The AFC West should be the strongest division in NFL. All four teams are legitimately solid squads that have a shot at winning the division.
How will the teams end up finishing this season, though? Will the Oakland Raiders’ explosive offense take the cake? Will the Los Angeles Chargers complete a major turnaround? Is the Denver Broncos’ defense dominant enough to earn the group’s best record? Will the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense be strong enough to supplement their great defense?
Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses of all four AFC West teams. Then, we’ll predict each of their records and give some picks, betting recommendations and predictions based on the odds on offer from the top sports betting websites for Americans to join.
Oakland Raiders (2016 record: 12-4, No. 2 in AFC West, Lost in AFC Wild Card Round)
The Raiders lost franchise quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg in Week 16 of last season after a huge season for the 26-year-old star. In the offseason, Oakland locked Carr into a five-year extension worth $125 million over five years.
Now, it’s up to the youngster to prove he’s worth that sort of money. He appears to be fully healthy again and should end up showing he’s worth every penny.
Oakland has built a roster around him that has very few significant weaknesses. Running back Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement to take the starting running back spot, and he’ll be running behind a solid offensive line. Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook is an elite trio of pass catchers.
On defense, everything revolves around reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. He’s one of those one-man wrecking crews who can singlehandedly keep a defense respectable. The Raiders should progress to about average on the defensive end this year, considering the number of young starters they have and the fluky lack of sacks they accumulated last season (a league-low 25).
The Raiders might be a better team than last season. But they’ll be catching no one off guard this year and had some close-game luck in 2016. They should win the division, but they won’t top last season’s 12-4 record.
- Record Prediction: 11-5
- Best Odds: +182 at 5Dimes.
Kansas City Chiefs (2016 record: 12-4, No. 1 in AFC West, Lost in AFC Wild Card Round)
The Chiefs don’t need to be considered about their defense. Despite bad luck with injuries to star defenders last season, they finished seventh in points allowed. Losing defensive tackle Dontari Poe will hurt, but health to Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson will make up for that.
On offense, Kansas City has a suitable offense for a defense-first team, though it’s nothing special overall. Game-managing quarterback Alex Smith is good in the short and medium passing game, and he has an elite tight end in Travis Kelce. The running game is decent, though it could be better, and the receivers are not very good.
One thing to watch in Kansas City is the potential of 2017 No. 10 overall draft pick Patrick Mahomes potentially taking over for Smith if the veteran doesn’t have a great season. If that happens, it probably means the Chiefs didn’t have a good season.
- Record Prediction: 9-7
- Best Odds: +223 at 5Dimes.
Los Angeles Chargers (2016 record: 5-11, No. 4 in AFC West)
The Chargers are the victim of a tough division. They’re probably an average or slightly above-average team in the league, but that doesn’t cut it in the AFC West. Their 5-11 record last season was misleading because of the number of injuries they had, the strength of the division and their propensity for blowing tight games.
Offense is the strength for Los Angeles. Quarterback Philip Rivers, running back Melvin Gordon and pass-catchers Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry is a great core, though the offensive line has to be better. Rivers also needs to be more careful with the ball after throwing an NFL-leading 21 interceptions in 2016.
The defense is probably going to be about average, which is an upgrade from last season. Defensive end Joey Bosa was dominant in his rookie year, and he should be even better shifting to his new position as a 4-3 end with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. The line is very strong, but the rest of the unit is somewhat lackluster (though improving).
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +380 at MyBookie.
Denver Broncos (2016 record: 9-7, No. 3 in AFC West)
The Broncos have an elite defense that will keep them in games. Their pass defense, led by linebacker Von Miller and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., is dominant. Denver’s run-stopping had a major down year, but that may have been a fluke after four consecutive years as a top-seven run stopping unit.
Offensively, the Broncos are a less stable version of the Chiefs. They’re still deciding between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, neither of whom has proven much in the NFL. The good news is that the elite receiving duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders can help whoever ends up with the job.
Denver’s running game was bad last season, but the potential improvement of it should be an X-factor in 2017. This is a deep group with proven veterans like C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who have struggled recently for various reasons and could have bounce-back years.
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +430 at 5Dimes.
Our Preview’s AFC West Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
The bookies’ odds for the AFC West are quite on par with what I see happening this season. Of course, that means giving confident advice is tough.
- For the pick, Oakland is my top betting recommendation here (+182 at 5Dimes), with the Chiefs being the team to stay away from. The Chargers and Broncos could be decent picks, depending on how much of a turnaround you believe their defense and run offenses, respectively, can make.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.