Ready, set, football! That’s right, we are less than a month away from the start of the 2023 NFL season and all of the unexpected twists and turns that come with it. So that of course means, it is time for our annual division previews where we take you around the league, analyzing each division and making our picks for which teams we think will emerge victorious after the dust settles on the regular season.
As is our tradition, we will once again be starting this preview series with the AFC West. It is the division that is home to the reigning, defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Once again, the sky is blue and the Chiefs are predictably favored with the US betting sites to take home the Lombardi Trophy and it would be their third in the Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes era.
As much as we’d love to start this preview by saying that any of Kansas City’s divisional rivals can challenge them for the AFC West crown, history has shown that is unlikely. The Chiefs have won seven consecutive AFC West titles, and are favored to claim their eighth in 2023. Now, that’s not to say that another team, namely the Los Angeles Chargers, can’t magically upend the Kansas City dynasty. It would just take just about everything going perfect for them in order to even conceive that as a possibility. Here’s a rundown of the teams, their odds and their chances:
Kansas City Chiefs (-200 to win AFC West; +375 to Win AFC; +675 Super Bowl)
Hail to the Chief, or rather, the Chiefs. Kansas City has been the class of the NFL ever since future Hall of Famer and perennial MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes was drafted 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
He was the second QB taken (the Chicago Bears still must cry into their pillows at night for taking Mitch Trubisky 2nd overall…) but has more than surpassed not just the other nine quarterbacks from the draft class, but every single one of the 253 players taken in total. And that’s just in his draft class. Mahomes may well be the best player drafted since 2017, and no doubt one of the best drafted period. He’s practically already a Hall of Famer, despite having played just seven seasons in the NFL. He has been that good.
As Mahomes goes, so have the Chiefs. Stacked on offense and defense with a list of skill players most teams would be happy to have just one of, Kansas City is a juggernaut. They can beat you in so many different ways. The Chiefs are so good in fact, that it is shocking when they lose, which is rare. The team has lost just 16 games (regular season and playoffs) over the last four seasons.
This is the part of the preview where I say, it isn’t just Mahomes either. Yes, he is the cog that makes the machine go, but the Chiefs are also a sum of their parts. Kansas City led all NFL teams last year in total yards (only team over 7,000), yards per game (only team over 400), passing yards (only team over 5,000), passing yards per game, points and points per game.
If the Chiefs have one weakness on offense, it is their rushing attack, which was middle of the pack last year. Total rushing yards and rushing yards per game are literally the only two offensive categories Kansas City didn’t lead in last season. Switching over the defense and there are certainly some vulnerabilities there, but the name of the game is to score more than your opponents and with the high-powered Chiefs offense, it doesn’t hurt them that their defense, on average, gave up nearly 22 points per game. An eye toward the negative turnover differential could be something the Chiefs work to improve this offseason, but other than that, it’s hard to see too many areas of weakness.
So, let it be said that this is how the West was won. The Chiefs will do what they have done for the past seven years, play really good football all the time.
Let’s open the door for a shocking possibility, one that could be brought about by injuries or a Super Bowl hangover even.
Los Angeles Chargers (+335 AFC West; +1400 AFC; +3000 Super Bowl)
I know this is an AFC West preview, but we may as well stop here. We won’t, but we may as well. Because sorry Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders, there is but one other team in the West that could possibly, conceivably, dare I say even…realistically, defeat the Chiefs and end their seven-year dominance atop the division. And why you might ask? Because they are the closest any team has come in that time to doing so, and maybe got better in the offseason.
Let’s start where one must in this story. The end of the 2022 season. Chargers fans want to forget, the team wants to forget, but history isn’t so kind. Perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars were a bit of a team of destiny. Perhaps the fates didn’t smile upon Los Angeles that day. No matter the case, there is no way around how to describe the Chargers giving up a 27-point lead in the AFC Wild Card round last year. It was a humiliating, devastating loss. A collapse never seen in the NFL. The Chargers had to get better, they had no choice. While the roster largely remains unchanged, Los Angeles made upgrades in two areas often not given enough credit in football: offensive and defensive coordinator.
In Kellen Moore, the Chargers brought in one of the most explosive young playcallers in all of football. The former BYU quarterback transformed the Dallas Cowboys offense under Dak Prescott, who is arguably a worse quarterback than what Moore will have to work with in Chargers’ Justin Herbert. Herbert hasn’t had that breakout season that many have been expecting, and his playcaller could be why. Should Moore be able to bring the same offensive dynamic to Los Angeles that he brought in Dallas then it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Chargers can mount a challenge to the Chiefs.
As mentioned in this AFC West preview and predictions post above, they would need everything to go right. LA has little depth to play with should their frontline sustain any injuries and it is a little concerning that they didn’t address some of that in the offseason. LA’s strength of schedule is considered one of the toughest among all teams.
Not saying it will happen, but that it could happen. So, if you are not interested in riding the frontrunning Chiefs to another title, allow for the chance that the Chargers could shock you into a nice payday.
Denver Broncos (+675 AFC West; +3000 AFC; +6000 Super Bowl)
On any given Sunday, any team can . . . no, I’m going to stop right there. The Denver Broncos are not winning the AFC West. There, now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s dive into the myriad of reasons why. Let’s start with the guy who cost Denver nine players to acquire.
The Broncos won just five games last season and Russell Wilson was a big part of the reason why. In fact, had Wilson not cost Denver so much, they may have elected to bench him down the stretch of what was, by far, his worst season as a pro. Wilson entered the season highly regarded with Denver believing they had gotten their QB of the future. And Broncos fans would tell you, they had years where they were one quarterback away from being relevant. Well, they may still be one quarterback away. Look, there is no way Wilson has a worse season in 2023 than he did in 2022. I’d bet the farm on it. Players of his caliber, even as they start to see the shorter side of their careers, simply don’t have back-to-back duds, especially when a new head coach is in town and he just so happens to have worked with one of the most prolific passers of all-time.
Wilson will be better with Sean Payton at the helm, but the question is just how much and will it be enough for Denver to climb out of the AFC West cellar. Management is certainly hoping so as luring Payton out of retirement and his cushy desk job wasn’t exactly an easy task. Now, that being said, it was absolutely the right move. Payton is a great coaching mind and his tandem with Drew Brees in New Orleans was second only to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in terms of effectiveness. So, this year, Payton and his staff (which includes a new quarterbacks’ coach and new offensive coordinator) and Wilson will feel each other out. They will find their rhythm and then maybe next year, Denver can start to make a splash.
Las Vegas Raiders (+1300 AFC West; +3500 AFC; +5500 Super Bowl)
There’s always a team that has to finish last place in the division, and in the AFC West, that team is the Las Vegas Raiders. The Derek Carr era is finally over, but the quarterback position was just one of many that the Raiders will need to address in the coming years. And one can argue that they didn’t even really address the QB position this offseason, relying on Jimmy Garoppolo, whose own track record isn’t much better than Carr’s.
The reality is, the Raiders are probably eyeing the 2024 NFL Draft in order to find their future signal caller, and someone who can make use of Davante Adams’ explosiveness at wide receiver. The Raiders do have some nice offensive pieces in Adams, Hunter Renfrow, and new tight end Austin Hooper, but the loss of Darren Waller and to a lesser extent, Mack Hollins, could sting a bit.
The Raiders didn’t so much as get better but rather they made lateral moves in a quest to satisfy last year’s expectations. They made a ton of roster moves, but none expected to move the needle all that much higher. That said, seven wins is in the realm of possibility which wouldn’t be half bad for a last place team.
- All listed odds are courtesy of Bovada Sportsbook. In addition to divisional, championship, and Super Bowl odds, you can find division specific props such as order of how the teams will finish, who will have the most passing yards, and exact finishing position picks for each team.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.