From the NFC West to its AFC counterpart, USAbetting’s comprehensive NFL preview series looks at the AFC West in this edition.
Led by the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that produced last year’s MVP in Patrick Mahomes, the AFC West features the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders as well. While the Chiefs and Chargers, both of whom made the playoffs last year, are still in a class above the rest, both Oakland and Denver made some significant improvements on the offseason. The AFC West could certainly heat up this year as one of the more competitive divisions in football. Let’s take a look.
Kansas City Chiefs
- Last year’s regular season record: 12-4; 7-1 at home (won the AFC West)
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +800
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +350
- 2019-20 Division Odds: -150
In one of the highest scoring regular season games in NFL history, the New England Patriots edged out the Kansas City Chiefs in October 2018, by a final score of 43-40. A few months later, the two teams did it again, with the Patriots once again overcoming the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, winning by a final score of 37-31. In a lot of ways, this one really stung. The Chiefs trailed 14-0 after the half but came back to tie the game after a huge fourth quarter. Due to the NFL’s overtime rules, league MVP Patrick Mahomes never touched the ball as the Patriots scored a touchdown to win the game.
Coming into the 2019-20 season, the Chiefs will be looking to avoid that result. They have got a strong chance as evidenced by being second favorite in the United States’ online sports betting sites Super Bowl odds, right behind the Patriots. For the Chiefs, their offseason was less about bringing in flashy talent as it was about keeping together the rock solid core that has brought them so much success over recent years. Travis Kelce and Mahomes remain the centerpieces of the offense, along with Tyreek Hill, who seems like he’ll be avoiding any punishment from the NFL for his offseason actions, at least as known at this time. However, on the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs offseason left many questions and many unfilled holes.
Kansas City still has one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL and that should continue this year. As a team, the Chiefs led the league in yards per game and points per game and were third in passing yards per game as well. That’s a Chiefs team that can really dominate the division this year through high scoring shootouts. But will it be enough to take down the Patriots this time? That remains to be seen. Before the Patriots, the Chiefs will have to contend with division rival, the Los Angeles Chargers, who finished with an identical record as Kansas City last year.
Los Angeles Chargers
- Last year’s regular season record: 12-4
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +1400
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +700
- 2019-20 Division Odds: +190
It is not often that a team goes 12-4 and doesn’t win their division but that is exactly what happened to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018. The Chargers were one of the finest teams in the NFL last year. In fact, their record was tied for the best, but it was tied with the Chiefs who held the head-to-head tiebreaker leaving the 12-win Chargers in the wildcard spot. LA won their opening round game against the Baltimore Ravens but (like the Chiefs would a round later) failed to advance past the Patriots.
This year, the Chargers enter with high hopes that they will be able to dethrone the Chiefs in the AFC West and perhaps even dethrone the Patriots in the AFC. Much like Kansas City, the Chargers didn’t make any splashy moves in the offseason, feeling confident in the players they were bringing to the table from last year’s playoff team. Perhaps in that way, LA’s offseason was lackluster. While the team most likely retained all of what they need to return to the playoffs, it is questionable if they have done enough to take the next step.
The biggest move made by the Chargers came in the acquisition of Thomas Davis, a proven linebacker who adds veteran depth to an already strong unit. Davis joins a young and athletic group where his presence on the field as well as leadership off it could be the push these guys need to go from good to great. On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest upgrade the Chargers made is simply the return of Hunter Henry, who missed all of last year with an injury. LA’s offense is aging compared to some of the other teams in the league so Henry’s return could be somewhat of a difference maker.
- Last year’s regular season record: 4-12
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +6600
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +3300
- 2019-20 Division Odds: +1100
Whereas the Chiefs and Chargers were content with staying pat, the Oakland Raiders took splashy to a new level when they made the trade of the offseason, acquiring Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers in a huge blockbuster. Finally, Derek Carr, who is not far removed from his MVP caliber season a few years ago, has a legitimate top passing threat. Not to mention pass protection that will hopefully keep him on the field after injuries of the past two seasons, in the form of Trent Brown.
The Raiders had to make improvements as last year, under Jon Gruden’s momentous return to coaching, they failed to have the kind of impact ownership expected. Instead, the team couldn’t gel as a unit as several players, most of them no longer with the Raiders, couldn’t adapt to Gruden’s old school style. This offseason, Gruden got a chance to put his spin on what happened and as a result, the team is in a better place to succeed. They had three first round picks and used them to pick up some solid players in Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jacobs, Johnathan Abram. The Raiders aren’t there yet but they certainly made enough improvements to pick up a few Ws in the win column.
- Last year’s regular season record: 6-10
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +6600
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +3300
- 2019-20 Division Odds: +1200
Having struggled at the quarterback position since Peyton Manning retired a few years ago, the Denver Broncos may have found the answer in longtime Ravens veteran signal caller, Joe Flacco. While Flacco is slightly removed from his best days, he is still an upgrade from what the Broncos have had in the years since they lost Manning. Beyond Flacco, the Broncos also used the draft to perhaps find their QB of the future in Drew Lock. For Lock to learn under Flacco, it is a great situation for Denver to be in as they move toward their next chapter.
After Lock, the Broncos used the draft to fill several gaping holes. They grabbed Dalton Risner, a strong pass blocker, Noah Fant, who will be a great weapon for Flacco and Dre’Mont Jones, who profiles as a great defensive tackle. John Elway, despite his pedigree as a player, has often been criticized for his drafts but this year, he seems to have hit on just what the Broncos needed to begin their rebuild back to relevancy.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & 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.