There isn’t another division that made as many headlines during the offseason than the AFC West. In just over two weeks in March, the Denver Broncos acquired quarterback Russell Wilson, pass-rushing linebacker Khalil Mack headed from the Chicago Bears to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Las Vegas Raiders surrendered their top two choices in the last draft for Green Bay receiver Davante Adams and the Kansas City Chiefs traded away star receiver Tyreek Hill for five selections.
When the dust settled, the other three teams closed the gap on the six-time defending division champ Chiefs. NFL betting odds continue to list the Chiefs as the favorite to win the AFC West. The Broncos and Chargers are tied for second, then the Raiders.
The Chiefs are not only favored to win the AFC West once again, but according to the NFL betting lines, Kansas City’s odds to win the Super Bowl (+900) trails only the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Current Odds to Win AFC West
- Chiefs +150
- Broncos +250
- Chargers +250
- Raiders +550
Kansas City Chiefs (+150)
Defensive coordinators were absolutely frightened of the speed of Hill, and that opened room for the other pass catchers in the Kansas City offense. He will clearly be missed, and not one player can replace Hill’s production.
Do not feel too bad for Kansas City. They still have quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce, quite possibly the best players at their positions in the NFL. The offensive line received a boost from rookies Creed Humphrey and Trey Hill.
According to the NFL predictions, Mahomes (+800) trails only Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen in the odds to win the NFL Most Valuable Player award.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) June 16, 2022
It was thought the Chiefs would use a first-round pick on a receiver. Instead, they improved their draft position to get cornerback Trent McDuffie, then used their own No. 1 choice on defensive end George Karlaftis. McDuffie comes in at +1600 and Karlaftis at +1800 in odds to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
The Chiefs waited until the second round to pick Skyy Moore, highly-regarded receiver out of Western Michigan. Only one player drafted outside of the first round has lower odds to be named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year than Moore.
More defensive help came when the Chiefs drafted safety Bryan Cook and linebacker Leo Chenal.
Veteran receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were also added, as was former Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II. Defensively, safety Justin Reid was imported as Tyrann Mathieu joined New Orleans.
There are some questions that need answering after the departures of Hill and Mathieu, but it would surprise very few people to see the Chiefs represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for the third season in the last four.
Denver Broncos (+250)
Quarterbacks who’ve led the Denver Broncos since the retirement of Peyton Manning is hardly an impressive group, with the possible exception of Joe Flacco. That ended after the blockbuster trade with division-rival Seattle for Wilson. It was a costly move. Promising tight end Noah Fant, quarterback Drew Lock, 2021 team sack leader Shelby Harris went to the ‘Hawks, plus two first-round draft picks and a pair of second-round selections.
Denver finished third in the NFL in scoring defense, as well as eighth in both total and passing defense. Denver returns the top five tacklers off that unit.
The secondary, led by leading tackler Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, second-year cornerback Patrick Surtain and Ronald Darby could be something special. Add in rookie McDuffie and watch out.
Running back Javonte Williams is another young player the Broncos are building the team around. Wilson won’t be throwing to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf any longer, but Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler should benefit from his arrival.
Los Angeles Chargers (+250)
Among most disappointing teams in the AFC a season ago, the Chargers, at 9-8, would be near the top of the list.
Quarterback Justin Herbert is a star on the rise, Austin Ekeler is a proven producer at running back while Keenan Allen and Mike Williams provide a dynamic 1-2 duo at wide receiver. The Chargers even improved the offensive line. Rashawn Slater was a revelation after going in the middle of the first round in the ’21 draft, and the Bolts hope lightning strikes twice with the first-round selection of lineman Zion Johnson.
The Chargers did a defensive makeover, led by the acquisition of Mack. J.C. Jackson, who had 25 interceptions over the last four seasons with the New England Patriots, was brought in along with linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Troy Reeder, cornerback Bryce Callahan, defensive end Morgan Fox as well as defensive tackles Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day.
Joey Bosa is currently tied for sixth in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds according to the sportsbook, while safety Derwin James is tied for ninth.
Only the Detroit Lions and New York Jets allowed more points last season than the Chargers, so some reinforcements were necessary
Other than Johnson, third-round choice (safety) J.T. Woods and fourth-round selection (running back) Isaiah Spiller are among the other rookies who could make an impact.
Las Vegas Raiders (+550)
What a season it was in 2021 for the Raiders. It ended early for Jon Gruden. In the midst of his second stint as Raider coach, some eye-opening electronic “conversations” emerged, and Gruden was summarily replaced. Rich Bisaccia led Vegas to a 7-5 record as interim coach. That didn’t save Bisaccia’s job, and in csme Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels had enjoyed success on Bill Belichick’s staff with the New England Patriots, though his previous head-coaching gig with the Broncos was rather forgettable. He went 11-17 (2009-10) in not quite two seasons
The Raiders rid themselves of both first-rounders in the 2020 draft. Defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, the Raiders’ top picks in 2019 and 2021, have not justified their selections.
Perhaps the trade for Adams signal a new start in Sin City. Returning tight end Darren Waller and receiver Hunter Renfrow add to the options for quarterback Derek Carr. Carr threw for 4,804 yards, but “only” 23 touchdowns a season ago. Questions whether running back Josh Jacobs is slowing down from a heavy workload under Gruden.
The Raiders’ defense unit will be led once again by end Maxx Crosby, who’s tied for ninth in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds. Linebacker Denzel Perryman (154 tackles), safeties Jonathan Abram and Trevon Moehrig as well as cornerback Nate Hobbs are other top returning players on defense.
The season starts with games against the Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Broncos and Chiefs, three of those games on the road. That won’t be the easiest of ways for McDaniels to be introduced back into the fraternity of AFC West head coaches, however.