NFL divisions often see significant changes from year to year, but that hasn’t been the case for the AFC West. All four teams finished in the same spot in 2013 and 2014, and 2015 might not be any different.
The Denver Broncos haven’t had much trouble winning division titles since they signed Peyton Manning in 2012, though this year could be their most difficult attempt to repeat. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers are trying to reach the playoffs after just missing out on the postseason, while the Oakland Raiders are simply looking for a return to respectability.
Below is a look at the betting odds to win the AFC West, courtesy of Bovada.lv, as well as a predicted finish for each team.
Denver Broncos (-150)
The Broncos have won three straight AFC West titles with Manning at the helm, and they’re odds-on favorites to continue that streak in 2015. The only thing that might derail Denver is the possibility that Manning is no longer an elite quarterback. He threw 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, but Manning struggled down the stretch with just four scores and six interceptions in Denver’s last five games. Some believe it’s a sign that the Manning of old is gone.
After the playoffs, it was revealed that Manning had been dealing with an injury, and that he should put up big numbers if he stays healthy. Even if Manning isn’t an MVP candidate, he should be good enough to help the Broncos win the division. Denver led the NFL with 20 sacks in the preseason, and they could have a top defense in the AFC.
Kansas City Chiefs (+325)
The Chiefs might have the best chance to upset the Broncos. Kansas City has totaled 20 wins in the last two seasons under coach Andy Reid, and they might have gotten better this year. After Alex Smith failed to complete a touchdown pass to any wide receiver in 2014, the Chiefs added Jeremy Maclin. Smith doesn’t make a lot of big plays, but he’s very efficient, only throwing six interceptions last season. Jamaal Charles is a top running back each year, giving Kansas City a more than serviceable offense.
After ranking second in scoring defense last season, the Chiefs could have a top defense for another season. The biggest obstacle Kansas City faces might be their schedule. Aside from playing in a tough division, the team will make visits to Green Bay and Baltimore. Kansas City will also host Pittsburgh and Detroit.
San Diego Chargers (+375)
Philip Rivers and the Chargers seemingly finish in the same position every season. San Diego went 9-7 in both 2012 and 2013, and they haven’t finished more than two games above or below .500 since 2009. Since the Broncos and Chiefs both have a chance to record double-digit victories, the Chargers could be in for another similar season.
Rivers struggled in the second half of last year after he played like a top quarterback, and the Chargers aren’t likely to be much better than average on offense. A strong suit might be depth at wide receiver and running back, with Malcom Floyd leading the wide outs, and potential surrounding rookie Melvin Gordon and the return of Danny Woodhead. But Antonio Gates' four-game suspension won't help things.
The Bolts' defense might be slightly better that last year, but not good enough to boost them into first place.
Oakland Raiders (+1200)
The Raiders are a longshot to win the AFC West, and even a second-place finish would be considered a major accomplishment. Oakland hasn’t had better than a third-place finish since 2002, and they’ve totaled just 11 wins in the last three years. But there are a few reasons to believe Jack Del Rio's squad will be improved from last season.
Quarterback Derek Carr threw nine more touchdowns than interceptions in 2014, despite his lack of weapons, and Oakland should be better offensively in 2015. Rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper might end up being the best player in the draft, and Michael Crabtree gives Carr another viable target. But the Raiders don’t have a proven running back, and their suspect defense, which gave up more points than any team last year, will keep them from getting close to .500.
2015 AFC West Prediction
Denver Broncos 11-5
Kansas City Chiefs 9-7
San Diego Chargers 7-9
Oakland Raiders 6-10