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AFC West Preview: Season Wins Projections
by Al McMordie - 08/10/2017
Denver Broncos (2016: 9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS, 7-9 O/U)
Odds to win division: +342
Season win total: Over 8.5 +142/Under 8.5 -167
Why to bet the Broncos: Despite the retirement of head coach Gary Kubiak, the Broncos’ new staff has a plethora of coaching experience. Head coach Vance Joseph was the defensive coordinator in Miami last season, while Mike McCoy is back in Denver as offensive coordinator after a head coaching stint with the Chargers, and Joe Woods takes over the defense. This regime change could energize the team, which floundered last season following a Super Bowl title two years ago. Last season, Denver ranked #4 in Total Defense, including #1 vs. the pass. And its offensive numbers should improve this season under McCoy, who will overhaul the scheme to incorporate more short, quick passes. Moreover, Denver should get more productivity at running back, provided C.J. Anderson doesn’t miss more than half the season again. And Woods should also improve Denver’s rush defense, which ranked #28 last season, by mixing up the looks, and not relying too heavily on base concepts.
Why not to bet the Broncos: Denver has several question marks. First, of course, is who will be its quarterback. Trevor Siemian started most of last season, but he will battle Paxton Lynch for the job. Neither signal caller rates above league. Second, Denver’s offensive line had major problems last season. Last season’s zone-heavy scheme is being scrapped by new coach Jeff Davidson, who favors a gap approach. But it’s unclear whether this season’s offensive line will be any better than last year’s. If not, then Denver’s QBs will once again face heavy pressure and be vulnerable to sacks (40 last year). Finally, Denver’s schedule is the league’s most difficult, based on its opponents’ records last season.
Season win total pick: Under 8.5
Kansas City Chiefs (2016: 12-4 SU, 9-6-1 ATS, 6-10 O/U)
Odds to win division: +238
Season win total: Over 9, -109/Under 9 -107
Why to bet the Chiefs: In four seasons with the Chiefs, coach Andy Reid has posted a record of 43-21 in the regular season. Last year, KC went 12-4, and is returning all of its offensive starters from last season, and all but one of its defensive starters. But even though management isn’t bringing in new talent, that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement. Last year’s breakout rookie, Tyreek Hill, should be able to build on his 2016 campaign, as the coaching staff will feature him much more this season. And star pass rusher Justin Houston will also contribute more, as he played just five games last year due to injury.
Why not to bet the Chiefs: There is absolutely no depth at the quarterback position, should starter Alex Smith sustain an injury. Last year’s back-up, Nick Foles, was not retained, so all the Chiefs have behind Smith are inexperienced Tyler Bray and rookie Pat Mahomes. The running back position is also a concern. Jamaal Charles is gone, so the Chiefs will rely on both Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Neither had a play from scrimmage greater than 46 yards last season. And Ware’s production was poor in the 2nd half of the season, when he averaged just 3.7 ypr (compared to 5.0 ypr in the first half). Like all the teams in the AFC West, Kansas City’s schedule is brutal this season, and ranks as the league’s 2nd most difficult behind Denver’s. Finally, the Chiefs benefited greatly from turnovers last season, as they led the league with 33. But turnovers are somewhat random, so it will be hard for the Chiefs to match that performance this season.
Season win total pick: Under 9
Oakland Raiders (2016: 12-4 SU, 10-6 ATS, 11-5 O/U)
Odds to win division: +168
Season win total: Over 9.5, -109/Under 9.5, -107
Why to bet the Raiders: The Raiders have a supremely talented quarterback in Derek Carr. Indeed, many believe Oakland would have reached the Super Bowl had Carr not broken his fibula in Week 16. But he’s healthy this season, and will have an excellent group of receivers at his disposal. Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper both topped 1,000 yards last season. And the Raiders brought in tight end Jared Cook from Green Bay to give Carr yet another solid pass-catching option. On the other side of the ball, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack is a force, and he garnered 11 sacks last season. And 1st Round Draft Pick Gareon Conley could also be impactful in the secondary.
Why not to bet the Raiders: Oakland has made major strides over the past three seasons, going from 3-13 in 2014 to 7-9 in 2015, and then to 12-4 last season. But Oakland will be saddled with a very difficult schedule this year (the 4th hardest in the NFL), which includes a “home” game in Mexico City vs. New England. There’s also a big concern at the running back position. General manager Reggie McKenzie traded for Marshawn Lynch, who has come out of retirement to play for his hometown team. But Lynch is now 31 years old, and only gained 417 yards in seven games two seasons ago. Last season, the Raiders were tied with the Chiefs for the league’s best turnover differential (+16). But that is a statistic which can greatly change from year-to-year, so the Raiders’ success will be adversely affected if they don’t reach the same heights again.
Season win total pick: Under 9.5
Los Angeles Chargers (2016: 5-11 SU, 7-9 ATS, 9-6-1 O/U)
Odds to win division: +429
Season win total: Over 7.5, -123/Under 7.5 +105
Why to bet the Chargers: Last year, the Chargers’ season took a huge hit early, when wide receiver Keenan Allen was injured in Game 1. But he is healthy, and will have help in the form of rookie WR Mike Williams, who was drafted #7, overall. Those two, plus tight end Antonio Gates, will give QB Philip Rivers a terrific trio to target. Moreover, the Chargers have a great weapon at running back, in Melvin Gordon. The 2nd-year pro rushed for 997 yards last season, and will be featured in Anthony Lynn’s “ground-and-pound” approach. Also, while other teams have to worry about losing their quarterback to injury, that’s toward the bottom of the Chargers’ concerns, as Rivers has started 176 consecutive games.
Why not to bet the Chargers: The Chargers may lack a home field advantage. Last year, they played in front of 57,000 fans, on average, in San Diego. But this season — their first in Los Angeles — the Chargers will have just 30,000 fans in the seats at StubHub Center, the NFL’s smallest stadium. That won’t generate much excitement. And though Los Angeles looks to be set on offense, its stop unit is another story. Gus Bradley is the new defensive coordinator following his stint as Jacksonville head coach, and he’ll implement a 4-3 defensive scheme. Bradley is a very good coach, but it might take another year for him to acquire the talent to fit his system. Even worse: Los Angeles plays in the most difficult division in football, and has the 3rd toughest schedule in the league this season.
Season win total pick: Over 7.5