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The AFC West is packed with veteran talent at QB and this division was very good overall ATS in 2022 (17-8 or 68%). That said, there is a clear stratification in the AFC West: The Chiefs are champs, the Chargers are contenders, the Broncos are trying to recover, and the Raiders are Raider-ing their way to irrelevance.
The big question in this division, in my humble opinion, is whether the Chargers can win enough games to get into the postseason tournament again. We are all also curious to see whether QB Russell Wilson can find some of the old magic in the Mile High City, and just how long it will take QB Jimmy Garoppolo to end up back on the IR in Las Vegas.
SoS: 10th most difficult, PW: 7.9, POP: 28.1%
The Broncos’ best move of the offseason may have been trading for new HC Sean Payton, who is expected to turn around a very bad ‘22 offense. OT Mike McGlinchey and G Ben Powers were signed as free agents to improve a bad Oline, while WR Marvin Mims was drafted in the third round to provide QB Russell Wilson another option. DE/DT Zach Allen was a solid offseason signing on the defense — he will add grit and effort to the interior Dline. The Broncos will hope that talented draftee’s LB Drew Sanders and CB Riley Moss can improve their pass defense.
Looking at the Broncos’ 2023 schedule, I can see 6 or 7 wins, not eight, and I don’t think there’s any chance of this team making the playoffs in 2023. Besides getting KC and LAC each twice, the Broncos will also need to battle through MIA, NYJ, BUF, and DET, which are all playoff-caliber teams. In survivor formats, I like Denver at home to CLE in Week 12, and again home to NE in Week 16. In ATS formats, in ‘22 Denver was a good underdog (6-3), and a terrible favorite (1-7). This sets up Week 1 vs Las Vegas (+4.5) as an interesting opportunity to bet against the Broncos.
Kansas City Chiefs
SoS: 5th most difficult, PW: 11.3, POP: 77.7%
The Chiefs had a somewhat tepid 2023 offseason but, the truth is, the defending champs didn’t need to do much to improve this roster. OTs Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith were signed via free agency to try and replace the departed Orlando Brown. WR Richie James was also signed and WR Rashee Rice was drafted, both to provide options around star pass catcher TE Travis Kelce. First-round EDGE rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah will slot nicely into the Chiefs pass rush rotation, while S/CB Chamarri Connor will add versatile depth in the defensive secondary.
Looking at the Chiefs 2023 schedule, I can get to 11 or 12 wins with no problem despite a tough start to the season, including tilts against DET, JAX, NYJ, LAC, and MIA, all before the Chiefs’ Week 10 bye. In the second half of the season, the Chiefs will still need to face PHI, BUF, CIN, and the Los Angeles Chargers (on the road) to end the regular season. In survivor formats, I like the Chiefs a lot at Minnesota in Week 5, and anytime they play the Raiders this season. In ATS formats, the Chiefs were hard to bet in ‘22, going just 7-10 ATS overall – BUT – they were 6-3 as underdogs. Tuck that away.
Las Vegas Raiders
SoS: 2nd most difficult, PW: 7.0, POP: 18.0%
I think the Raiders will be the worst team in the AFC West in 2023, by a long shot. Without naming names, the Raiders’ top three options at QB entering the season are an injured game manager that can’t win the big one, a professional journeyman, and a rookie fifth-round draft pick. That, and one of the worst Olines in the NFL is not a formula for success on O, even with the league’s best RB. A bunch of guys left the Raiders this offseason, and a bunch more guys came in to replace them. The most notable of the newcomers are WR Jakobi Meyers and TE Austin Hooper, and S Marcus Epps, who are all free agent backfills, and draftees DE Tyree Wilson, TE Michael Mayer, and DT Byron Young.
Looking at the Raiders 2023 schedule, I think an over/under of 5.5 wins is a lot more accurate than the 7 wins the data models project. Why? The Raiders have the second most difficult schedule in the league this season: 2 games each against LAC and KC, plus road tilts at BUF, DET, and MIA, and home games against NYG and NYJ. In survivor formats, your best bet for the Raiders in ‘23 may come at home against New England in Week 6, or at Denver in Week 17. In ATS formats, the Raiders are generally better as a home ‘dog than as an away favorite.
Los Angeles Chargers
SoS: 6th most difficult, PW: 9.1, POP: 45.8%
The Chargers had a good 2022 campaign despite a rash of injuries at WR and on D. While the team only made one free agent signing this offseason – LB Eric Kendricks – the Chargers did much in the draft to address their woes, picking up the poor man’s Julio Jones, WR Quentin Johnston, as well as DE Tuli Tuipulotu, LB Daiyan Henley, WR Derius Davis, and OT Jordan McFadden. The Oline is pretty good when healthy and RB Austin Ekeler showed a lot of pop as both a rusher and backfield receiving option in ‘22. DE Joey Bosa is healthy entering ‘23, which will improve the pass rush, but the Chargers’ secondary lacks four real starters, let alone depth, and is a liability.
Looking at the Chargers’ 2023 schedule, I can get to 10 wins versus the data models’ projected 9, but I think that depends on LAC’s performance in four home games on the back half of their schedule: vs. DET in Week 10, vs. BAL in Week 12, vs. BUF in Week 16, and vs. KC in Week 18. Get out of that set of games with 3 wins, and LAC has a good chance at making the playoffs again in 2023. In survivor formats, I like LAC at home vs. Las Vegas in Week 4, and again in Week 8 at home to the Bears. In ATS formats, the Chargers were brilliant away underdogs in ‘22, but bad as home favorites, as they are (-2.5) in Week 1 of 2023 against Miami.
The Kansas City Chiefs are both AFC West and NFL champs until somebody knocks them off. I pick them to win the division by one to two games and get a bye in the first round of the playoffs. I think the LA Chargers are a legit playoff team, but they will need to stay healthy and have a strong second half of the season to make it in. Denver is going to be better than they were last year. The Raiders are going to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2023 (let the hate mail commence).
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