The Denver Broncos are the defending Super Bowl champions after a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. They also won the AFC West last year with a 12-4 mark, and they could repeat as division champs again in 2016.
Their biggest competition on paper will be the Kansas City Chiefs, who went 11-5 last season and were beaten by the New England Patriots 27-20 in a divisional playoff game.
For the Oakland Raiders, last year could be considered a success because they were at least competitive, finishing with a 7-9 record.
The same can’t be said of the San Diego Chargers, who were 4-12 en route to missing the playoffs for a second-straight year.
Can the Chargers be more competitive in 2016? Can the Raiders or Chiefs dethrone the Broncos as division champs? Find out as we preview the AFC West and offer betting lines on who’ll win the division.
AFC West Betting Odds to Win Division (from GTBets)
Kansas City +190
San Diego +550
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Projected Record 11-5
If we’re basing this preview off the potential that Kansas City showed last year, then they have a strong chance to be AFC West champs this season.
But much of this depends upon the health of the team since LB Justin Houston and DE Tamba Hali are both on the PUP list. Meanwhile, safety Eric Berry is still holding out over a contract extension.
If these three return in time for the season, and play up to their potential, this defensive unit will be among the league’s best. And if this happens, enough dominoes should fall into place for KC to take the division.
The offense just needs to be efficient again, and chip away while putting a few points on the board. Alex Smith won’t be mistaken for a gunslinger who can consistently engineer fourth-quarter drives. But he makes smart plays and avoids turnovers, which is what this team needs.
Smith does have a few weapons in receiver Jeremy Maclin and TE Travis Kelce, both of who had strong seasons. RB Jamaal Charles is coming off another knee injury, and it’s questionable as to if he’ll be the same player. Charles’ health could be the difference between another good season, and a great one.
2. Denver Broncos: Projected Record 10-6
Coming off a championship season, the Denver Broncos should be favorites to win the AFC West. But the big problem is that Denver has no solution for the game’s most-important position.
With Peyton Manning retiring and Brock Osweiler signing with the Texans, the Broncos have Mark Sanchez, Trevor Simien, and rookie Paxton Lynch to choose from.
Lynch is supposed to be the franchise quarterback, but he’s not a playoff-caliber QB yet. Odds are that Sanchez will open as the starter, which isn’t exciting given his career 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The good news for whoever is quarterback is that receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders return. They form one of the best wideout duos in the NFL and will be tough to stop as long as somebody gets the ball in their vicinity.
The biggest strength of this team will be the defense, which, despite losing important players to free agency, will be as good as the Chiefs’ D. If the defense can play to the elite level that it did last year, then they should carry this team to the playoffs.
3. Oakland Raiders: Projected Record 7-9
There hasn’t been this much postseason buzz about a Raiders team in years. The reason for optimism starts with the offense, which is led by Derek Carr, who threw for almost 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
Receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will be catching Carr’s passes again. They combined for nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in 2015. Add in RB Latavius Murray, who rushed for 1,066 yards last season, and this will be among the AFC’s best offenses.
Linebacker Khalil Mack returns to anchor the defense, and the Raiders should have a strong secondary too. But the D-line isn’t very good, and the entire defensive unit lacks quality depth.
Add in the fact that Oakland hasn’t been to the postseason since 2003, and we aren’t betting on them to break the streak this time around either.
4. San Diego Chargers: Projected Record 5-11
Few people noticed that Philip Rivers threw for 4,792 yards and 29 touchdowns last year, given that the Chargers finished just 4-12.
It’s hard to tell if Rivers can keep up this level of productivity because he’ll be 35 this year. But he has a decent chance too given that Keenan Allen will be back after an injury plagued 2015 campaign. It also helps that deep threat Travis Benjamin was signed in the offseason.
What would really help is if Melvin Gordon can put up better numbers than his rookie campaign. He was much maligned last season after failing to reach the end zone. But Gordon is excellent at making tacklers miss, a skill that he’ll need when running behind this subpar offensive line.
The secondary was good last season and should be solid again, despite losing safety Eric Weddle to free agency. But the front seven will again be a weakness that San Diego won’t be able to overcome.