Who's Going to Win the AFC West?
The AFC West is arguably the NFL's best division through the first seven weeks of the season. The four teams are a combined seven games over .500, with only the NFC East coming close to that mark -- they're eight games over .500 so far this season. It's also the only division in the NFL where all four members have a positive point differential.
In trying to sort through who's going to win the whole thing, the picture seems to have been murky from the get-go. Before the season began, many pundits were struggling to see who could win the division -- per Oddshark, the division had the tightest preseason odds from top to bottom.
So, with 10 weeks to go in the regular season, who's got the best chance to come out on top?
You're Such a nERD
The primary analytic that we use to analyze overall team performance here at numberFire is nERD, which is essentially a measure of how many points a team would win by against an average squad on a neutral field. (Our nERD information can be found on our NFL Team Power Rankings page.)
In breaking down these AFC West teams, here's where they stack up so far in 2016:
Denver surprisingly tops the charts with a nERD score of 7.41, meaning, if they were playing a league-average team, they should beat them by just north of a touchdown.
What's also interesting to note is that Oakland, currently 5-2, would be projected to lose to a league-average team by about a field goal. Our own Tony DelSignore wrote up a great piece that details Oakland's legitimacy (or lack thereof), and how four of Oakland's five wins have come against teams that rank 20th or worse in the NFL utilizing our nERD metric. And they've also won three of their five games by a combined five points.
To get a bit more granular, let's break down the teams a little bit further to see if we can figure out who will win the division given their remaining schedule.
The Offensive Attack
To break down each of these teams' offensive and defensive units, we are going to utilize our Net Expected Points (NEP) analytic, which adds down-and-distance value to standard box score information so that we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
The table below shows each team's production in offensive NEP on a per-play basis this season, adjusting their totals for the quality of their opponents, along with their ranks in each category in the league for comparison.
|Per Play||NFL Rank||Passing NEP per Drop Back||NFL Rank||Rushing NEP per Rush||NFL Rank|
Oakland features a fantastic offense overall, and it's largely driven by their passing offense. Signal-caller Derek Carr continues to take steps forward in his young NFL career. Among quarterbacks who have dropped back 100 or more times this year, Carr ranks ninth in the NFL in Passing NEP per drop back at 0.22. His receivers have been pretty efficient, too -- Michael Crabtree ranks 4th in the NFL amongst wide receivers with 40 targets or more in Reception NEP per target (efficiency per target), and Amari Cooper checks in at 23rd. Oakland's rush offense isn't quite as strong, but Latavius Murray and the running game check in at a respectable 13th in Rushing NEP per play.
San Diego and Denver, meanwhile, are in the middle of the pack offensively, ranking 13th and 17th by our metrics. The Chargers offense, led by Philip Rivers, sits just outside of the top-10 and is clearly one of the league's best. That running game? Not so much. It currently sits at 29th in the NFL, and while Melvin Gordon is scoring touchdowns in bunches, he's not been the most efficient back.
Denver, meanwhile, is roughly the opposite, featuring a passing attack that sits at 19th per our metrics with a more efficient running game.
By far the worst offense in this division rests in Kansas City. A mediocre passing attack led by Alex Smith is really struggling, and it's been the same old story -- a lack of a real vertical threat seems to be hamstringing this offense, as Smith ranks 22nd in quarterbacks with 100 drop backs or more in averaging only 7.06 yards per attempt.
While it's clear that Oakland has the best offense among the bunch, how do the defenses stack up?
Hold the Line
The Broncos are top of the charts in the division defensively, which should come as no surprise, but make no mistake, this isn't a one-man show.
|Defensive NEP per Play||Rank|
Denver's defense is carried by a strong pass defense (which ranks third per our per-play metrics in the NFL) along with a ferocious defensive line that ranks sixth in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders.
The Chiefs and Chargers both possess defenses ranked inside the top-eight in the league as well. Kansas City shouldn't come as too much of a shock, as they were a strong defensive unit in 2015, ranking third-best in scoring defense at only 17.9 points per game allowed.
But the Chargers may be the real surprise here, and that's partly due to the signing of this year's top pick, Joey Bosa, who's making a major impact as of late.
Joey Bosa has 20 pressures this season. Only 23 edge rushers have more. Bosa has only played in 3 games.
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 24, 2016
The Raiders' defense, meanwhile, has been terrible. Per our numbers, the Raiders are horrendous in terms of both pass defense (28th) and run defense (31st). At this point, the great offense has certainly carried the team to their early 5-2 mark.
Predicting how teams will perform against their remaining schedule is difficult, but there are a few key things to point out between the teams.
Perhaps the team with the most challenging schedule left to go is the Broncos. Of their 9 remaining games, they've got four at home, one of which is this weekend against the Chargers. Of the remaining home games, three are against remaining divisional opponents and one is against the second-ranked team in our power rankings, the New England Patriots. They'll also face the Saints on the road, and as we've highlighted in the past, while we have the Saints ranked 20th in the power rankings, some crazy things are happening in the Superdome.
The easiest schedule may lie with the Chargers. Five of their remaining nine games are at home and, after this week, they'll be finished with the Broncos. Of their four road games, three are against the Texans (16th in our power rankings), the Browns (32nd), and the Panthers (15th). They also get the Titans (22nd), Dolphins (17th) and Bucs (23rd) at home.
So taking all of these things into account, who's going to win it?
There's a lot of football left to play, but here's how our algorithm sees the division playing out:
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||22.80%|
|4||San Diego Chargers||6.00%|
The Broncos are currently the favorites, with San Diego sitting in last. But given the Chargers' upcoming schedule and the quarterback they have under center, don't be surprised if they're able to make it interesting.