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AFC West Outlook
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Can Kansas City Realistically Catch Denver?
Let’s cast aside the presumptions that Denver will be an unstoppable offensive force of nature and assume that everything goes completely right for the only team that poses a serious threat in the AFC West futures market, shall we? The chances of the Chiefs sneaking past Denver to claim the division are miniscule to begin with, but the window was cracked open a bit more with news that Von Miller has been suspended for the first four games of the season due to a PED violation. Is that enough of a gap for the Chiefs to burst through?
Probably not but it’s fun to be optimistic instead of downtrodden, and if there’s any franchise in the NFL that is poised to make a prodigal leap from “worst to not-nearly-as-bad-as-they-were-last-year” it’s Andy Reid’s new team. But just how good will they be and are they seriously worth a flier bet in the AFC West futures?
Denver Broncos (13-3 SU and 10-6 ATS in 2012)
AFC Championship Odds: +240 to win
Season Win Total: 11.5 Games
Despite the recent news about Miller, the Denver Broncos should be able to put the old adage “the best defense is the most unstoppable offence around” to good work. The idea of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and a renewed Wes Welker running routes for Peyton Manning is scintillating to say the least. They will be tested early on with tilts against the Ravens, Giants, Raiders and Eagles before Miller returns in Week 5 for their trip to Dallas. But that’s an exciting offensive collection of talent and one that should allow the Broncos to escape the first month with a 3-1 SU record, or a perfect one.
Finding a running back has been a problem in Denver since the departure of Clinton Portis which was nearly a decade ago. Montee Ball is easily the best prospect they’ve had in the backfield since shipping Portis out of town, and Fox will likely lean on the rookie as long as he can pick up the Manning Audible Package in his first year (which is no easy task). Ball won’t be asked to do much other than protect the football considering how potent the passing game will be.
So even with Miller’s absence for the first four games, you’d be hard pressed to find five games on Denver’s schedule that they’d lose. The only non-division games that are noteworthy are road games against the Patriots and Texans in the latter weeks of the season. The impending return of Peyton to Indianapolis in Week 7 will provide plenty of drama as well, but that should be a barnstorming affair for the Broncos.
So it’s hard to imagine them falling below 12-4 SU this season which means the OVER in their season win total is a great bet. They’re not a profitable take for the AFC Championship or the AFC West futures, but they are the best team in the league outside of San Francisco, Seattle and New England. The only team that can chase them down in the division is the one I’m about to discuss next.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14 SU and 5-11 ATS in 2012)
AFC Championship Odds: +2500 to win
Season Win Total: 7.5 Games
Let me preface this with an “overly optimistic” alert, because that’s how I feel about the Chiefs. Andy Reid is the type of coach that can really maximize the potential of his roster, and you can’t underestimate how important landing Alex Smith was through a trade with the Niners. If anyone understands when to buy in – and sell – on a quarterback, it’s Andy Reid. Smith has shortcomings but he’s one of the most efficient passers in the league and the former Utah standout will be more than eager to show that he’s a real starter after experiencing yearly turmoil in San Francisco.
Surrounding Smith is the supremely talented Jamaal Charles and a receiving corps built around Dwayne Bowe and the (hopefully) improved Jonathan Baldwin. Bowe represents an issue for Smith because he’s the penultimate “garbage time” scorer who gets behind secondaries with his speed late in losing efforts. Smith doesn’t have a great deep ball in his arsenal, so it will be interesting to see how he meshes with his best receiver.
Considering that Kansas City finished dead last in total points scored, there’s literally nowhere for this group to go but up and I think Smith is the guy that can take them there. The renewed vigor of Smith and Reid brings an attitude that Kansas City lacked with Matt Cassel and Romeo Crennel as their leaders and that’s enough for idiots like me to have faith in this perennial underachiever.
The defense is littered with great talent like Eric Barry, Dontari Poe, Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers which should give them a chance to move in to the spotlight as a team on the rise. Kansas City allowed the 20th most yards and the 25th most points against defensively, and they need defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to be better than advertised as a product of the Jets’ coaching development program. That’s a tall order.
Leadership can be all the difference in the NFL, and can be the factor that pushes a team over the hump. Kansas City will love having an NFL mastermind like Reid after years of Crennel’s sad dog act, and Smith is a much better surgeon than the shaky hand of Cassel. Is it enough to leverage a flier bet on this team as an AFC Championship hopeful? At $100 with a hefty return I would say “yes” emphatically. They may not take over the AFC West futures, but they’re definitely a team worth watching.
Hope is on the way, Kansas City fans. And if it isn’t…well at least you’re used to being terrible.
San Diego Chargers (7-9 SU and ATS in 2012)
AFC Championship Odds: +2500 to win
Season Win Total: 7.5 Games
Rejoice! The Norv Turner Era is over!
Now resume your pessimism because the Chargers still stink. This is about as unsexy as football bets get in this league. Phillip Rivers is an elite passer, but he doesn’t have a team that’s really contending. The season win total here is set at 7.5 games, and for a team that looks no better than a .500 team that’s pretty spot on. For the record, I would take the UNDER with the Chargers.
There are interesting assets on board that are worth tracking. Danario Alexander was one of the hottest receivers in the second half of the season, and should be a go-to threat for Rivers. But outside of the potential Alexander represents, there isn’t much going for the Chargers. Ryan Matthews is a talented athlete, but as injury prone as they come and it’s obvious that Antonio Gates’ best days are behind him. Danny Woodhead should find some interesting roles in McCoy’s new offense.
Aside from the additions of Dwight Freeney and Manti T’eo, there isn’t much to be that excited about defensively. They were actually ranked 9th in total yards allowed and 16th in points against but that coincided with one of the league’s easier schedules. Eric Weddle is probably the best safety in the league, but everything he ever does is forgotten because nobody cares about the Chargers. That’s pretty sad for his career arc, but it also means that San Diego has defensive pieces capable of making them a strong regular season bet.
If it seems like I’m at a loss for words here it’s because the thought of the San Diego Chargers does nothing to invigorate my senses. They are a football team that will be competitive on a weekly basis with no aspirations of breaking in to the AFC Championship game or winning out in the AFC West futures. How this team continues to get worse when they have an elite quarterback in Phillip Rivers is beyond me, but maybe that’s just how much of a negative impact Norv Turner can have on your team as a head coach.
(Sidenote: I love Turner as an offensive coordinator, and he will have his work cut out for him in Cleveland).
Oakland Raiders (2-14 SU and 5-11 ATS in 2012)
AFC Championship Odds: +7500 to win
Season Win Total: 5.5 Games
Fans have been waiting for Oakland to take a serious step forward after a decade of anguish. Since being crushed in the Super Bowl against Tampa and Gruden, the Raiders have never been back to the playoffs and haven’t won more than 8 games in a season. That’s harsh, and 10 years worth of below average play should at least have turned in to some good draft assets.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen either because of the late (and totally awesome) Al Davis. We can go on and on about how good Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore are or how fun it will be to hear about Sam McGuffie jumping over people at practice. It’s easy to discuss the potential of Matt Flynn as an actual, starting quarterback or Terrelle Pryor as the heir apparent. But none of this matters because the Raiders don’t have an offensive line worth talking about and everyone on the team has a nasty habit of getting hurt for suffocatingly long stretches.
Defensively they allowed the fourth most points in the league, and unless Charles Woodson can single handedly change the mindset in the locker room, I don’t see how Oakland exactly used the off-season to “improve”.
All of this conjecture rests on the backs of Matt Flynn, who remains a relative unknown in the world of NFL betting. Is he as good as Seattle hoped when they signed him before drafting Russell Wilson? Only time will tell. But that offensive line is one of the worst in the league and its bad enough for me to believe that Oakland will be one of the three or four worst teams in the NFL. They’re an absolute no-go in any long term market, including the AFC West futures, but that already sounds like a broken record.

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