One team has dominated the AFC West for the past five years, but that likely won’t be the case in 2016. A few teams have a legitimate chance to win the division, making it the hardest one to predict in the entire NFL.
Four of the league’s eight divisions have an odds-on favorite, and three others feature a team with +175 odds or better to finish in first place. But the AFC West features two teams at the top with +200 betting odds and a third team that isn’t far behind.
The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, and are among the favorites to compete for the title again. The defending champs won’t have an easy road back, however, having lost some key players this offseason.
Can the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders or San Diego Chargers finally get over the hump? 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 (+200)
The Broncos have owned the AFC West with five straight division titles, culminating with a championship last season. But Denver is entering a new era with the retirement of Peyton Manning, and question marks at the quarterback position could force them to have their worst season in a while. Trevor Siemian will get the call in Week 1, having never attempted a pass in the regular season.
Denver proved last year that they don’t need an elite signal caller to win. They had one of the best defenses the NFL has seen in recent years, and it lifted them to a championship despite some of the weakest quarterback production in the league. The Broncos’ defense should be at the top of the league in 2016, but the team had its share of luck a year ago. Without the benefit of a few fortunate bounces and playing in a tougher division, the Broncos could miss the playoffs for the first time this decade.
Kansas City Chiefs (+200)
Perhaps to some surprise, the Chiefs have the same odds to win the division as the Broncos. Kansas City didn’t get markedly better this offseason, but they'll continue to do what they’ve accomplished every season under Andy Reid: win between nine and 11 games and contend for a postseason berth.
The Chiefs have had a top-seven defense in each of the last two years, and there’s little reason to believe that won’t continue, as linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry remain among the best players at their respective positions. Alex Smith’s ability to manage the game and limit mistakes continues to keep Kansas City in contention each year, and the offense under Brad Childress and Matt Nagy could have the AFC’s best running game if Jamaal Charles stays healthy.
Oakland Raiders (+240)
It’s easy to write off the Raiders at the start of every season. The team hasn’t finished better than third in the AFC West since they last made the playoffs in 2002, and they’re the only NFL team that hasn’t finished above .500 in any year during that time. But after going 7-9 with a four-win improvement from the year before, 2016 might be the season in which Oakland finally becomes a winning team.
The Raiders have no shortage of young talented players on offense. Quarterback Derek Carr made the Pro Bowl in his second season and should be even better in 2016. Wide receiver Amari Cooper was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, and running back Latavius Murray finished sixth in the NFL in rushing yards. Couple that with the team’s free-agent additions that include linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith, and Oakland is a legitimate threat to win the division.
San Diego Chargers (+600)
San Diego is the clear No. 4 team in the AFC West. The Chargers haven’t won the division since 2009, and after a 4-12 season the organization did little to improve, with wide receiver Travis Benjamin their lone major acquisition. But even if Mike McCoy's squad finishes near the bottom of the division, once again, it’s hard to imagine that San Diego won’t have some improvement from last year.
The Chargers had bad injury luck in 2015, losing key players like Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen for much of the season. Philip Rivers is one of the league’s most consistent quarterbacks, and he has effective weapons at his disposal. But a poor offensive line and below-average defense will likely result in another last-place finish.
2016 AFC West Prediction
Kansas City Chiefs 11-5
Oakland Raiders 9-7
Denver Broncos 8-8
San Diego Chargers 6-10