AFC West Preview, Predictions, Picks: One-Way Traffic

Patrick MahomesAs the NFL season begins, we head to the not-so-wild AFC West, the penultimate stop on this divisional series journey. The AFC West is comprised of the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.

On paper, there is a lot of average there as none of the AFC West’s teams are really that bad theoretically. The only problem is not bad in a division that features the two-time defending AFC Champions isn’t good enough. Such is the case entering 2021-22 as the AFC West is once again Kansas City’s division to lose. And frankly, it’s not even going to be that close.

Kansas City Chiefs (+450 to Win Super Bowl; +250 AFC; -275 AFC West)

Just look at the odds for all four teams for a second. The Kansas City Chiefs are -275 to win the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers in second by a huge margin at +500. That should tell you all you need to know about this division and this Chiefs team but if it doesn’t, here is some more. Kansas City has been one of the best teams in the league ever since Patrick Mahomes took over for Alex Smith as quarterback.

Mahomes has been a wunderkind, absolutely shattering any and all expectations made of the 10th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. While Mahomes is the engine that keeps KC running, the success has not just been him. The Chiefs have built the makings of a dynasty with top NFL talent at just about every offensive skill position as well as their future Hall of Fame head coach.

Sure the Chiefs lost the Super Bowl last year, but it was their second straight trip to the big game. Many are expecting their third trip is on the way with potentially only Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills there to stop them. The Chiefs’ biggest issue last year was keeping Mahomes upright and like a good team, they invested all of their offseason capital into making sure their million-dollar man would be able to operate under the best of conditions.

This team boasts the most explosive offense in the NFL and a defense capable of being top-12. There is no betting against them. They are favorite to win the Super Bowl, even above the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Don’t be foolish to bet against them to at least get there.

Los Angeles Chargers (+2800 Super Bowl; +1600 AFC; +500 AFC West)

Given the high praise for the Chiefs, it’s hard to go down this list and not simply window dress the rest of the division. The truth is, the West isn’t bad. The other three teams would fare well in just about any other NFL unit. Having to play the Chiefs twice a year is almost like looking at your schedule and seeing two L’s already waiting for you.

Sure, the games still need to be played and sure, these players on the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders probably buy into the “any given Sunday” mantra, but the truth is, none of them are on KC’s level.

We’ll start with the team closest to that mark in the Los Angeles Chargers. LA has made the playoffs just once in the last seven seasons as Phillip Rivers was always seen as the nearly man. Well, Rivers has since retired and the Chargers have embraced the youth movement with Justin Herbert, who was last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert has weapons in Jared Cook and Keenan Allen, and an upgraded (and expensive) offensive line waiting for him.

Defensively, their group looks solid with Derwin James, Joey Bosa, and Asante Samuel Jr. looking to make his mark. They do have a rookie head coach and a propensity to blow winnable games. The Chargers are still the Chargers in that regard so while a wildcard spot is within reach, don’t count on a division crown. At least not yet.

Denver Broncos (+3500 Super Bowl; +1500 AFC; +600 AFC West)

The Denver Broncos aren’t that far removed from their own Super Bowl win. Remember the one where Peyton Manning had the worst offensive stats of any quarterback and the defense, led by Von Miller, carried the load? Contrary to popular belief, defense can win championships. Anyway, tangent aside, the Broncos haven’t had that kind of success lately and that is in large part due to failure to find a starting quarterback post-Manning’s retirement.

Much like the Indianapolis Colts post-Andrew Luck, the Broncos have struggled to find their franchise QB. 2021-22 will be no different as the Broncos opted to pass on a QB in the draft and instead back Teddy Bridgewater, who has had an up-and-down career to this point. Defensively, the Broncos are at their finest but even so, this year could see some tough times following a down year in 2020-21. The Broncos aren’t bad, but as mentioned in this AFC West preview above, they aren’t on KC’s level. Try again next year, Denver.

Las Vegas Raiders (+10000 Super Bowl; +4000 AFC; +1800 AFC West)

A few years ago, the then Oakland Raiders decided to put all their eggs in the head coaching basket by signing Jon Gruden to a 10-year contract. Well, it hasn’t panned out. It’s not that Gruden or starting quarterback Derek Carr have been bad, but they haven’t delivered on the results their deals would have expected them to.

The Raiders join the Chargers as two teams in the AFC West who have recently changed zip codes, but like the Chargers, not much has changed now that the Raiders are in Sin City. The Raiders are a team that will start okay and fade down the stretch. Carr will likely come out of the gate strong but a torn-down offensive line seems to suggest yet another injury for the aging star.

On defense, the Raiders were third-worst in opponent scoring last season, which seems to imply nowhere to go but up. Only, Vegas made just minimal additions to the same unit from the last campaign. Couple this with facing what projects to be the league’s hardest schedule this year and it’s all a recipe for another last place finish for the Raiders.

Our Preview’s AFC West Predictions & Final Pick

The road to the AFC Championship may well come through the West but the only stop that train is making is Kansas City. With a division of average to good teams, the Chiefs stand high above the rest. The money isn’t really worth a wager but don’t be surprised when the Chiefs run it back all the way to another shot at a Lombardi. Take the Chiefs to win the West (it is best at -275 odds with Bovada) and put your money on them going even further.