We’ve been providing a betting preview for each NFL division this week leading up to the first set of full games today. We finish now with the AFC West. Click here for a list of all the major offseason moves by each AFC West team.
For the first time in what seems like a decade, the San Diego Chargers aren’t favored to win the AFC West. The Bolts won this division every year from 2006 to 2009, but have since fallen on hard times.
At 10-to-1 last year, the Denver Broncos were the biggest underdogs to win a division title. Now, they’re favored, but it’s not really because they’re the defending champs. (It has more to do with some guy named Peyton Manning.)
It should be a tight race at the top between San Diego, Denver and Kansas City, which has a lot of talent back after an injury-riddled 2011 season.
The AFC West’s divisional futures odds listed at 5Dimes:
Most value: It doesn’t make much sense to take Denver at the lowest payout when A) San Diego and Kansas City are about even talent-wise, and B) the Broncos have a disadvantage in the schedule compared to the other AFC West teams (see below). Instead, we’ll take the Chiefs at better than 3-to-1, hoping that Matt Cassel is serviceable enough to carry a roster that’s loaded with skill-position players.
Broncos: 9 (over -115)
Chargers: 8.5 (over -115)
Chiefs: 7.5 (over -130)
Raiders: 7 (over -125)
Best bet: If you can find it at 7.5, Kansas City is probably worth a bet on the over. The Chiefs finished 7-9 last year despite a rash of injuries and starting Tyler Palko at quarterback for a handful of games. A healthy running game, weaker schedule (after a tough opening stretch) and strong defense should be enough to get them to .500.
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Maybe Manning can help Denver’s ATS numbers. Over the past six seasons, the Broncos have covered just 37 percent of the time. Even while winning the division as big underdogs in 2011, they only managed a 7-9 ATS record.
Here’s a look at each team’s record ATS since 2006 (with last year’s record in parentheses):
Broncos: 35-59-2 (7-9)
Chargers: 49-44-3 (6-10)
Chiefs: 48-47-1 (9-7)
Raiders: 45-50-1 (9-6-1)
The AFC West is matched up with the AFC North and the NFC South, leaving one opponent each from the AFC East and AFC South as the only differences in the schedule.
Here are the two “swing games” on each team’s schedule:
Broncos: vs. Houston, at New England (Weeks 3 & 5)
Chargers: vs. Tennessee, at New York Jets
Chiefs: at Buffalo, vs. Indianapolis
Raiders: at Miami, vs. Jacksonville
Analysis: The schedule is probably the biggest reason to like either San Diego or Kansas City instead of Denver. The Broncos have a likely loss at New England and a toss-up against Houston within the first six weeks, and road trips to Atlanta and San Diego are also within that stretch. Meanwhile, it looks like the worst-case scenario for the Chiefs or Chargers would be to finish 1-1 in their “swing games.” (Oakland could very well go 2-0.)
WHO TO FOLLOW
A Twitter follow list for beat writers covering each team.