2014 AFC West Predictions with Odds and NFL Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 8/1/2014
Statistically speaking, the two best divisions in football last year were the AFC West and the NFC West. Teams from those two divisions accounted for five of the 12 postseason slots (and that doesn't include a 10-win Arizona team), and the Super Bowl representative for each conference hailed from out west.
It is fitting, then, that these two powerhouse divisions will square off this year as the AFC and NFC West have drawn one another in the conference crossover games.
While success was expected from the NFC West last year, no division in the league gave us as large of a surprise as the rejuvenation of both Kansas City and San Diego. These two sleeper teams snuck up on the rest of the AFC and combined for 20 wins just one season after mustering just nine.
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The AFC West also provides a home for one of the best organizations in football (Denver) and one of the worst (Oakland). I expect both franchises to play to form yet again as the Broncos remain a constant Super Bowl threat while the Raiders are once again a threat for the No. 1 overall pick.
Here is my 2014 AFC West predictions and betting odds:
Denver Broncos Predictions
2013 Record: 13-3 (7-1 home, 6-2 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 10-5-1 ATS, 11-5 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 1st offense (1st pass, 15th rush); 19th defense (27th pass, 7th rush)
2014 Odds: 5/1 to win SB, 2.5/1 to win AFC, 1/3 to win AFC West, 11.5 wins O/U
Offense: The Broncos have Peyton Manning. That means they are going to score a ridiculous amount of points, and there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it. Yes, the Broncos were mauled in the Super Bowl. But that's just one game. And we should prepare ourselves for a lot more 40-point outbursts from this group this season.
Manning is a savant, and he makes everyone around him better. Denver lost Eric Decker? So what. Manning will turn newcomer Emmanuel Sanders into an 80-catch guy. Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Andre Caldwell and everyone else will also continue to produce.
Also, the offensive line improves with the return of Ryan Clady. Remember him? You know, the franchise left tackle? He's back and healthy and should be a boon to the attack.
Defense: Denver's defense was too long in the tooth last year, and it caught up with them in the postseason. The Broncos brought in a host of veteran players this offseason. But they actually got younger at some key spots and should be even better this season.
A key element to this year's team will be DeMarcus Ware. His play tapered off in Dallas the past two seasons. But he was a key acquisition for a team that posted a respectable 41 sacks last year. A full helping of Von Miller should also help as the Broncos linebackers continue to straddle the line between mediocre and poor.
The Broncos also got younger and faster in the secondary, swapping out Mike Adams and Champ Bailey for Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. Denver needs to find some depth in the defensive backfield. But their starting group is as good as any in the AFC.
Skinny: It has been two decades since a team that lost in the Super Bowl made it back the next year. And it has been 40 years since the team that lost the previous Super Bowl won it the following season. If anyone can rebuff history it is Manning. And the Broncos are clearly pushing all-in with their commitment to veteran starters.
It always seems like there would be no value betting on a Manning-led team. After all, by the end of the 2013 regular season the Broncos were an automatic double-digit favorite. But going back to his last two years with Indianapolis, Manning is 38-23 against the spread over his last four seasons under center.
Do you want another stat attesting to Manning's otherworldliness? How about the fact that his teams have gone an unbelievable 10-1 against their Las Vegas season win total over the past 12 years.
San Diego Chargers Predictions
2013 Record: 9-7 (5-3 home, 4-4 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 9-6-1 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 5th offense (4th pass, 13th rush); 23rd overall (29th pass, 12th rush)
2014 Odds: 60/1 to win SB, 22/1 to win AFC, 6.5/1 to win AFC West, 8.5 wins O/U
Offense: Love him or hate him, Philip Rivers can play. Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in football and proved it again last year while guiding the Chargers offense back into the Top 10. San Diego lost coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to Tennessee. But Rivers is a vet and has a repoire with new OC Frank Reich.
I can't say enough good things about receiver Keenan Allen. The kid was amazing as a rookie, and he looks like he could become one of the best wideouts in the game. His presence also helped open things up for veterans Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd. Add in a healthy and productive season from Ryan Matthews and San Diego has a set of skill players to rival anyone in the conference.
The Chargers offensive line is still not the team's strength. But the group was helped out by some position shuffling as well as Whisenhunt's scheme. San Diego - like everyone else in the NFL - wants to go more up-tempo this year. I think that would be a mistake with this position grouping.
Defense: Much like the Kansas City defense, the Chargers stop unit played well above its head last year. Only six teams had a higher defensive yards per point than San Diego's 16.9, and I would expect this group to take a step back this year.
San Diego received an absolute gift this offseason when the Chiefs cut Brandon Flowers. The Chargers snapped him up, and now, along with Eric Weddle, they have two Pro Bowlers in the secondary.
The defensive line in the 3-4 base is steady but unspectacular. The entire team managed only 35 sacks, and that is an area they need improvement from. A healthy Dwight Freeney would help. But even if Freeney is of no use, there is still plenty of talent in the linebacking corps. Jarret Johnson is an underrated hitter, Melvin Ingram is oozing with potential, and Manti Te'O is a future Pro Bowler.
Skinny: The Chargers don't seem to get a lot of respect from the mainstream. But they have finished below .500 just once in the last 10 years, and during that time have never finished the season with a negative point differential.
The Chargers started 4-6 last year against a very favorable schedule. And they only made the playoffs (barely) because Kansas City decided to rest its starters in Week 17. I don't see San Diego matching its 4-2 divisional record again this year, and I don't know that they will win more than three of their interdivisional matchups with the NFC West and AFC East.
I think San Diego will take a slight step back this year. It is a near certainty that at least five teams that made the playoffs one season will not make a return trip the next. I think San Diego is a prime target if you're looking at a 2013 playoff team that will fail to repeat in 2014. But because of Rivers and some other top-end talents they won't be that far away from .500 either.
Kansas City Chiefs Predictions
2013 Record: 11-5 (5-3 home, 6-2 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS; 7-9 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 21st offense (24th pass, 10th rush); 24th defense (26th pass, 22nd rush)
2014 Odds: 65/1 to win SB, 25/1 to win AFC, 6.5/1 to win AFC West, 8.5 wins O/U
Offense: Andy Reid overhauled the Chiefs last year, and the results were good enough to lead them back to the postseason. Alex Smith proved yet again why a steady veteran hand at quarterback is 1,000 times better than tossing some flashy, trendy, not-even-close-to-being-ready top draft pick under center. And he will try to repeat his outstanding 2013 performance as well.
Any injury to Jamal Charles or Dwayne Bowe would absolutely cripple this offense. I don't know if any other team is so reliant on so few big playmakers on this side of the ball. This unit isn't that explosive to begin with. But I think Reid is hoping that improved familiarity with the offense will lead to more scoring. And it will need to be if they want to hit the double-digit win plateau again.
The Chiefs have to replace four starters along the offensive line this year. That was an area of strength last season. But now they have the youngest line in the NFL, and training camp has shown the unit to be a "grab-bag of bodies". That's a major red flag heading into the season.
Defense: Statistically the Chiefs defense was a total anomaly last year. They dominated for much of the season, smothering weak offenses and failing to give up more than 20 points in any of the first nine games. But K.C. ended the year No. 24 in total yards and No. 26 against the pass with an eye-popping yards per point of 19.3, No. 2 in the NFL. Those numbers should give pause to anyone looking to jump on this bandwagon.
Kansas City may have the best group of linebackers in football. Tama Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson are all Pro Bowlers. Former Denver starter Joe Mays rounds out the quartet, and they have solid depth behind them with guys like Frank Zombo and No. 1 pick Dee Ford.
The Chiefs made a surprise move to cut Pro Bowl corner Brandon Flowers this offseason. The move stung twice as much because he signed with rival San Diego. And his departure has really caused ripples in the secondary. Eric Berry is still the unquestioned leader of this group. But there is little depth, and the starters surrounding him are certainly questionable.
Skinny: I was the only handicapper in the country pimping the Chiefs last summer. Absolutely everything was in place for a big turnaround, and Reid produced yet again. But there is no doubt in my mind that Kansas City's roster is significantly weaker heading into this season.
In 2010 the Chiefs recovered from a bumbling 4-12 campaign to go 10-6 and make a surprise trip to the postseason. They back slid to just 7-9 the following season and were outscored by 126 points on the 2011 campaign. Kansas City will try to prevent a similar crash after last year's big bounce.
Also, all the statistical indicators that pointed to a huge bounce-back season last year are pointing to a downturn this fall. Their schedule is more difficult, and the Chiefs won't be sneaking up on anyone this time around. I don't like betting against Reid, who is a proven winner. But I'm not that high on this team heading into the season .
Oakland Raiders Predictions
2013 Record: 4-12 (3-5 home, 1-7 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 7-8-1 ATS, 7-8-1 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 23rd offense (25th pass, 12th rush); 22nd defense (28th pass, 13th rushing)
2014 Odds: 125/1 to win SB, 75/1 to win AFC, 25/1 to win AFC West, 4.5 wins O/U
Offense: Matt Schaub is hoping that last year's horror show was just a bad dream. The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback has a lot of questions to answer as he takes over the Oakland attack. Not the least of which is whether or not Schaub was merely a product of a QB-friendly system in Houston or if he can actually play.
Schaub better bounce back quickly and significantly because he doesn't have a ton to work with at the skill positions. You know things are bad when signing James Jones to become your No. 1 wideout becomes a big story. The Raiders also added washed up Maurice Jones-Drew to pair with underachiever Darren McFadden. But I will be a bit surprised if the Raiders can muster 1,200 combined yards out of this pair of former 1,000-yard backs.
I think the offensive line is a positive for Oakland. Their line is massive, averaging 328 pounds, and they added rookie Gabe Jackson and veteran Kevin Boothe for depth. Yes, the Raiders lost left tackle Jared Veldheer. But they still have a lot of big boys up front, and opposing defensive fronts won't push them around.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has one of the more complicated and multifaceted defensive schemes in football. But last year he had to work in 10 new defensive starters, and this year he has seven new faces. Tarver may be a genius. But we will never know it until the Raiders build some chemistry on that side of the ball.
Oakland has 31 years of NFL experience spread between its four defensive line starters. While that can be seen as a positive, it also tells me that this group is ripe for injury, and there is a steep drop-off to the second team.
The same thing can be said for the linebackers and the secondary personnel. Oakland has some interesting pieces (Khalil Mack, Tyvon Branch come to mind) but they lack institutional depth. It's only a matter of time before this is exposed.
The Raiders gave up 36.8 points per game in their last five games of the season after allowing just 21.4 in their first seven games. Injuries took a heavy toll on this roster in 2013. And they don't seem to have insulated themselves from that problem this year.
Skinny: You can't just throw players together - even good players - and expect them to dominate on the football field. Winning takes cohesion and chemistry. And the Raiders have neither. Oakland was going to be an interesting team to watch in the offseason because of how much salary cap space they had to work with. But while their moves may have stolen some headlines, I didn't see much inspiration in G.M. Reggie McKenzie's acquisitions this summer.
Oakland is banking on a lot of past-their-prime players. And in a way that's a great microcosm for this once-proud franchise. There is a lot of uncertainty as to the status of the coaching staff and front office as well. And that instability can definitely be a negative influence on a locker room that could very easily break one way or another.
The Raiders have a slew of statistical indicators pointing towards a significant improvement this year . And no matter how questionable their investments were, there is no doubting that this year's roster is head and shoulders better than last year's at this time. But Oakland's schedule is by far the most difficult in the entire NFL. So while improvement could show up at the betting window, I'm not sure how much it will translate into the standings. I think five wins would be a bigger accomplishment than it seems for this team.
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Robert Ferringo was the top football handicapper in the country last year, earning nearly $8,000 in total football profit in 2014-14 and posting one of the best seasons in America. He hit 62.1 percent for the entire NFL season (95-58) and was amazing down the stretch, closing with 11 of 14 winning NFL weeks and 12 of 15 overall winning football weeks. Robert has posted 3 of 4 winning football seasons, 6 of 7 winning NFL seasons, 30 of 44 winning football months, and 6 of 7 winning NFL preseasons. Also, Robert's proprietary KING College Football Betting System posted another winning season (now 2-for-2) and is 83-58 over the last two years (58.9 percent).
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