AFC West Picks & Odds: KC the obvious pick again

NFL Lines Week 1

The odds for the AFC West in 2021 might be the craziest in football – and they left your faithful writer Stryker pondering what to make of his division picks.

Yeah, Kansas City is a worthy favorite as it bids to return to the Super Bowl for a third consecutive year. But -250 is pretty prohibitive. Some of the other odds? Absolutely nuts.

Denver has one of the best rosters in football but is +1400 (just shows this is QB-driven league). Las Vegas does have a very serviceable QB but is +2200. Go figure.

Kansas City, despite those two Super Bowl trips, came away from Tampa in February 2021 with question marks against its future as a championship contender. Did it answer them?

Let’s dive in to assess the offseason evidence.

Odds to win AFC West

Kansas City is a huge favorite, and here are your latest wild West odds:

  • -250 Kansas City Chiefs (DraftKings, Resorts)
  • +600 Los Angeles Chargers (Caesars, bet365)
  • +1400 Denver Broncos (Resorts)
  • +2200 Las Vegas Raiders (DraftKings, Resorts)

NB: Odds correct on Tuesday September 7, 2021

AFC West Analysis & Predictions

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs went into Super Bowl LV a heavy favorite to repeat as world champions. Then things went horribly wrong.

A 31-9 defeat courtesy of a swarming Tampa defense and a certain Tom Brady on the opposite sideline was a rude awakening for the Chiefs.

The biggest factor in that defeat? The leaky offensive line which saw Patrick Mahomes running for his life for most of the evening in Florida.

Kansas City, having invested $450million in Mahomes over the next 10 years, knew going into the offseason that the issue had to be fixed. And so the rebuild up front began.

Out went Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, while in came multiple new faces to shore up the protection for Mahomes.

Tackle Orlando Brown Jr arrived via a huge trade with Baltimore, while one of the league’s best guards – former Patriot Joe Thuney – signed a five-year $80million deal in free agency.

Kansas City also spent a premium draft pick on Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, while guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif – an optout in 2020 – will return this year.

Finally, the Chiefs took a chance that Kyle Long – coming off a year in “retirement” – can come back refreshed and healthy by signing the former Bear to a cost-effective one-year deal.

Of course it remains to be seen how this new-look line will gel, but anybody who is betting Kansas City should be happy they’ve invested the required resources.

Quite simply, if KC keeps Mahomes upright, he directs THE best offense in the National Football League. Tyreek Hill at WR and TE Travis Kelce might be the best at their respective positions – quite the set of Triplets for Andy Reid to deploy.

The Chiefs were exactly middle of the pack when it came to defense in 2020, and a repeat would again have them in contention for a deep playoff run.

Off-the-field concerns surrounding DE Frank Clark do not bode well, though KC did try to build through the draft – investing a second-round pick to snag Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton, while Florida State defensive end Joshua Kaindoh was selected in the fourth.

KC may not be a force on the defensive side of the ball, but let’s face it, it does not need to be. If their offense is firing you’ll likely need to score 40 to even have a chance of beating them. Good luck with that…

Los Angeles Chargers: The Justin Herbert love-in shows no signs of abating…

Right now the sophomore Charger is THE HOTTEST THING being talked about by NFL media types. He was super-impressive in helping L.A. to 7-9 last season, and some are even expecting him to challenge KC in the West in 2021.

As for Stryker and the folks at OddsCritic, we are not quite so convinced. We do absolutely expect the Chargers to improve, and Herbert to be a big part of that. But challenge KC? Which likely means a minimum of 12 wins? Not for us.

That 7-9 in 2020 may be a little misleading, remember HC Anthony Lynn was fired for bungling several victories in waiting, to be replaced in 2021 by Brandon Staley.

The Chargers are making all the right moves in building around Herbert for the future. Former Packers center Corey Linsley is a terrific pickup in free agency, while Pittsburgh guard Matt Feiler is another smart addition up front. If that wasn’t enough, having Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater fall into their lap at #13 in the draft was a huge added bonus.

The skill position players are good – headed by WR Keenan Allen – and the move to fill the gap left by Hunter Henry’s departure with Jared Cook is a smart one-year plan.

Los Angeles (we are still getting used to not saying ‘xxx xxxx’) also fielded a top-10 defense in 2020, anchored by the beast that is Nick Bosa up front.

The secondary might be improved in 2021, if talented safety Derwin James can stay healthy and if Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr (second-round draft pick) comes as advertised.

Clearly the Chargers believe that they are merely sound gameday decisions away from winning in 2021, and we tend to agree. We just don’t believe they’ll make enough of a leap to win the West.

Denver Broncos: Denver is the poster boy for what you need to win in the NFL in 2021.

The Broncos, a miserable 5-11 in 2020, have one of the best rosters in football – apart from quarterback. As a result they are as big as +1400 just to win their division this year.

For a couple of months this summer there was hope that the Aaron Rodgers rift in Green Bay would not be healed, and he would arrive in the Mile High City via a huge trade. Sadly not.

Instead we have the unseemly sight of Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater fighting it out for the starting job in 2021.

Denver has terrific weapons offensively with Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, KJ Hamler and Courtland Sutton as pass catchers. But who is throwing them the ball? And will it get there?

The backfield should be improved too in 2021, with second-round draft pick Javonte Williams set to add pop in a rotation with Melvin Gordon.

On the defensive side of the ball Denver will hope Von Miller is back and healthy after an injury-ruined 2021, to wreak havoc opposite the excellent Bradley Chubb. The back end should be a positive too, with safety Justin Simmons locked up for the long-term and first-round corner Patrick Surtain II added via the draft.

Yep, the house is built in Denver, apart from the most important brick of all. So just as much change it all comes tumbling down (again) in 2021.

Las Vegas Raiders: The pressure is on in Vegas as the Raiders enter Year 4 of the (second) Jon Gruden era, and ‘Chucky’ has yet to post a winning season. How is that $100million contract looking right now?

Despite that, the odds for Vegas to win the AFC West in 2021 are the poster boy for recency bias. The Raiders started 2020 6-3 – including a win over the mighty Chiefs, before losing five of their last seven to finish 8-8.

Now let’s get one thing clear, we don’t expect the Raiders to win the West in 2021, or get close to it. But we’re struggling to see how some online sportsbooks have Denver at +450 (yes you bet365) while they are way out at +2200.

For a start the Raiders have the much-maligned Derek Carr still operating under center. For those Vegas fans who would love to run Derek out of town, careful what you wish for.

Yes the Raiders have made some questionable personnel decisions in recent months – strange given they have the widely respected Mike Mayock operating as GM.

The decision to draft Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood at #17 overall was widely panned – a reach the experts said. The selection of TCU safety Trevon Moehrig in Round 2 though was a smart pickup.

The offensive line has undergone significant retooling in the offseason, so Leatherwood better be what Vegas believes him to be. TE Darren Waller is developing into one of the league’s best big pass catchers, and should have another stellar year.

Las Vegas though does need somebody to step up on the outside. A 1000-yard wide receiver would be nice…

All in all we expect the Raiders to be hovering somewhere around .500 again in 2021, we’re not quite as down on them as some experts. They just won’t challenge the Chiefs, or come close to it. Our issue is the odds, not the general principle.

AFC West Picks

Pretty simple here. We had one big question going into this offseason and the Chiefs answered it in the affirmative.

An overhaul of the offensive line that Tampa used as a turnstile in Super Bowl LV was mandatory, and they made it in a big way.

Throw in the fact Denver did not get Aaron Rodgers (that would have seismically changed this betting line), and we just can’t see past another Kansas City romp in the West.

OddsCritic Pick: Kansas City Chiefs to win AFC West at -250 (DraftKings, Resorts)