The calendar has turned to June and Vegas is sweltering hot. That can only mean one thing for NFL bettors – the offseason marketplace starts to heat up with the weather. The season win total markets and the odds to win each division have seen some movement. That means it’s time to get to work (if you haven’t done so already) on a thorough offseason analysis of each team.
Over the course of the hot summer months, I’ll be previewing all eight NFL divisions from a win total standpoint, moving from West to East here in my Wiseguy Report. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the AFC West this week, starting with the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
The Broncos went 12-4 SU, 8-8 ATS and 10-6 to the Under last year; lined Over/Under 9.5 wins for 2016. They finished -4 in turnovers for the campaign, leading the league in throwing interceptions. Bettors seem to be worried about the QB situation, whether it’s Trevor Siemian or Marc Sanchez behind center. But the Broncos cannot get worse quarterbacking than they had last year, when an ineffective Peyton Manning finished with a 67.9 QB rating, ranked #34 out of 34 NFL QB’s with enough attempts to qualify.
The open QB competition has certainly dominated the headlines in Denver this offseason, but it’s certainly not the only significant personnel issue for Gary Kubiak’s squad. They lost Malik Jackson, Owen Daniels and Louis Vazquez. Ryan Clady got traded to the Jets. Danny Trevathan went to Chicago. And their presumptive QB of the future, Brock Osweiler, took big free agent dollars to go to Houston. Denver did add some veteran talent on the offensive line, most notably Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson.
From a schedule standpoint, the Broncos have a tough stretch to open the season, facing the Panthers, Colts and Bengals in their first three games. They have only one home game (KC) between Halloween and mid-December, playing four of five on the road, plus a late bye. And once they finally return home, they’ll face the Patriots in revenge mode in Week 15. A team that went 11-2 in games decided by a single score last year (including two playoff wins), will be hard pressed to match that accomplishment this year! And a team that won three games via a defensive score (Raiders, Chiefs and Browns) can’t be expected to do that again in back-to-back years.
The Kansas City Chiefs, like Denver, are lined as a 9.5 win team for 2016. KC went 11-5 SU, 8-8 ATS and 8-7-1 to the Over last year. Much of their success was related to two factors. First and foremost, their schedule down the stretch was as easy it gets from an NFL standpoint. Following their 1-5 start, the Chiefs spent the reason of the season feasting on the weak while reeling off 11 straight wins. They faced the Steelers with Landry Jones and got Denver in Manning’s last game before his injury hiatus. Every other team they played was either below average (Oakland, Buffalo) or legit bottom feeders -- Cleveland, SD, Baltimore, Detroit. Even their playoff win against the Texans must come with an asterisk if you remember how poorly Brian Hoyer played in that contest. And secondly, (in part due to that weak slate of foes), the Chiefs finished #2 in the NFL in turnover margin.
In three seasons under Andy Reid, KC has 11, 9 and 11 wins; three straight Over cashes. Reid might be a buffoon in some regards (cough, clock management, cough cough), but his regular season track record is stellar, dating back to his tenure in Philly.
KC did a good job of re-signing their own in free agency, but it’s not like this team got significant talent upgrades in the offseason. Their strength of schedule numbers (based on THIS YEAR’s win totals) is near the league average. Another successful season probably depends on the QB play from Alex Smith. Smith had a 95.4 QB rating last year and was an effective scrambler out of the pocket. His QB rating has been at 89 or higher for five straight seasons. And for all the complaints and Smith’s ‘Dink and Dunk’ approach to the passing game, he did average 7.4 yards per attempt, #14 in the NFL last year(ahead of Rodgers, Rivers, Eli, Stafford and many more).
The Oakland Raiders are lined as an 8.5 win team for 2016 despite the fact that the last time the Raiders won more than 8.5 games was 2002...the year they lost to Jon Gruden and the Bucs in the Super Bowl. My numbers show that Oakland has cashed only three Over tickets in the last 13 years. They finished 7-9 SU, 8-8 ATS and 8-7-1 to the Over last year.
When we look at the 2015 season under the microscope, two things stand out. First, five of their seven wins came against bottom feeders and their wins against the Jets and Broncos both came with big asterisks. Six of their seven wins came by a single score – they weren’t even capable of blowing out weaklings. That being said, Jack Del Rio’s squad also lost a bunch of tight games, finding ways to lose late against a handful of quality foes.
This year’s strength of schedule, like the rest of the AFC West, is firmly near league average territory; a notch or two weaker than last year. That being said, their first five road trips all start at 10 AM Pacific Time. Last year, the Raiders won early start games at Cleveland and at Tennessee LY (two worst teams in the NFL), but their track record in these spots is nothing short of awful, long term. It’s surely worth noting that the betting markets are hotter in support of Oakland than any other team in the division, despite the potential distraction of a franchise move to Las Vegas.
The San Diego Chargers suffered through a dismal, injury riddled campaign last year, finishing 4-12 SU, 8-8 ATS and 10-6 to the Under, despite facing a slightly below average schedule in terms of toughness. It marked only the second losing season for San Diego since 2004 – this team has been an under-the-radar model of consistency throughout most of the Philip Rivers era. San Diego went 3-9 in games decided by a single score, repeatedly unable to get that key stop or key late drive to win. And their four wins came against the Lions, Browns, Jags and Dolphins; not exactly elite competition.
Head coach Mike McCoy is on the hot seat despite getting San Diego to overachieve in each of his first two seasons on the job. New offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt should help McCoy – two bright offensive minds working together. In addition to McCoy’s tenuous job status, the Chargers are also primed to move at the end of the season, creating another major distraction.
From a personnel standpoint, this team can only get better than they were a year ago. In 2015, the injury bug bit hard. Their OL was decimated, the defense was riddled, and key skill position talent (Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, etc) were limited all year. Their did shore up their OL with a handful of key free agent signings, and #3 overall draft choice Joey Bosa should help generate a pass rush that was non-existent last year.
This year’s schedule is a good notch or two tougher than last year’s based on the 2016 season win totals. The Chargers have four 10 AM Pacific Time starts; three of them late in the season, but only one true cold weather game at Cleveland. Also, they have only one set of back-to-back roadies (at Atlanta, at Denver in Weeks 7 and 8).
Next week, I’ll focus on the four squads from the NFC West.
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