Just one year ago, the AFC West may have been the best division in the NFL. The Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers combined to win 26 of their 40 games against the rest of the league.
In 2017, the group took a step back. Only the Chargers (now in Los Angeles) improved upon their record, while the other three squads combined for 12 fewer wins than in 2016.
There’s definitely some uncertainty with the AFC West in 2018. Every team has strengths and weaknesses, and there is opportunity for all four squads to win or lose the division.
However, there are teams that are more likely to win the division, and the odds reflect that. Let’s preview each team’s chances at winning the AFC West in 2018 and give some predictions.
Los Angeles Chargers (2017 record: 9-7, No. 2 in AFC West)
The NFL is a passing league, and the Chargers are well equipped to both pass the ball well and prevent their opponents from passing the ball well. Los Angeles ranked first in passing yards and six in passing touchdowns while ranking third and third, respectively, in those categories on defense.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, pass-catchers Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Hunter Henry and defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram anchor elite units and form the identity of the Chargers.
What will keep Los Angeles from being a dominant team is a terrible run defense and poor special teams. If the squad somehow becomes respectable in those categories, this is a strong Super Bowl contender. Remember, the Chargers did win six of their final seven games with a plus-88 point differential.
Kansas City Chiefs (2017 record: 10-6, No. 1 in AFC West, Lost in AFC Wild Card Game)
In an unexpected twist, the offense took the lead for the Chiefs in 2017. Kansas City ranked sixth in points scored and 15th in points allowed, which was the first time since 2009 that the offense ranked higher than the defense.
The big change for this year is the insertion of 22-year-old quarterback Patrick Mahomes for Alex Smith. Kansas City crafted its offense around Smith’s short passing ability and excellent decision-making. Smith had 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions last season. Meanwhile, Mahomes is more of a deep-ball thrower with a penchant for big plays, but he is unproven as a pro quarterback.
All that to say, the Chiefs might need some time, maybe even a full season, to get used to a new signal-caller, even though they have a lot of strong skill position players. On defense, Kansas City had some great players leave (Marcus Peters and Derrick Johnson) and got some solid defenders to join (Xavier Williams and Kendall Fuller). The squad’s defense should remain in the average to solid range.
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +300 with Intertops.
Oakland Raiders (2017 record: 6-10, No. 3 in AFC West)
Two seasons ago in 2016, the Raiders finally had their first winning season (12-4) and playoff appearance since 2002. If it weren’t for a leg injury to quarterback Derek Carr late in the season, the team may have challenged for a Super Bowl title.
The squad fell back into its losing patterns in 2017, winning just six games. Carr played most of the year, but he was affected by a back injury. The offense as a whole took a huge tumble. Oakland responded by replacing head coach Jack Del Rio with Jon Gruden, who coached the Raiders from 1998 to 2001. Gruden has been a broadcast guy for several years since leaving the sidelines, so his transition could be difficult.
The Raiders beefed up their offensive line in the offseason and added dangerous receivers Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant to the squad. Defense is a weakness, though pass-rushing extraordinaire Khalil Mack will keep the unit from being completely terrible.
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +330 with 5Dimes.
Denver Broncos (2017 record: 5-11, No. 4 in AFC West)
Denver suffered through a terrible season of quarterback play in 2017, thanks to the likes of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. The Broncos responded by adding Case Keenum, who had a breakout year with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017 in the form of 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Keenum is an upgrade for the Broncos, but he is 30 years old and has been a fringe starter as a signal-caller throughout his career. With an offseason of scouting on him and a poor offensive line in Denver, he is not likely to post another great season.
Denver’s defense took a concerning step back in 2017 after performing as an elite unit in 2015 and 2016. Rookie defensive lineman Bradley Chubb should be an immediate boost as a pass-rusher, but the loss of stud cover corner Aqib Talib will hurt. Expect the Broncos to fall in the middle of the pack as a defensive unit in 2018.
- Record Prediction: 6-10
- Best Odds: +435 with 5Dimes.
Our AFC West Preview’s Final Predictions & Picks Verdict
There is no obvious betting choice in the AFC West based on the given odds, so this may be a division to sit out.
However, both the Raiders and Chargers are solid investments if you do choose to pull the trigger on one or more of these teams. The Chargers are well-positioned to succeed in a passing league, and the Raiders have a high ceiling with the number of key players they still have from their 12-4 season in 2016.