NFL picks for the AFC West, The Denver Broncos may own the West, but if the NFL odds are any indication, it'll be a dogfight for second place. And then you have the Oakland Raiders.
Life is pretty good for the Denver Broncos right now. Their team is stacked with talent at both ends of the field, Peyton Manning still has all his limbs attached, and new head coach Gary Kubiak might be the final piece of that Super Bowl puzzle. Denver has won the AFC West every year since Manning arrived in 2012, and we firmly expect it'll happen again this season, a safe NFL pick.
But who's going to finish second? Will it be the Kansas City Chiefs, who've already done it twice in two years under Andy Reid? Or will it be the San Diego Chargers, who haven't done much of anything since 2009? And yes, there's even a non-zero chance it'll be the Oakland Raiders. It could happen. No one's beating Denver, though. That's a statistical impossibility, no matter what the NFL odds say.
Round and Round
I'm being told it is, in fact, possible for any of the other three teams to win the AFC West. The Broncos have even fallen from –170 to –158 on the futures market at Bookmaker. Interesting – although it doesn't change our forecast for how the standings will look at the end of the year.
Denver Broncos 10-6
Kansas City Chiefs 9-7
San Diego Chargers 8-8
Oakland Raiders 5-11
As with all the projections in this award-castrating eight-part series, we're just taking the regular-season win totals for each team and rounding up or down, depending on whether the OVER or UNDER is favored. We also look at some of the stat-based projections, which are usually the same as the NFL odds, but sometimes there might be a difference that's worth investigating. There isn't in this case.
All four of these teams have some room for upward mobility. Denver has won 13, 13, and 12 games with Manning at the controls. The Chiefs were 11-5 in Reid's first season, and according to Football Outsiders, played well enough last year at 9-7 to earn 9.4 Estimated Wins and 10.1 Pythagorean Wins. San Diego... that was an 8-8 team disguised as a 9-7 team, but some better luck on the injury front can be expected after ranking sixth in total man games lost.
As for the Raiders, hey, 5-11 would be two more wins than they had last year. It would also be in line with the 4.8 Estimated Wins they earned, although Pythagoras was less impressed with their performance at 3.1 wins. There's also some discrepancy on the AFC West futures market, where Oakland is +1200 at Bovada and +2800 at WagerWeb. There are a lot of things that need work when it comes to the Raiders, but at least they have made some progress with their offense. Still, the Jacksonville Jaguars went 5-11 in Del Rio's first year there back in 2003. It sounds about right.