In my opinion, the AFC West is the easiest of the divisions to project for the 2014 season: Broncos will finish at the top, Raiders at the bottom. As for the middle? Here's a look at each club's NFL odds for a finish of No. 1-4 in 2014.
NFL odds (from BetOnline): first -360, second +350, third +1000, fourth +6600
The Broncos have suffered a loss already in camp as starting linebacker Danny Trevathan, the team's leading tackler last year, is expected to miss the first month of the season. It could have been worse: a torn ACL would have ended his year. That defense still should be much better in 2014 with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, plus a healthy/non-suspended Von Miller. But who are we kidding? With Denver it comes down to offense. Peyton Manning will almost surely not throw for nearly 5,550 yards and 55 touchdowns again, but even a 20 percent decrease in production is a monster season. Plus Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady is back after missing essentially all last year. The championship window for this team is probably this season and next for Manning. It will be duly motivated.
San Diego Chargers
NFL odds: first +550, second +140, third +180, fourth +450
The Bolts didn't really add anyone of note in free agency or lose anyone, other than offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who helped turn QB Philip Rivers' career around. The Chargers are probably going to have to outscore a lot of folks this season because the defense is mediocre at best. That means Rivers can't regress and that guys such as running back Ryan Mathews, receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Antonio Gates must stay healthy. Mathews had a career year in 2013 and could have an even bigger one in 2014 as he's playing for a new contract. That's usually when guys are at their best. One thing working in San Diego's favor: Rivers always seems to give Manning-led teams headaches. The Bolts handed Denver its only home loss of 2013 and played the Broncos close in two defeats.
Kansas City Chiefs
NFL odds: first +650, second +200, third +140, fourth +350
In my mind, the Chiefs are the Carolina Panthers of the AFC in that Kansas City is a double-digit win playoff club set for a steep fall. The defense should be just fine, but that offense looks pretty average other than superstar running back Jamaal Charles. He is the offense. You have to wonder if Charles is due an injury as he is used so much when you factor in that Charles is the team's No. 1 receiver. Without Charles, these are the Raiders. QB Alex Smith is also playing for a new deal, but the Chiefs wisely aren't ready to give him some $100 million extension. The guy rarely throws the ball more than 7 yards in the air. His average yards per attempt in 2013 was 6.52. The Chiefs are going to be in many 17-13 type games.
NFL odds: first +3000, second +800, third +300, fourth -275
To no surprise, the Raiders are the longest shot of any team to finish first on these divisional finishes and the biggest favorites to end up last again. I have written about which NFL coach will be fired first this season and Oakland's Dennis Allen has now passed Dallas' Jason Garrett with Allen the +400 favorite at Sportsbook.com. Barring at least a 7-9 record, which would be a three-win improvement from each of Allen's first two years, he's a goner. New starting quarterback Matt Schaub has reportedly looked like the third-best on the roster behind rookie Derek Carr and Matt McGloin, last year's occasional starter. The Raiders would have the best backfield in the NFL in Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew if this were 2011 (and both could stay healthy). If you can name me the team's starting receivers, you win a prize. Really the only things to watch here are Carr, who probably starts by Week 6 at home against San Diego following the bye week, and rookie outside linebacker Khalil Mack, a favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The real question is whether this will be the Raiders' penultimate season in Oakland. The team's lease with the lousy O.co Coliseum is up after next season amid rumors it might move back to Los Angeles.
NFL Free Picks: Not much drama here in making your NFL pick, as they will finish in this order: Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders.