Can Derek Carr and Oakland hold off the rest of the division?
The AFC West is probably one of the most talented divisions in the NFL and it could be led now by Oakland, the darling team of the offseason along with Tampa Bay. Denver appears to be a quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender once again, while Kansas City always is knocking on the doorstep it seems.
Los Angeles now has the Chargers along with the Rams, and it will be fascinating to see how the former does with a rookie head coach and playing its home games in a soccer stadium. Let's take a look at the South Point Casino's win totals and division numbers
Over 8 wins EVEN...Under 8 -120
7/2 to win the division
Offense: Trevor Siemian has won the quarterback job and I don't know if it says more about him or Paxton Lynch who the team had high hopes for. They have a solid running back group with C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and now Jamaal Charles, the former Chief who is out to prove he has something left in the tank. The offensive line had a rough start to the preseason due to penalties and it'll take time for them to incorporate the new starters. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are as solid as they come at wide receiver although rookie Carlos Henderson has been impressive in training camp.
Defense: The secondary is intact after leading the league in passing defense for the second straight season. Few teams can boast about the depth at corner with three top-notch guys available in Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby. The front seven has undergone some changes, especially at nose tackle where Domata Peko replaces Sylvester Williams. This unit struggled mightily against the run, which is one of the reasons why the defending Super Bowl champs went just 9-7. Von Miller had 13.5 sacks in 2016 and will anchor the middle level along with Brandon Marshall and Shane Ray, who injured his wrist early in training camp and will likely miss the first few games of the season.
Selection: The Broncos typically excel on special teams, which helps in close games. The rarified air of Denver helps give Brandon McManus some more distance on his kicks. It'll be interesting to see how Vance Joseph will do in his first season as head coach. The Broncos have a Week 5 bye after playing three of its first four at home. After the week off, they have three groups of two road games or more including three straight in late October/early November. I think the over is worth a look especially at this price. The defense is very capable of winning a bunch of games as long as it isn’t on the field for extended stretches. Nine or even 10 wins are possible.
Over 9 -105...Under 9 -115
2/1 to win the division
Offense: Alex Smith needs to produce or Kansas City could turn to Patrick Mahomes, the former Texas Tech quarterback the Chiefs moved up in the first round to draft. Last year, Smith found a new weapon in Tyreek Hill, who now becomes the No. 1 wide receiver with Jeremy Maclin gone. Hill and Travis Kelce are focal points of the Chiefs’ passing game, but complementary targets, such as either Chris Conley or Albert Wilson, need to emerge. With Jamaal Charles gone, Spencer Ware will get first shot at being the lead back with Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller also in the mix. The offensive line is serviceable and returns intact from last season.
Defense: The Chiefs have been in the top 10 in terms of points allowed per game in each of the last four years. Hopefully this unit can enjoy better health, as Justin Houston, Allen Bailey and Derrick Johnson all missed time last year. The defensive line got an infusion of youth with the addition of second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon out of Villanova. Marcus Peters and Eric Berry are one of the best cornerback and safety combinations in the league. There’s no glaring weak spot on this defense, which should be able to maintain its standing as one of the best for a fifth straight season.
Selection: The team has all of the talent in the world, but something just doesn't click for the Chiefs come playoff time. The offense seems to be one weapon short while the defense has struggled to stay healthy. I've underrated this team in the past and Andy Reid and company continue to churn out double-digit wins. Kansas City opens up on the road at New England and finishes the regular season with three straight home games and a potentially huge matchup in Denver. Nine is the right number here so no play for me.
Over 7.5 wins -140...Under 7.5 wins +120
4/1 to win the division
Offense: Health has been an issue already this offseason with the team’s top two draft picks – WR Mike Williams and OL Forrest Lamp – going down with injuries. Lamp (ACL), who was expected to start at right guard, is out for the season, while Williams’ (back) status for the regular season is still up in the air. Philip Rivers should get a healthy Keenan Allen back as his top receiver, along with Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman. Tight end should be a strength with future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates and the promising Hunter Henry. Melvin Gordon had a strong second season, but he averaged less than four yards per carry, and his offensive line is in the midst of transition and is already dealing with injuries.
Defense: Denzel Perryman is expected to be out between two to three months after injuring his ankle in the first preseason game. His absence will test a linebacking corps that is otherwise you and still inexperienced. Joey Bosa had 10.5 sacks in just 12 games as a rookie, and now he has had a full offseason with the team. Melvin Ingram served as nice complementary pass rusher with eight sacks of his own. Casey Hayward had seven of the team's 18 interceptions last year and will have Jason Verrett, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy, opposite him. This defense may not have a ton of star power, but it got the job done in some surprising areas.
Selection: It's going to be a weird year for the Chargers, who will be playing in a soccer stadium and may have some crowds that feature a lot of the opposing fans. We'll see if the fan base can support the team through thick and thin. Anthony Lynn was an interesting hire as a rookie head coach, but he brought on some good coordinators to help. The team is home Weeks 2-4 after opening the season in Denver on a Monday night. Three of the next four games are on the road in a stretch that includes the Week 9 bye. Unfortunately the public move is right as I see eight or nine wins here. If you think the injury issue continues then the under may be worth a look at a juicy price.
Over 9.5 wins -125...Under 9.5 +105
3/2 to win the division
Offense: Derek Carr got paid this offseason and he should continue to be stellar for the Raiders. He threw 28 touchdown passes and just six interceptions in 2016, and appears to be recovered from the broken leg he suffered in Week 16. The backfield has changed with Latavius Murray signing with Minnesota and Marshawn Lynch coming out of retirement to play for his hometown team. Oakland also has DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard to spell Lynch. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are going to be tough to stop out wide while tight end Jared Cook was signed as a free agent. The offensive line is one of the best in the league, but left tackle Donald Penn’s contract holdout could become more of an issue the longer it lasts.
Defense: The team addressed their weakness in the secondary in the draft. First-round pick Gareon Conley may be able to eventually overtake David Amerson or Sean Smith for one of the starting spots. Safety Reggie Nelson made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Raiders. The front seven will be led by Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Jelani Jenkins. Mack, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Irvin combined for 18 sacks in 2016. That pressure is needed to help the secondary or else this unit could struggle against the pass (24th in 2016) again.
Selection: Much like Denver, Oakland’s special teams are just that, special. Marquette King is a very good punter while Sebastian Janikowski regularly booms long kicks. The Raiders got a taste of the playoffs last year which should help them this season. They have three straight at home starting in Week 5 and also get three out of four in the Black Hole starting in late November. This one was tough because I came up with nine and 10 wins in my two attempts to go through the schedule. Therefore, I wouldn't touch this total.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.