According to AFC West futures odds at BetOnline, Kansas City is at money line odds of -365 to win the division title. That is far and away the NFL’s biggest chalk to win any of its 8 division divisional crowns. Next closest is Baltimore at -185 to capture the AFC North. Can the Denver Broncos (+1000), Las Vegas Raiders (+1000), or Los Angeles Chargers (+935) pose any type of threat to Kansas City for division supremacy? I will be answering that question and more throughout the body of this article.
|Team||Odds on June 1||Current Odds|
|Kansas City Chiefs||-365||-450|
|Los Angeles Chargers||+985||+850|
|Las Vegas Raiders||+1000||+1200|
Denver Broncos (+1000)
Denver finished 7-9 last season and tied for 2nd in the AFC West Standings. Nevertheless, it seemed light years behind AFC West and Super Bowl champion Kansas City. The real question mark heading into this season for the Broncos faithful, has their team done enough through an unparalleled offseason enough to narrow the talent gap between themselves and Kansas City?
The Broncos offense will be extremely young but filled with a plethora of potential to be awfully good. Denver heads into this season with their 2nd round pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, Drew Lock, as their starting quarterback. Lock appeared in five games a season ago and made quite an impression with those limited opportunities. The former Missouri Tiger threw for 1020 yards and 7 touchdowns while completing 64.1% of his pass attempts and was intercepted only three times.
The Denver rushing attack looks to be in great shape with a 1-2 running back tandem of Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay. All Lindsay has done in his first two NFL seasons is account for 2438 of total yards from scrimmage and score 17 touchdowns. He rushed for better than 1000 yards during each of those years while averaging a lofty 4.9 per carry. Denver's front office apparently was not convinced of Lindsay's ability to carry a heavy load over an entire season and hence the offseason signing of Melvin Gordon. The former San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers back will be entering his 6th NFL year and has only topped 1000 yards rushing in a season just once. Yet, Gordon is currently listed #1 on the depth chart.
The Broncos wide receivers will be short on experience but certainly not talent. Cortland Sutton will be going into his 3rd NFL season and is coming off an exceptional season which saw him total 72 receptions for 1112 yards while averaging 15.4 yards per catch. Sutton will be joined by a pair of rookies with tremendous speed in first round draft choice Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) and 2nd rounder K.J. Hamler (Penn State). During his 3 years at Alabama, Jeudy amassed 159 receptions for 2742 yards and averaged an enormous 17.2 yards per catch. Through two years at Penn State, Hamler racked up 98 receptions for 1658 yards and averaged 16.9 yards per catch.
Denver was indeed happy with last year's top draft pick Noah Fant. The former Iowa Hawkeye tight end reeled in 40 receptions and averaged a sizable 14.1 yards per catch.
Denver's offense ranked #28 both in scoring and total offense last year. I do think they will be statistically better this year in both categories. However, they are still at least a year away from even being considered as an elite NFL offense.
The Broncos defense was fabulous last year with all things being considered. They were #10 in points allowed (19.8 PPG) and #12 when it came to yards given up a game. They have a couple of stud linebackers in Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. The Broncos also made a couple of noteworthy trades to bolster their defense. They acquired cornerback A.J. Bouye from Jacksonville and defensive tackle Jerrell Casey in a deal with Tennessee. Both are expected to be immediate impact players.
The Denver defense will once again more than hold their own. But will they get enough help from an inexperienced offense to be a legitimate playoff contender? NFL teams have been prevented from conducting offseason workouts and minicamps due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That factor will surely stunt the growth of any young offensive unit such as the Broncos. My forecast is for Denver to win 6 or at the most 7 games.
Kansas City Chiefs (-365)
Kansas City is a prohibitive favorite to win the AFC West and justifiably so. The defending world champions own a roster that has remained virtually intact and especially so when it comes starting players.
I was a bit surprised when researching the Chiefs offensive numbers to discover they finished last regular season 5th in scoring (28.2 PPG), behind Baltimore (33.2), San Francisco (29.9), Tampa Bay (28.6), and New Orleans (28.6). Then again, during their three postseason games they averaged a massive 39.0 points per contest. That offensive outburst enabled them to overcome double-digit deficits in all of those postseason victories.
The Kansas City offense will be led by their tremendous quarterback Patrick Mahomes. All Mahomes has done in his first two years as an NFL starter is throw for 9128 yards and 76 touchdowns. He also ran for 490 yards and four touchdowns as well. Those gaudy numbers were produced despite Mahomes missing two games last season due to injury.
Kansas City is loaded at the offensive skilled positions. Their wide receivers Tyreke Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and Demarcus Robinson all have big play capabilities. They arguably have the NFL's best tight end in Travis Kelce. Running back Damien Williams is coming off last year's huge Super Bowl performance. Williams will be joined in the backfield by the Chiefs 2020 top draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire of last year’s college football national champion LSU Tigers. To borrow an overused cliché, "the rich just keep on getting richer".
The Chiefs defense made significant strides last season. The unit had long been a liability and made of habit of being bailed out by their high scoring offense. Nonetheless, last year they finished the regular season 7th in scoring defense at 19.3 points allowed per game. Compare that to the 2018-2019 regular season when they finished #31 in yards allowed (405.5 PG), 24th in points allowed (26.3 PG), and it is easy to identify an exponential performance upgrade.
If the defense can at least hold serve on what they accomplished a season ago, Kansas City will have a realistic opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Excluding losing Patrick Mahomes for any prolonged period, the Chiefs will frequently light up the scoreboard and be a Top 5 NFL offensive unit. My prognostication on Kansas City's record is for a 14-2 or 13-3 season.
Los Angeles Chargers (+935)
Los Angeles finished 7-9 a year ago and ended up tied with Denver for 2nd place in the AFC West standings. It also marked an end to the Philip Rivers era for the Chargers organization. Following last year's disappointing season, they opted not to resign the unrestricted free agent Rivers and he has since moved on to Indianapolis. The Chargers will be playing in a state-of-the art new facility named SoFi Stadium located in Inglewood, California.
Barring something unforeseen, the Chargers will head into this season with veteran Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback. Waiting in the wings will be 2020 top draft pick Justin Herbert out of Oregon. In a perfect world, the Chargers are hoping Taylor puts together a solid season and it affords them an opportunity to let Herbert sit and learn for a year. Taylor is capable based on his three years as the Buffalo Bills starter. While with the Bills, Taylor threw for 51 touchdowns and was intercepted just 16 times. He also ran for 1575 yards and 14 touchdowns. On a negative note, he failed miserably in a similar role with Cleveland two years ago. So much so that then 1st round pick Baker Mayfield had to be thrown into the fire in Week 3 of that season. Subsequently, Taylor never saw the field again for any meaningful playing time.
The Chargers projected starting offense is good enough to contend for a playoff spot. The problem is they have little to no quality depth beyond that. Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are a dynamic wide receiver duo. When healthy, Hunter Henry is an exceptional tight end. On an unoptimistic note, Henry has missed 16 of 28 games the past 2 seasons due to injury. Austin Ekeler will get his first crack as the Chargers #1 running back with Melvin Gordon now gone. Ekeler has undeniably earned the opportunity. Through his first 3 NFL seasons, Ekeler had a cumulative 3007 total yards from scrimmage and scored 21 touchdowns.
The Chargers defense can be described in similar terms as their offense. A formidable 11 projected starters with limited quality depth backing them up. They are led up front by a pair of explosive defensive ends in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers also acquired veteran defensive tack Linval Joseph who was a cap casualty in Minnesota. The secondary can conceivably be one of the best defensive position groups in football. They signed former Denver Bronco all-pro cornerback Chris Harris, who will play opposite Casey Heyward. Young safety Kerwin James has stardom written all over him.
If the Chargers can remain relatively healthy, then yes, they can be a playoff team and may even give Kansas City a run for their money for a division crown. Then again, that is a huge IF, when considering very few NFL teams go without their fair share of injuries for an entire season. My expectation for this Chargers team is for them to go 7-9, or at best 8-8.
Las Vegas Raiders (+1000)
It is exciting times for NFL fans in "Sin City", as the Raiders franchise relocates from Oakland to Las Vegas. They are all set to show off their brand spanking new digs, called Allegiant Stadium. The Raiders went 5-11 last season and finished last in the AFC West. Nevertheless, there is enough talent on this year's roster for "Raiders Nation" to have an enthusiastic outlook.
The Raiders offense should be plenty skillful enough to put up its fair share of points. Quarterback Derek Carr is coming off two straight seasons in which has eclipsed 4,000 yards passing. During that two-year span, Carr threw for 41 touchdowns against 18 interceptions, while completing an exceptional 69.6% of his pass attempts. Las Vegas also signed former Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota as an insurance policy. Head coach Jon Gruden has stated in the past that he is a fan of Mariota, so this signing should come with very little surprise attached to it.
The Raiders running game will be spearheaded by 2nd year back Josh Jacobs. Despite, missing three games due to injury, the former Alabama Crimson Tide star is coming off an excellent rookie campaign which saw him rush for 1150 yards and seven touchdowns.
Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller has seemingly put his off-the-field issues behind him and last season was further proof of just that. Waller hauled in an enormous 90 pass receptions for 1145 yards. The Raiders also went out and signed former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. Following a temporary one-year retirement, Witten returned last season and recorded 63 receptions for Dallas. His veteran presence and guidance will likely have a positive impact on Waller, which in turn will further enhance his development.
With their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Las Vegas chose wide receiver Henry Ruggs. During his last two years at Alabama, Ruggs had 86 catches for 1487 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ruggs also averaged an outstanding 17.6 yards per reception over his 3-year collegiate career. Ruggs will be joined by veteran Tyrell Williams and 2nd year slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. The Raiders are hoping Williams can return to his form he displayed in 2016 when he totaled 69 catches and 1059 yards receiving. Renfrow was a pleasant surprise last season while accumulating 49 receptions for 605 yards in just 13 games.
The most underrated part of the Las Vegas offense is their offensive line. It will be anchored by past All-Pros in center Rodney Hudson and Richie Incognito. They allowed a mere 29 sacks a season ago which was 8th fewest in the NFL. They also were positively an integral part of why running back Josh Jacobs was a 1000-yard rusher in his rookie season.
If the Raiders are going to contend for a wildcard spot or even be somewhat competitive with Kansas City, they will need considerable improvement defensively. They especially want to be better against opposing passing attacks. Las Vegas was #25 against the pass last season after surrendering a considerable 256.7 yards per game. The stop unit was also 31st in forced turnovers with only a paltry 15 takeaways.
General Manager Mike Mayock more than anyone was fully aware of the Raiders defense struggles. He signed four unrestricted free agents on that side of the ball and another veteran cap casualty (CB-Prince Amukamara). The Las Vegas defense also projects to have five starters with two years or less of NFL experience.
Las Vegas should be better defensively during the season's second half. However, with so much inexperience and new personnel being brought in, I look for them to struggle early on. We must keep in mind this has not been your typical offseason and been void of mini-camps where schematic installs are fine tuned. It will not have as much an effect on offenses or defenses which possess continuity, and that unquestionably will not be case for the 2020-2021 Raiders defense.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
I just can't envision anyone challenging Kansas City in this division. It will also be a cold day in hell before you will ever see make a money line wager of -365. For those reasons, I am going to pass on making an AFC West futures bet, and you should too.
Ross Benjamin is a top sports analyst and one of the sports industry's most respected handicappers. Follow him on Twitter: @RossBenjamin1 or visit his website at RBWins.com