By: Nicholas Berault
After one of the more tumultuous and entertaining finales to a football season last year, the AFC West enters the 2022 NFL season poised to dominate the conference. The Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers are all projected to win 10 or more games this year according to sports books, each with a win total of 10.5 entering the season. That marks three of the top eight season win totals all among teams just in this stacked division. The Las Vegas Raiders are projected for around a .500 win percentage season, the highest among teams in the basement of their divisions with the AFC North’s still not fully posted. Long story short, the AFC West is a gauntlet from top to bottom and figures to produce multiple teams that could seriously contend for a conference championship and Super Bowl title.
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The defending champions, Kansas City, have won the AFC West crown each of the last six seasons. The Chiefs won consecutive AFC championships in 2019-20, winning Super Bowl LIV against San Francisco in February 2020, and narrowly lost out on a third conference title in a row to Cincinnati in overtime last season. While they’ve been renowned for their ability to mount unthinkable playoff comebacks in recent years, they fell victim to the Bengals own 18-point come from behind victory at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs offense will no longer feature wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who was traded due to a reported contract dispute for five draft picks to the Miami Dolphins in March. Kansas City signed two free agents to make up for the loss of Hill, bringing Juju Smith-Shuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in to give quarterback Patrick Mahomes some more targets outside of All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. They enter the season as +170 betting favorites to win the AFC West. The Chiefs will have their hands full Week 1 when they start the season against the Arizona Cardinals. They may be a good bet to win the division, but can they cover the spread? Check out PicksforTonight’s NFL picks against the spread model to see which way their computer is picking this intriguing matchup.
The Los Angeles Chargers were the main victim of the 2021 season’s last weekend fireworks. After a stunning loss by the Indianapolis Colts in Jacksonville, all the Chargers had to do was win or tie against the Raiders to earn their spot in the Wild Card round. After the dust settled on a back and forth overtime battle, the Chargers season had ended and it was the Raiders who traveled to Cincinnati to play in the first round of postseason action. Justin Herbert threw for just over 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns, Austin Ekeler was a constant threat with over 1,500 total scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns, and both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams hauled in 1,100+ yards receiving in the team’s aerial offense. The Chargers traded for defensive end Khalil Mack and signed cornerback JC Jackson to a five-year contract to sure up a defense that ranked in the bottom five in terms of points against last season. Should the defense be able to get into even average territory relative to the rest of the league, this team will be difficult to keep up with on the scoreboard. They currently are +225 to win the AFC West.
Speaking of teams that will test a newly upgraded Chargers defense, the Denver Broncos made a significant offseason move themselves. They begin the 2022 season with Russell Wilson under center after the quarterback was acquired in a massive deal that sent three players and five draft picks to Seattle. Wilson has two years remaining on his existing contract, and will turn 34 this November. As a result, the Broncos are the third-favorite to win the division this season at +265 odds. This move in and of itself makes Denver relevant as a 2022 contender, and likely contributed to their blockbuster sale price this offseason. It is reminiscent of when John Elway brought Peyton Manning to Denver in 2012, and Elway would be ecstatic if this trade for Wilson brings another Super Bowl trophy to the Broncos as Manning did. Denver fell short of their own expectations with Teddy Bridgewater as their starter, and was willing to forgo a haul of assets in the hopes that Wilson is the answer to their scoring struggles. The Broncos were in the bottom 10 of scoring offenses last season, and it’s no coincidence that they will open the 2022 season with a road trip to Seattle to face Wilson’s former team on Monday Night Football.
Continuing the deal-making narrative of this division heading into the upcoming season, the Raiders traded for All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. He will immediately slide into the top spot on the target-share list for Derek Carr. Adams and Carr reunite in Vegas from their days together at Fresno State, and he adds a big, fast target for a team that previously had relied on tight end Darren Waller to fill that role. Carr signed a massive extension this offseason that keeps him in the silver and black through the 2025 season, and has proven he can perform in big moments. The Raiders have the deck stacked against them with six games against the aforementioned Chiefs, Chargers, and Broncos, and repeating their 2021 playoff appearance will be a challenge. Vegas is currently being listed at +650 to win the division.
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