AFC West Betting Odds
NFL analyst Jeff Scott gives an overview of what the AFC West teams added and lost in the offseason along with his opinion on who the teams to beat will be. A recap of last season and some wagering advice will also be included.
To say the Broncos had a good offensive season in 2013 is like saying Kate Upton has pleasant features. They set an NFL record with 606 points scored (including four games of 49+ points) and QB Peyton Manning set NFL records for yardage (5,477) and TD passes (55). Manning played well in the two playoff games vs. AFC opponents but was shut down by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, a crushing 43-8 loss. Denver was amongst the busiest teams in free agency as they look to capitalize on the last few seasons of Manning's career.
The Broncos offense ranked first in scoring, yardage and passing yardage and rarely skipped a beat. Manning did a great job of ball distribution as no fewer than five players (another NFL record) scored 10+ TDs. WR Demaryius Thomas has started to scratch the surface of super-stardom as he finished 92-1,430-14. WR Eric Decker had a monster season as well (87-1,288-11) but departed for the FA riches in New York (Jets). WR Wes Welker didn't put up the numbers he did in New England but that was because his former QB, Tom Brady, didn't have downfield options like Manning. TE Julius Thomas blossomed into a 12-TD player and is a real handful due to his size and speed. WR Emmanuel Sanders was signed away from the Steelers to replace Decker and WR Cody Latimer was added in the draft. RB Knowshon Moreno found enough carries to eclipse 1,000 yards and scored 10 TDs but left for Miami. RB Montee Ball, a TD machine in college will assume the starter's role after a solid rookie season. The Broncos defense gave up a lot of yards and points in 2013, partly because opposing offenses were behind but injuries and a lack of depth hurt them as well. They get OLB Von Miller back from injury but used FA to get better in the back end. CB Aqib Talib was lured away from the Patriots and S T.J. Ward was also added. Denver spent their 1st round pick on CB Bradley Roby, a classic boom-or-bust pick. He has skills but lots of off-field issues. A luxury player was added as well. DE DeMarcus Ware was signed from Dallas but how much he has left in the tank is anybody's guess. If he can give Denver 25-30 snaps as a pass rusher, the Broncos will have potential wrecking balls at each end of the line. OLB-DE Shawn Phillips led the Broncos with 10 sacks in 2013 but he is in Tennessee now.
Denver faces the NFC West (football's best division) and the AFC East. Manning is used to playing a 1st-place schedule and still manages to always carve out 12+ wins. Visits to the Seahawks, Patriots and Bengals will be challenging but they get the Colts and 49ers at home. The schedule is tough throughout and they play five of their first seven games at home before embarking on a three-game road trip. A fast start is possible and they will have two teams potentially breathing down their necks in the Chargers and the Chiefs.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs did the near impossible in 2013; they followed up a 2-14 season with an 11-5 record and looked to be on their way to erasing a 20-year drought of winning a playoff game. With 28 minutes to go in their wild card encounter with the Colts, Kansas City led 38-10. It fell apart after that and when the final whistle was blown, KC was on the wrong end of a 45-44 score. It was also the Chiefs sixth loss in their last eight games, after starting the season 9-0. They only beat one playoff team (the Eagles) in that nine-game winning streak, evidence that they benefitted from an early cupcake schedule.
While Kansas City had a lot to be thankful for in 2013, the season ended with a precipitous thud. The playoff game aside, the Chiefs were not playing good football in the second half of the season. The offense ranked 21st in yardage but made the most of what they did get, finishing 6th in scoring. They were also 2nd in fewest TOs committed. RB Jamaal Charles makes the offense go as he led the team in rushing, receptions, receiving yardage and he scored 19 TDs. A weak WR corps wasn't upgraded in the offseason and the O-line saw two starters leave. QB Alex Smith was his usual cautious self in 2013, throwing 23 TD passes to only seven interceptions. However, he threw for only 3, 313 yards on 508 attempts, one of the lowest yards-per-pass averages in the league. The defense started the season with a bang last year, garnering 25 sacks in the first five games. Injuries to OLBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali hurt the pass rush and the defense allowed 28 ppg over the last seven games and another 45 in the playoff loss. The defense has suffered losses as well, with DE Tyson Jackson, CB Brandon Flowers, S Kendrick Lewis and LB Akeem Jordan all leaving. That quartet started a total of 47 games in 2013. The draft brought OLB Dee Ford and CB Clark Gaines with the first two picks but neither player is expected to start. The Chiefs were very quiet in free agency and only added two players (DE Vance Walker and G Jeff Linkenbach) who might start. The loss of WR-RB Dexter McCluster (TEN) also robs the offense of some speed. Not one of the better offseasons for a team hoping to build on last season's progress.
Unlike last season, the Chiefs face a daunting schedule in 2014. Besides visits to the 49ers and Cardinals, they also have an early date at the Dolphins, never an easy task with that humidity. They get the Patriots and Seahawks at home but have a very tough four games with the Chargers and Broncos as well. Other games on the schedule (Rams at home, at Steelers) will be tough also. Few teams in the league look worse on paper now than they did at season's end more than Kansas City. I feel they will be in tough to reach .500 this year.
Despite having the least amount of talent in the league, Oakland managed to win four games, including a 21-18 victory over Pittsburgh which ultimately led to the Steelers missing the playoffs. There was a carousel at the QB position (never a good thing) as three different players tried to make the job their own. All three failed and only Matt McGloin remains. RB Darren McFadden was, surprise, injured for much of the season allowing Rashad Jennings to showcase his talents. Jennings did just that and parlayed it into a starting gig with the Giants. Unheralded WR Rod Streater led an underwhelming receiving corps with 60 catches and 888 yards. The O-line wasn't very good in pass protection.
Finally unencumbered with terrible contracts and dead money, GM Reggie McKenzie spent freely on both sides of the ball and easily had the best draft of his three-year tenure. There is a new starter at QB in Matt Schaub and a legitimate starter of the future in rookie QB Derek Carr. The O-line will potentially feature three new starters and is bigger and better than last year's model. Ex-Packer WR James Jones is the new No.1 receiver although he doesn't profile as that. The defense showed improvement in 2013 but an anemic pass rush and questionable secondary play led to an average of 27.3 ppg allowed (28th in NFL). McKenzie didn't avoid this side of the ball adding two new DEs in Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, a new DT in Antonio Smith, a potentially impactful pass rusher in rookie OLB Khalil Mack and five new secondary players through FA and the draft. While a lot of the FA signings are of players past their prime, none were for big dollars and the players coming in have tasted a lot of success, including multiple Super Bowl winners. From a pure talent standpoint, this is one of the most improved teams in the league.
Despite their sorry record, Oakland has been saddled with the toughest schedule in the NFL. Nine of their games are against 2013 playoff teams and they lose one of their home dates with a game vs. Miami in London. While they might be better overall, their record probably won't show it. The plan is for Schaub to be the starter for the season but if Carr shows he is ready he will get the call. The last QB Oakland drafted and developed who became a winner was Ken Stabler so they have waited long enough to be led by a homegrown talent under center. Look for closer games but only 4-5 wins from the Raiders.
San Diego Chargers
Nothing much was expected out of San Diego in 2013. They were coming off 9-7, 8-8 and 7-9 seasons and had just overhauled the front office and coaching staff. A ho-hum 2-3 start was followed by two wins and then four losses in five games. At 5-7 the season looked lost but four-straight wins (aided by a missed KC chip-shot FG in the finale), propelled the Chargers into the playoffs. Rather than play the role of uninvited house guest, San Diego beat Cincinnati 27-10 before losing another close game to Denver. The Chargers didn't make a lot of noise in the offseason but they kept some key players and added some contributors in the draft.
QB Philip Rivers re-emerged as a top QB in 2013 under the tutelage of now-departed (TEN) off. co. Ken Whisenhunt. He threw for 4,478 yards and had a sparkling 32-11 TD/INT ratio. He reclaimed his role as vocal leader and kept the team in all 18 games they played last season, an impressive feat. RB Ryan Matthews put it all together and while still getting nicked up, rushed for 1,255 yards. RB Danny Woodhead assumed the old RB Darren Sproles role and contributed 429 yards on the ground and 605 through the air. TE Antonio Gates found the fountain of youth and had a big year, while rookie WR Keenan Allen had a great season (71-1,046-8) after injuries knocked both starting wideouts out of the lineup. The O-line also showed considerable improvement as San Diego ranked 5th in total offense. The defense held up for most of the year, finishing 11th in points allowed despite ranking 23rd in total defense, 28th in pass defense and 30th in takeaways. The Chargers used the draft to upgrade at CB (Jason Verrett) and to help the pass rush (OLB Jeremiah Attaochu). OLB Melvin Ingram was drafted in the 1st round in 2012 to be a pass rusher but has failed up to now. The Chargers need him or Attaochu to generate consistent pressure to help a beleaguered secondary. Veteran OLBs Jarrett Johnson and Dwight Freeney need to up their play also. San Diego didn't feel the need to make big changes as a return to health should help the receiver corps and experience should help a front seven that needs to generate more pressure.
The Chargers play a lot of the same teams as the Chiefs and Broncos but their 3rd-place schedule means they don't have to play some of the tougher teams that Denver does. Instead of the Colts and Bengals, they get the Jaguars and Ravens. Arizona and San Francisco are tough road games but both are close to home. They do get the Patriots and Seahawks at home. They look better than Kansas City right now and showed in three games that they can hang with Denver. Look for them to be in the playoff hunt again.
Like New England, Denver is a huge favorite 2-7 but is an injury to Manning away from missing the playoffs. Oakland looks much better on paper but is still the 4th-best team in this division. Kansas City had a strange offseason and looks worse than at season's end. That 2-6 finish doesn't bode well for 2014. That leaves the Chargers. They surprised some teams and were, let's face it, a little lucky to make the postseason. However, they showed they weren't out of their class on the playoff stage and unlike the rest of the league, they don't fear the Broncos. Denver averaged 38 ppg in 2013 but in three games vs. the Chargers scored 28, 27 and 24 points. Those represent three of their four lowest-scoring games of the year. If Verrett plays well early, the pass rush gets some consistency and the O-line continues to improve, the Chargers will be knocking on Denver's door. At 5-1, I'll back a San Diego side that is trending up.
Check them out for up to the minute future odds on the AFC West.