The best alternate jerseys in the league, a team that finally has a quarterback, a passer with a cannon for an arm, and a team that just said “screw it” – it’s the AFC West!
Here are my over/under win-total picks for the AFC West:
Los Angeles Chargers
Pick: Over 9.5 wins -110 (BetOnline)
If the Chargers’ powder-blue jerseys were their primary uniform, this team would win the Super Bowl every other year.
I’m a sucker for buying into the Chargers. They’re my annual sleeper, and then I watch them crumble in the fourth quarter twice a month and vow to never return, only to come crawling back after a surprise road-game win by 40 points.
Offensively, everything is in place. Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon lead Philip Rivers’ arsenal of game-changers, and perhaps a breakout season is on the horizon for Mike Williams. Then there’s Tyrell Williams, a serviceable receiver who’s frequently overlooked.
Defensively, the Chargers are on the cusp of something special. The edge rushers – Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram – are elite. The linebackers leave a lot to be desired, but Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams, Desmond King, and first-round pick Derwin James round out an athletic secondary.
After some retooling in the division, the Chargers boast the most talent and finally have an opportunity to run away from the pack. But can they consistently play a full four quarters, and avoid stuffing the injury report in 2018?
If the answer to both is yes, this one sails over nine wins.
Pick: Over 7.5 wins -110 (BetOnline)
I thought about Case Keenum’s potential regression all offseason. Some pulled the change-of-scenery card to support why he flourished last season, and why he’ll thrive again. Others think the 30-year-old’s rise was a fluke and there’s no way Keenum can repeat his 2017 success in Denver.
I’m here to tell you the Broncos just need an average or slightly-above-average quarterback who’s more competent than Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders also need to do their parts in 2018 after down seasons (they combined for only 1,504 receiving yards in 2017). Keenum’s presence should reinvigorate the offense, and rookies Royce Freeman and Courtland Sutton will likely inject more life into the unit, too.
On the other side of the ball, the front seven is nasty. An already-scary defense was reinforced during the draft with the addition of Bradley Chubb, who recorded 20 sacks over his final two seasons at North Carolina State, and he should form an intimidating pass-rushing tandem with Von Miller.
There are winnable games outside the division on the Broncos’ schedule, as they face the Cardinals, 49ers, Browns, Bengals, and Jets, along with the Raiders and Chiefs twice every season.
This is my surprise team in the West.
Kansas City Chiefs
Pick: Under 8.5 wins -150 (BetOnline)
The Chiefs are going to need a lot from Patrick Mahomes in 2018.
Arguably, no team has deviated from its identity more over a few seasons than Kansas City. The team’s strength is now its offense, and the Chiefs should have a fun one. The defense has lost key pieces, added new ones, and has a few coming off injury-ridden seasons, setting the stage for plenty of shootouts.
That should all be right up Mahomes’ alley since he’s not allowed to get the support of a good defense after playing his college ball at Texas Tech.
We’ll be raving about Mahomes and the Chiefs’ future at the end of the year. Kansas City starts the season with games against the Steelers, Chargers, Patriots, Jaguars, and Broncos before the team’s schedule gets easier late in the season. If it’s a tale of two halves, expect Mahomes and the Chiefs to make their mark late, and too late to take the over here.
Pick: Under 7.5 wins -140 (Bookmaker)
Losing Khalil Mack hurts the Raiders’ team culture, and pure on-field product. There’s no foundation to the defense anymore.
The Raiders’ offseason was already in flux before new head coach Jon Gruden started snipping players from the roster. Now, the fan base should want to fight him after he traded away the heart and soul of the defense.
I would try to think of reasons why Oakland might outdo expectations, instead of automatically assuming the Raiders’ season will blow up while Gruden swims in his $100 million. But I didn’t want anything to do with the Raiders before Gruden started cleaning house.
Derek Carr regressed significantly last season, and so did Amari Cooper, and Oakland’s defense will never be able to defend the pass. Even if we take out everything that happened the past few months, I still don’t think the Raiders are good enough to win eight games from a talent standpoint.
According to adjusted Pythagorean, they should have won four fewer games in 2016, and then Oakland came way back down to earth last season. Now they’re dealing with an old-school coach’s mess, and are expected to win three more games than in 2017? Count me out.
Alex Kolodziej is theScore’s betting writer. He’s a graduate of Eastern Illinois who has been involved in the sports betting industry for 11 years. He can quote every line from ‘Rounders’ and appreciates franchises that regularly wear alternate jerseys. Find him on Twitter @AlexKoIodziej.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)