AFC West preview; The Chiefs to lose?

Kansas City Chiefs

Last year 14-2; First place

It was a disappointing end to the campaign for the Chiefs as their injuries to the offensive line left them unable to compete in the Superbowl. It’s tough saying that a Superbowl loss was an under-achievement on the year but when you’ve got the best Quarterback in the league and a top 5 head coach expectations are high.

After the capitulation which had Patrick Mahomes running for his life in the Superbowl they have spent the off-season addressing the offensive line through the draft, free agency and trades. The big splash came by signing one of the highest rated guards in the league with Joe Thuney coming in from the Patriots. Kyle Long came out of retirement and Rams center Austin Blythe signed for them as well, added to Lucas Niang and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff coming back from being a hero helping with the Covid efforts. Add to those signings with the trade for Orlando Brown from the Ravens and the line should be very different this season, and has a lot more depth.

Mahomes is still the best in the league, and having led his team to the Superbowl for 2 of the 3 years he’s been starter and will be looking to achieve that again this season. He finished the regular season wtih 38 TDs (4th) and 6 Interceptions with 4,740 yards and a QBR of 82.9 both good for 2nd in the league. There’s not a whole lot to say about Mahomes which hasn’t already been said, he’s brilliant. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in front of him he is capable of making a throw whether balanced or not, and he’s a good scrambler as well.

I do have a few worries about the rest of the roster though. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was taken at the back of the first round in the 2020 draft and had an average rookie season with an average of 4.4 yards per carry on the ground, but just 5 TDs and his usage through the air which was a highlight in college wasn’t as high as I’d have expected. On paper he looks like a talented back but an ankle injury occurring this weekend (week 2 of pre-season) could hamper him coming into the season. That would mean a remarkable return for Jerrick McKinnon who was brought in after 2 injury-plagued seasons in San Francisco. He’s been getting good reviews in camp and has a similar skill-set to Clyde. Behind those Darrel Williams should be the third back after Damien Williams was released.

The pass-catching group is fairly shallow as well. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are obviously great but behind them it’s not exactly stacked. Hill finished with 15 TDs, good for second among WRs and Kelce snagged 11 as well as having the 2nd most receiving yards last season. Behind them though you’re looking at Demarcus Robinson being the WR2, and then Byron Pringle or speedster Mecole Hardman as the WR3 or 4. You’re looking at 500-odd yards for them last year and a step-up is required from someone this season. They drafted TE Noah Grey and WR Cornell Powell in the 5th round this year so they obviously don’t feel it’s a position of much need.

Defensively they are middling and that’s all that’s really needed. That area did improve last season over the previous year so they’ll be happy with it. Tyrann Mathieu is rated as one of the best safeties in the league and Chris Jones is getting a little buzz as a potential defensive player of the year candidate getting home on the opposing QBs and Wille Gay Jnr. came on well in the second half of the year as well.

With Andy Reid at the helm I’d be surprised if they’re anything other than division winners, look for them coming off rest as he’s an expert there. They won 8 of 9 one-score games last year, usually a regressive stat but it’s tough to see it switching with this team.

Los Angeles Chargers

Last year 7-9; Third place

The Chargers did what they always do, they flattered to deceive last year, something which has happened a lot with Anthony Lynn in charge. So they got rid of him and brought in Brandon Staley after his good year at the other LA team. He’s a defensive coach and has a talented bunch to work with on that side of the ball. They have talent on both sides of the ball and with better coaching should go better than 7 wins this year.

Justin Herbert came in after a “mistake” led to Tyrod Taylor having a punctured lung pre-game and Herbert was thrust into the starting line-up. It’s safe to say he took his chance and finished the season winning the offensive rookie of the year with 4,336 yards (6th most) 31 TDs and 10 interceptions in his rookie season. He showcased a big arm, accuracy and mobility during the year and with a full off-season as the starter will be looking to increase those numbers this year. He’s definitely got the talent to do it and he’ll be fun to watch this season.

It helps that he’s got one of the best route-runners in the league in Keenan Allen who was rewarded with a big contract from the team this year. He’s considered under-rated by most, which ironically means he’s probably fairly rated. 100 receptions for just under 1000 yards in 14 games last year with three games where he received double-digit receptions. He had double-digit targets in 10 games last season, always a good one to look for in the reception markets. Again, with a full pre-season program with his QB he should beat those numbers this year. They really need Mike Williams to step up in his contract year, he was a deep threat for them and finished with just 5 TDs, a little lower than a giant like him should be ending up with. Jared Cook came in from Saints and will likely be the third or fourth most targeted pass-catcher in the team.

Austin Ekeler will be looking for a fully healthy season as he will be the main ball carrier for the team, his skillset makes him one of the more versatile players in the league finishing last year with 530 rushing yards and 403 receiving yards from his 10 games last season. New coaching shouldn’t change his workload in the backfield but he’ll obviously be hoping for more than 3 TDs this year. Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelly will be looking for carries behind him, I have no idea who will be the second back, preseason week 1 saw rookie Larry Rountree with more carries.

They allowed Melvin Ingram to leave, but still have Joey Bosa to provide consistent pass-rush by himself. They’ve got studs in each position on defense with Kenneth Murray coming into his second year at linebacker, Derwin James hoping for a healthy season at safety and Chris Harris coming in from the Broncos at cornerback.

As always I’ve got high hopes for the Chargers. If they can keep players healthy they have a stacked roster, but that’s not happened recently. They’ll be hoping that it was poor coaching costing them wins last year, the fact they lost 7 of 11 one-score games suggests that coaching could have been an issue and the change could turn that number around.

Austin Ekeler

Denver Broncos

Last year 5-11; Fourth place

There’s been a lot of hype over the Broncos over the summer and I’ll be honest I’m not seeing what everyone else is. They’ve got a very good defense which they strengthened but I’m not convinced that the offense will be able to do enough to help out that side of the ball.

Drew Lock has been widely criticised for his performances last year and while I think people are too harsh on him I’m willing to accept he’s not going to be great in the league. 16 TDs, 15 INTs in 13 games isn’t going to blow anyone away and he’s on a short leash this year after they brought in Teddy Bridgewater to add some average competition. It was a weird move but at least gives them someone more reliable should Lock be terrible. I personally think Lock starts in week 1 but Teddy has been very good in pre-season. He will keep things safer if not entertaining.

They have a fair bit of talent on the offensive side of the ball after drafting Jerry Jeudy last year who had a fair rookie season given the situation in Denver. He was regarded as the best route-runner coming out and could have been the first WR off the board but suffered from drops a lot last season. He had a lot of air yards and finished with the 7th highest yards per reception in the league which bodes well for year two for him. They will have Courtland Sutton back from injury to add a good partner to Jeudy which will help both of them while Tim Patrick proved himself a good receiver in relief of the injured Sutton last year. They’ll want more from KJ Hamler who adds some pace to the group.

There’s high hopes for Noah Fant who sparked in games last year and I liked the look of Albert Okwuegbunam in the few games he had before a season-ending injury last year so I’m hoping he comes back well.

Melvin Gordon came in from the Chargers at running back alongside Philip Lindsay last year finishing with 215 carries and 10 TDs last season. He will start the season as the main runner, but I think there’s a decent chance that Javonte Williams takes the role sooner rather than later after being taken in the second round of this years draft after being compared to Kareem Hunt, meaning that he could well be a workhorse back given the chance. They brought in Mike BOOOOONE from the Vikings. A weird move on paper, but he could get a fair bit of goal-line work if the team decide so.

Von Miller and Bradley Chubb should be one of the best pass-rush duos in the league but they’ve struggled to have both healthy at the same time since Chubb was drafted, fingers crossed they can have a healthier season this year. They used their first pick in the draft bringing in Patrick Surtain at CB to add to Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller outside of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson who most seem to think are the best safety pairing in the league.

Writing about this team actually makes me reconsider my position on them a little. They’ve got a talented roster on both sides of the ball but the lack of a stud QB holds them back. I think they’ll be behind the Chargers and Chiefs but could upset them if things go well.

Las Vegas Raiders

Last year 8-8; Second place

The Raiders… I don’t really “get” the Raiders. I think that average is the most they can wish for this season, however I have been wrong for the past couple of seasons as they out-perform my expectations for them, so maybe I should be a little higher on them.

They made a weird draft pick again this year taking Alex Leatherwood at 17, a fair bit earlier than most thought he would go, but they needed interior OL and they obviously thought he was the best available to them. I was hoping the Bengals would take him in the second round, so he was way above where I was expecting him to go; not the first time they’ve made moves like that in the draft. The line had been a strength but has been overhauled over the summer.

Derek Carr… He’s Derek Carr. He’s fine. 11th in yards, 11th in TDs, 11th in QBR last season. That’s about where he is. He’s reliable and he’ll run the scheme he’s given but I struggle to see much more than that in him. He’s basically Andy Dalton. If the offensive line holds up he’ll do well, if not he won’t. Bleh.

They brought in Kenyan Drake from the Cardinals to go alongside Josh Jacobs. I think they’re fairly similar players so it seemed a weird move to me. I would assume that despite Jacobs being regarded one of the better pass catching backs coming out of college they don’t seem to use him in that facet of the game so Drake may be coming in a more of a 3rd down back. They’ve not played starters in pre-season so I can’t really glean anything from there. Gruden may well give them a series each for all we know, but Jacobs should be the starter.

They’ve got a varied bunch of pass-catchers with guys who need to step up this year. Henry Ruggs was the first WR off the board in 2020 adding some much needed pace to the team but just 26 receptions on the year shows it was a rough one for him and fellow draft pick Bryan Edwards struggled as well; He was someone I was expecting a decent year from so positive reviews from camp have me hopeful for this season. While Hunter Renfrow is a decent slot receiver who fills that position for then. I like the pickup of John Brown who was ever-reliable for 4 receptions, 70 yards and/or a TD while at the Bills.

Darren Waller is the main man for them though. He finished last year with nearly 1,200 yards and 9 TDs and had over 100 yards in 4 of his last 5 games last season with a monster 200 yard game thrown in there against the Jets. He’ll be the most targeted player for them again this year and if healthy will have another good year. I like Foster Moreau as a random TD scorer, they like to hit TEs in the redzone and he’s usually around 20s.

They made some good moves on defense bringing in Yannick Ngakoue and Casey Hayward to boost their pass-rush and CB group respectively and Maxx Crosby was the surprise stud of the group last season with 7 sacks, having allowed the 3rd most points per game they needed to strengthen that side of the ball and have tried to address it.

I think they finish bottom of the division. Much like the Bengals they might be all right in a softer division but it’s a rough one for them and I personally think they’re the worst of this group.

Chiefs win it then?

I think the Chiefs are rightfully favourites for a return to the Superbowl and as such I can’t see past them winning this division as long as their 3 key players stay healthy for most of the season.

The Chargers should improve this year and I think they’ll have double-digit wins while I don’t see the Broncos or Raiders challenging at the top of the division this year.

Browns, Ravens, Chargers is a tough start for the reigning holders of the division, but they tend to start seasons very strong so getting three of the tougher fixtures out of the way could benefit them in the long run. The opener vs. the Browns is an intriguing test of where Cleveland are this year after pushing them close in the post-season last year. They have a late bye week and 4 division games in the last 6 games of the season.

The Chargers have a tough start to the season as well facing the two better teams in the NFC West (Washington and Dallas) before the Raiders, Browns and Ravens and an early bye week. Post-bye is easier for them but it’s a long season after the rest.

The Broncos actually have the softest start of any team in the league according to opposing win totals; Giants (possibly without Saquon) Jets and Jaguars is about as cushy as it gets, they need to get three wins from them and see where it goes from there.

The Raiders will do well to win 2 of their first 5; opening the Allegiant stadium properly on Monday night against the Ravens before the Steelers, Dolphins, Chargers and Bears (possibly Justin Fields by week 5) – It could be rough for them.

Any value on bets for this division?

Obviously there’s no value on the Chiefs winning the division although I don’t mind it in acca’s with the Bucs and Packers. Getting plus money (6/5) on the Chiefs and Chargers finishing top two isn’t terrible though.

Win totals vary among the books here. The Chargers line at Skybet and 365 is 8.5 with 4/7 on the Overs, while you can get 9.5 on Paddypower and Redzone if you want to take the under on them. The over is actually probably a decent price as I think they hit 10.

It seems logical that Herbert and Mahomes top their passing lines, and their both top 5 in the betting for leading passer this year with Mahomes at 4/1 (WillHill) and Herbert best priced 16/1 (Skybet); Herbert has a low of 4450 yards at RZ, Mahomes 5000.5 at PP. I won’t be betting Mahomes over 5,000 though. He’s had a few little knocks in recent years so if anything I’d lean to under 5100.5 at Bet365. But it’s not a bet I want. (Derek Carr 4050.5)

The same goes for Kelce and Hill really. I would expect them to top their lines, but it’s not something I’d bet on. I don’t think either lead the league in receiving yardage either, Kelce at 14/1 EW on Betfred isn’t terrible. Kelce is set between 1300 and 1400 yards, Hill between those numbers, while PP has them both on 1325. Darren Waller is about right at 1100 yards.

There’s a fair gap on Josh Jacob yards either side of 1,000, mainly at 975, but 1075 on PP depending which way you want to bet.

One I might back is Javonte Williams 1000+ Rushing Yds & 10+ TDs in the Regular Season at 5/1 on Skybet. He’s an outside shot at 25/1 or so for OROY as well as that award tends to go to QB or RB.

Herbert o4499.5 passing yards and Allen o8.5 TDs at 9/2 on Redzone isn’t bad really.

So, that’s the AFC complete, should be able to get the NFC done in the next couple of weeks before the season starts.


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