The AFC West draws a similar picture to the AFC East and the AFC North. You have one team that’s clearly favored and you have three others trying to catch up. This season, the West will follow the same script in my opinion. The Broncos gallop to another easy division title. The Chargers will make some noise and then fade late. The Chiefs will regress from their nobody-saw-us-coming season last year. The Oakland Raiders will be the Oakland Raiders, for better or for worse.
What’s the mindset heading into this season for the Denver Broncos?
I was as surprised as everybody else to see the Broncos get punked by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. I mean, 43-8? Really? A team that shattered pretty much every offensive record in the book got reduced to eight points in the biggest game of the season? Nobody saw that coming. Talk all you want about time healing all wounds but it’s legitimate to ask if the Broncos are going to be able to use that embarrassment and channel it into the greatest comeback season this side of the San Antonio Spurs. That or they’ll implode faster than Manning can say Omaha! in the line of scrimmage.
I don’t think Denver will regress this year. I actually think they can be as good, maybe even better than they were last season. I have faith in Manning’s ability to come back from such an ordeal and impose his leadership on this team. He’s Peyton Manning! He may have lost Knowshown Moreno and Eric Decker on offense, not to mention guard Zane Beadles on the O-line, but John Elway did a good job filling up those holes. The defense should also be an improvement from last year with Von Miller back healthy and Aqib Talib arriving to bolster the secondary.
Everything’s in place for Denver to make another deep run, especially in a division where there’s really no clear contender to take the fight to them. Should they do it, Peyton Manning to win MVP at 11/4 odds is as good a prop to have this early in the season.
Are the Kansas City Chiefs trending up or down?
Every year, there’s always that team that comes out of nowhere to become sneaky good a season after suffering through mediocrity. Last season, that was the Kansas City Chiefs. People actually forget, but the Chiefs started 9-0 last year, before sputtering to a 2-5 record the rest of the season. However, were the Chiefs really good last year, or were they gift-wrapped a soft early schedule? Look back and the latter point is pretty clear. Of the nine teams, KC beat to start 9-0, only the Philadelphia Eagles made it to the playoffs. Then when the schedule got tough after their bye, the Chiefs lost to the Broncos (twice), the sneaky good Chargers (twice), and the Colts once.
This year, the Chiefs have the seventh most difficult schedule in the league. They have the same four games against the Broncos and the Chargers, a four-game schedule against an NFC West that includes the Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals, and the St. Louis Rams. Oh, and they also have games against the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Do you want a team poised to make a regression this season? It’s the Kansas City Chiefs.
Are the Oakland Raiders going to be anything more than mediocre?
Every Raiders fan has asked this question in the past decade. Unfortunately, the short-term answer appears to be no. The Raiders are the epitome of a rudderless team, which is a shame because those fans at the Black Hole deserve a lot more than what they’ve been given the past 10 years.
I really don’t know what to make of the Raiders at this point. They’re hitching their season on a quarterback who was traumatically exposed last year and expect him to excel at such a high-pressure position in Oakland? I like Matt Schaub. He’s given me some quality fantasy starts some years back when he was my QB but he’s not the solution in Oakland. If he’s there to mentor rookie Derek Carr and be a transitional QB, then that’s fine.
Just don’t expect Oakland to be good this season as that transitional phase is happening. Oh, and they have the worst strength of schedule this season at .578. That’s not going to help make things easier for those rabid fans.
Can the San Diego Chargers take the fight to the Denver Broncos?
This is the question I’ve been asked the most about this offseason. In a competitive world, I want to say yes, but the Chargers always find a way to get in their own way. Whether it’s giving up late leads or losing to bad teams outright, San Diego’s the quadruple cheeseburger team of the NFL. Root for them at your own (health) risk. That’s especially true this season when they have the fourth strongest strength of schedule at .563.
I’ll give a lot of credit to Philip Rivers for having a strong season last year. He made fewer mistakes. He made better decisions with the ball; who would have known but he actually became some kind of a leader on that team. The problem is I don’t see Rivers duplicating that feat this year. If he’s not on his A+ game for the season, I don’t see them making too much of a noise, especially with that terrible defense on the other side of the ball.
I don’t know what’s more surprising: San Diego’s over/under of 8 wins, or Kansas City’s over/under of 8 wins. Both lines are dramatically different from how I see things. First, I see Denver running away with the division and that 11-win total could go down to the last game of the season.
However, San Diego and Kansas City at eight wins apiece? I think both are inflated, especially the Chiefs. There is a part of me that still believes in the Chargers’ ability to turn their fortunes around and have luck on their side. Eight wins for them is a possibility, albeit a little tricky to put money on. But the Chiefs at eight wins? Sounds like a sucker over bet. I’ll sleep better at night if I bet under on that line today.
Then there’s Oakland at five wins. I’ve knocked on Schaub numerous times over the years but I think he’s good for a couple of wins this season. I’ll throw in an inexplicable comeback win, and maybe two or three wins by the team’s unheralded defense. So that makes it 5-6 wins. I’m leaning at the over but I’m not getting any pink slips on it.
To Win Division
The only reason Denver doesn’t win the division at 1/4 odds is if Manning gets hurt. If that happens, all bets are off. But if he’s upright and he’s typical Peyton, this is about as high as it’s going to get for the Broncos. The Chiefs and the Broncos are both at 6/1, which looks a little tempting if you’re praying for a massive regression in Denver. But I’m staying away on those two odds. As for Oakland at 28/1? Yeah, right.
Once again, there’s only one team here that’s really worth mentioning. Denver at 6/1 odds to win the Super Bowl makes it the co-favorite together with the defending champion Seahawks. San Diego and Kansas City are again lock-in-lock at 33/1 odds apiece. I’m not buying any stock there, although if you put a gun to my head and made me pick one, I’d go with San Diego. And do I even have to mention the Oakland Raiders at 150/1?
Predicted Order of Finish
Denver takes this division easily. San Diego will probably give them a fight at the start before fading early. The Kansas City Chiefs will crash back down to Earth and Oakland will show some flashes of competence but still won’t escape the cellar. Pretty straightforward, if you ask me.
2. San Diego
3. Kansas City