest to the Chiefs in terms of odds to win the division. Drew Lock flashed moments of promise last year and the Broncos made some offseason additions to make them better. If Mahomes were to get hurt and have a lengthy absence, Denver could give the Chiefs a run for the division, but that is the only scenario in which I see them taking the division crown. 

Las Vegas Raiders +1200

The Raiders’ offense isn’t half bad on paper. The issue is their defense, which is among the worst in the NFL. They finished 24th in points allowed in 2019. Playing division opponents like the Chiefs and Broncos, who are good on both sides of the ball, presents an uphill battle from the start. Save your money and don’t bet on the Raiders this year. 

Kansas City Chiefs outlook

The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes and the other teams do not. I think that’s good enough for Kansas City’s outlook, don’t you?

Free agent acquisitions

The Chiefs didn’t bring in any new big name players to come in and contribute right away. What they did do was re-sign two of their defensive starters. The biggest name they brought back is Chris Jones, who has been one of their best pass rushers over the last two years, racking up 15.5 sacks in a full season in 2018 and 9.0 sacks in 13 games in 2019. 

The other defender they brought back is starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland, although he is starting the season with a four game suspension for an off-the-field incident. Breeland wasn’t anything special last year, allowing a 48% catch rate, 18 yards per completion, and a passer rating of 92.2. However, the continuity on defense could play a bigger role this year and Breeland will at least be serviceable. 

Draft picks

The Chiefs made one of the most impactful picks in the draft from an offense perspective. Drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire (CEH) with the last pick of the first round all but solidifies Mahomes having a monster 2020. With a running back like CEH, Mahomes won’t need to carry the ball at a high volume, and CEH will also be involved in the pass game. At LSU last season, CEH only had 5 games out of 15 with 16+ carries. However, he did have 55 receptions on the year, showing his ability to be a game changer in the air attack. Andy Reid has even dubbed CEH as a Brian Westbrook comparable. For those not keeping track at home, Westbrook thrived under Reid. 

Narratives to look for

How many TDs is too many TDs for Mahomes? I mentioned in my NFL prop betting article why I like the overs for Mahomes yards and TDs. If the defense takes a step back this year and the Chiefs don’t have a high volume rushing attack, Mahomes could beat the 50 TDs he threw two years ago.

Los Angeles Chargers outlook

The Chargers have moved on from Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon, with the quarterback/running back duo that led their team for the last few years now replaced by Tyrod Taylor and hopefully higher usage for Austin Ekeler. Ekeler is a great pass-catching back, but he may not see a high carry volume – which is fine. He will be heavily involved through the air, which is his strong suit anyways, exemplified by his 92 catches for 993 yards and 8 TDs last season. 

Key offseason moves 

Beyond the ousting of Rivers and Gordon, the Chargers made four big moves to improve their team. First, they retained Hunter Henry via the franchise tag. He has been one of their best pass catchers when he is able to stay healthy. The other three moves come from outside of the organization.

Bryan Bulaga comes over from the Packers. He has consistently ranked in the top 10 in PFF’s pass blocking grade.  Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph is the next good signing the Chargers made. Joseph is a known run-stopper who boosts the run defense of the Chargers in the middle of the D-Line. Finally, the Chargers signed stud cornerback Chris Harris, who previously played with the division rival Broncos for nine seasons. Harris has been the top corner for Denver, making the Pro Bowl in 4 of his last 6 seasons. He had a down year in 2019 though, so the Chargers are hoping for a bounce back. 

Draft Picks

The Chargers drafted Justin Herbert, quarterback out of Oregon with the 6th overall pick. He won’t start right away, which is probably a good thing for his progression. 

Their other first round pick was used on Kenneth Murray, a linebacker out of Oklahoma who bolsters an already loaded defense. Again, the question remains how much offense the Chargers can provide because their defense is clearly legit. 

One boost to the offense is fourth round selection Joshua Kelly, a running back from UCLA. He could step in immediately as a compliment to Ekeler, along with Justin Jackson. Kelly ran for over 1,000 yards and had 12 TDs in only 11 games in both of his seasons as a Bruin. 

Narratives to look for

Can the Chargers be better than their 5 win season last year without Rivers and Gordon, and with a banged up Mike Williams on the offense? The defensive side of the ball is solidified, but they will need to be able to score points. 

Denver Broncos outlook

The Broncos don’t have the kind of defense the Chargers have on paper, but playing in the mile-high atmosphere is an advantage itself. The Broncos ranked 8th in points allowed last year and they didn’t really get worse on defense. The key to their season will be how well Drew Lock plays. 

Key offseason moves

The Broncos made a few notable offseason moves, the first being a trade with the Titans for D-Lineman Jurrell Casey. Casey brings critical relief to a Denver defense that has needed help stopping the run, an area where he has been a monster, ranking near the top of the league in PFF’s run defense grade. 

The other big name defender the Broncos were able to land is cornerback A.J. Bouye. While he had a down year in 2019, he was playing on a Jacksonville defense that all but gave up, becoming one of the worst defensive units in the league. Bouye looks to get back to the numbers he posted in 2018, when he only allowed 10 yards per completion and a passer rating of 75 when targeted. He fills the void left by Chris Harris. 

Melvin Gordon is the other major signing from this offseason, with his departure from the Chargers mentioned a few times here. Gordon will share the backfield with Lindsay, giving the Broncos a better power back than what they have been running out there. Gordon has scored 47 TDs in 53 games over his last four seasons.

Draft selections

The Broncos walked away from the draft with two new weapons at wide receiver, selecting Jerry Jeudy in the first round and K.J. Hamler in the second round. After acquiring some big names on defense in free agency or trades, Denver made it a point to address offense in the draft. Both wide receivers should contribute right away. 

Narratives to look for

If Drew Lock can continue on the promising path he showed at the end of last season, the Broncos look to trend up in the next couple of years. They’re young and very talented as a team, but they aren’t ready yet to challenge Mahomes. 

Dec 1, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs  (28) runs against Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Reggie Ragland (59) during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Las Vegas Raiders outlook

Offensively, the Raiders aren’t half bad on paper, but their defense has been abysmal for the last few years. In 2019, they ranked 24th in both points scored and points allowed. I think the offensive side could see a slight uptick in production, while the defensive side remains bad. 

Key offseason moves

The Raiders made a massive splash in free agency. They signed old man Jason Witten, backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, and backup wide receiver Nelson “I drop everything” Agholor. Sense the sarcasm? They made some really questionable free agency moves that didn’t actually make their team better. 

Draft selections

The Raiders arguably even messed up their first round draft pick by taking Henry Ruggs over Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb. Don’t get me wrong, Ruggs can produce at the NFL level. However, a pure speed guy who never cracked 1K yards in a season in college is a questionable pick when Jeudy and Lamb are available, having absolutely demolished the college landscape against top competition.

With two selections in the first round, the Raiders used their other pick on Damon Arnette, a cornerback out of Ohio State. A three-time all Big Ten selection, he will look to come in and make an impact right away on a defense that surely needs the help. 

In the third round, the Raiders made an interesting pick, taking the running back turned wildcat quarterback Lynn Bowden out of Kentucky. Bowden ran for 1,468 yards and 13 TDs in his final season but, with Jacobs in town, the Raiders will have to get creative on how to get the ball into Bowden’s hands if he is going to make an immediate impact. He did show he can catch passes as well though, hauling in 30 receptions last year. 

Narratives to look for

How bad will the Raiders be? Between the signings and draft picks, they could see a slight uptick in offensive production, but they didn’t make any moves likely to create a significant improvement. You’re looking at another year flirting with the bottom third of the league. 

Division/Conference/Super Bowl bets

Betting any of these using teams from this division not named the Chiefs is just silly. Chiefs to win the division -455, to win the AFC +300 and to win the Super Bowl +600 are all in play.

Win totals

  • Kansas City Chiefs 11.5
  • Los Angeles Chargers 7.5
  • Denver Broncos 7.5
  • Las Vegas Raiders 7

With the AFC West playing the NFC South this year, those four games are not easily winnable. This creates a challenging path to hitting the over for anyone but the Chiefs. Throw in the fact that the Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders are all going to beat up on each other but lose to the Chiefs, and it adds to the unlikelihood of the overs hitting. 

The Chiefs have enough firepower to repeat their 12-win performance from last year and I think we could realistically see a 13 or 14 win season from them in 2020. Their toughest opponents are the Ravens, Saints, and Bucs, and they could legitimately beat all three. 

Meanwhile, the Raiders could lose all four of their games against the NFC South, and will mix in wins and losses against their division rivals. They’re going to have to win a handful of out-of-division games to hit their win total, but their schedule is filled with playoff contenders. I like the under here. 

Chiefs over 11.5 and Raiders under 7 are the win total bets I would make from this division. 

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