NFL

AFC West Division Betting Preview: Will Anyone Challenge the Chiefs?

Let's continue our division betting previews for the 2021 NFL season. This time, we are focusing our attention on the AFC West.

The odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook, which has odds for every division winner, conference winner, player props, and a whole lot more. It's a great place to go if you are fond of a flutter.

Looking Back to 2020

Since the end of the Peyton Manning era with the Denver Broncos, the AFC West has belonged to the Kansas City Chiefs. They have won five consecutive division titles. This is an amazing feat considering they had never even won back-to-back titles in their history before 2016. They claimed the West with a 14-2 record in 2020, earning themselves the top seed in the AFC. They went on to lose in the Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In their first season in Las Vegas, the Raiders were second in the division with an 8-8 mark. But things could and should have been better. They were 6-3 at Week 10 but lost five of their last seven games. Still, 2020 marked their first year since 2016 without a losing record.

The Los Angeles Chargers finished the 2020 season on a high note, winning each of their last four games on their way to a 7-9 record. The late flourish was not enough to save head coach Anthony Lynn, who was fired at the end of the campaign. Lynn was replaced by Brandon Staley, the former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator.

The Broncos, the last team other than the Chiefs to win the division, finished bottom of the AFC West with a 5-11 record. It marked their fourth straight losing season after not previously enduring consecutive losing seasons since the early 1970s. Head coach Vic Fangio is 12-20 during his tenure with the team and will be looking for more from his defensive players in the coming season. The Broncos leaked 446 points a year ago, the most they have allowed since 2010.

2021 Strength of Schedule

TeamOdds to
Win Division
2021 Strength
of Schedule
Implied
Probability
Kansas City Chiefs-27020th73%
Los Angeles Chargers+49011th16.9%
Denver Broncos+7007th12.5%
Las Vegas Raiders+130030th7.1%


Unsurprisingly, the bookies like the Chiefs to take home the division in 2021. They don't have an easy path to walk -- at least in terms of their schedule. Sharp Football Stats, which looks at the projected win totals for all teams' opponents in the coming year, has the Chiefs staring down the barrel of the 13th-hardest slate in 2021. But this is an experienced side, not to mention an explosive offensive, aided by playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. They have represented the AFC in the last two Super Bowls, winning one and losing the other. As long as Patrick Mahomes is upright, KC has a good chance to outscore anyone in the game and is a more-than-deserving AFC West favorite.

The Chargers are a team on the rise, with a young and innovative head coach in Staley and a promising young quarterback in Justin Herbert. They also have a talented defense and should certainly make some noise in the AFC in 2021. The Chargers' schedule is a sight more friendly than the Chiefs', and they should make a push for the postseason if they can have better injury luck.

There is an awful lot to like about the Broncos heading into the season. They have solid players on defense, like Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The Broncos' offensive line is one of the better units in the NFL. Players like Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon make their offense look quite potent. Plus they have a very friendly schedule. But they have serious issues at quarterback, with the team facing a dilemma between the scattergun Drew Lock and the careful-but-limited Teddy Bridgewater.

As for the Raiders, they remain an enigmatic unit both on and off the field. They gutted the strength of the team, the offensive line, in the offseason. Derek Carr is a solid veteran at the quarterback spot, but other than tight end Darren Waller, they are short of star power on offense. They have a distinct shortage of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Since the beginning of the 2018 season, the Raiders have had 66 sacks in total. This is by far the fewest in the entire league. Why did I pick the 2018 season to make this point? Well, that's when they traded away Khalil Mack, of course. He's racked up 30 sacks on his own since joining the Chicago Bears.

The Pick

The easy option here is to side with the Chiefs. They are the most battle-hardened unit in the division with the most talent and the longest tenured head coach in Andy Reid. They have Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, players who can lay claim to being the best at their positions in the entire league. Plus, they own this division. It seems a safe and sensible bet to make.

But for those looking for a bit of value, the Chargers at +490 are a tantalizing option. They are a team seemingly on the rise, with talent all across the roster and a favorable schedule. I don't want to will this into existence, but hear me out -- what if something were to happen to Mahomes, and he were to miss significant time? The Chiefs would still be a force to reckon with, of course. But would they be able to hold off the Chargers, assuming Herbert is everything we think he can be? It's got to be worth a few bucks just in case -- right?