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Previewing the AFC West Division for 2021 – Can the Chiefs Be Chased Down?

| May 15, 2021 1:18 am PDT

Nobody in the AFC West can even hold a candle to Kansas City. The Chargers are integrating a brand-new coaching staff, the Raiders botched their offseason, and the Broncos are still without a quarterback.

For now.

Denver has crept up the AFC West odds sheet based on rumors that Aaron Rodgers could be on his way, but as things currently stand, it’ll be Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater battling for snaps in Mile High.

For more insight on the teams in this division, let’s dive into an AFC West preview heading into the 2021 NFL season.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • AFC West Odds: -250
  • 2020 Record: 14-2
  • X-Factor: Mecole Hardman

The class of the AFC ran into a buzzsaw in the Super Bowl. The way the Chiefs offensive line collapsed against Tampa Bay; it was clear that the front office would be exploring all avenues to address the protection scheme.

And that is exactly what happened.

  • Signed Joe Thuney in free agency
  • Signed Austin Blythe in free agency
  • Lured Kyle Long out of retirement
  • Traded for Orlando Brown
  • Drafted Creed Humphrey

Drafting Trey Smith adds depth in the interior, and don’t forget that Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returns after opting out in 2020.

This is a deep and talented unit that will ensure Patrick Mahomes stays upright. Perhaps the biggest question mark offensively is who steps up in the passing game alongside Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill?

Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle will both be contributors, and 5th-round pick Cornell Powell is an intriguing option. However, year three is the perfect time for Mecole Hardman to fully break out assuming he gets a few more opportunities.

Since Hardman entered the league in 2019, he ranks second in the NFL in yards after catch per reception. He is first among all pass-catchers in “highest passer rating when targeted.”

With Mahomes wheeling and dealing, KC does not need their defense to be great in order to thrive. The D just needs to hold up their end of the bargain.

Denver Broncos

  • AFC West Odds: +400
  • 2020 Record: 5-11
  • X-Factor: Javonte Williams

Circle June 1st on your calendar. Once that date rolls around, parting ways with Rodgers would only cost Green Bay a $21 million cap hit, instead of the $38 million they’d eat if they traded or released him sooner.

The fact that John Elway passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones at #9 makes me think a deal for A-Rod could be imminent. With that being said, the Packers are a stubborn organization that may play hard to get.

It will be a shame if Denver endures another year with spotty play under center because this is a soundly built roster.

The Quinn Meinerz pick beefs up the offensive line; Javonte Williams is a three-down workhorse who’s going to quickly push Melvin Gordon aside. And check out this revamped secondary.

The Broncos signed Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby, plus drafted Patrick Surtain II. This is on top of tagging Justin Simmons and retaining Kareem Jackson.

Why so much attention to the back end of the defense while little was done to restock in the front seven?

Vic Fangio’s group ranked 3rd in hurries, 6th in pressures, and 9th in sacks. That was without Von Miller who returns after missing all of 2020 with an ankle injury.

Those who have a hunch that Aaron Rodgers is going to wind up in a Broncos uniform by September, start booking your AFC West bets now. This +400-price tag (to win the division) will vanish into thin air the moment any news breaks.

Los Angeles Chargers

  • AFC West Odds: +600
  • 2020 Record: 7-9
  • X-Factor: Derwin James

After hitting a home run with Justin Herbert in 2020, another gem appears to have fallen into Tom Telesco’s lap in the first round of a draft.

Rashawn Slater plugs in at left tackle alongside newcomers Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler – suddenly the Bolts offensive line is no longer a deficiency.

To curb the loss of Hunter Henry in FA, the Chargers sought out Jared Cook and drafted Tre’ McKitty. XFL standout Donald Parham should factor into the red zone game plan.

The running back room is still a little light with not a whole lot behind Austin Ekeler, which is why Brandon Staley would be wise to spread things out and run lots of 3- and 4-WR sets.

After ranking inside the top 10 in yards per game and third-down efficiency, we could be looking at a top-5 offense in 2021.

How much noise the Chargers make will be predicated on the defense getting timely stops. Los Angeles ranked inside the bottom 10 in several key defensive categories, including getting off the field on third down.

Melvin Ingram’s departure leaves a hole on the edge opposite Joey Bosa, but the secondary got a big boost by nabbing Asante Samuel Jr.

Keep an eye on Derwin James coming off an injury-riddled season. The First-Team All-Pro as a rookie in 2018 has played just five games in the last two seasons combined but had his fifth-year option picked up.

When healthy, James is a genuine difference-maker who roams around as one of the best safeties in football.

Las Vegas Raiders

  • AFC West Odds: +1200
  • 2020 Record: 8-8
  • X-Factor: Yannick Ngakokue

I am supposed to be upbeat about the Raiders given I reside in Las Vegas and will be rooting for success. It’s just difficult to endorse a product that pales in comparison to the other organizations in this AFC preview.

Mike Mayock dismantled what was a solid offensive line and decided to put his faith in Tom Cable’s ability to develop young talent. He is banking on soon-to-be 38-year-old Richie Incognito being a healthy contributor.

Rather than spend money in the offseason to bolster the O-line, Mayock shelled out $11 million for a backup running back.

Credit to Mayock and Gruden for at least trying to shore up the defense in the draft – Vegas selected five straight defenders after they reached for Alex Leatherwood in the first one.

The Raiders added an edge presence by bringing Yannick Ngakokue in on a two-year/$26 million deal, but let’s assess this situation from an unbiased perspective.

The graphic below reveals a defensive unit that has a long, long way to go before they are competitive.

The Raiders Defense in 2020
Category NFL Rank
Team Sacks 29
Points Allowed 30
Third Down Defense 30
Takeaways 30

As big of a mismatch as Darren Waller is, defenses can start doubling Waller to high heavens considering the Raiders meager collection of wide receivers.

Derek Carr is fine under center if you are content with mediocrity, but I’d like to see Vegas go all-in in their pursuit of Aaron Rodgers.

AFC West Predictions in 2021

I am a little shy about betting on the Chargers to win the division, but there are a couple of other wagers surrounding the Bolts that piqued my interest.

The top NFL betting sites installed LA’s win total at 9; they are +137 to make the playoffs. Lock me in for the “over” and “yes” in those two respective bets.

In terms of betting on who winds up with the best record in this division, pencil me in for a vote on the Chiefs.

Kansas City took a position group that was a glaring weakness and turned it into one of the strengths of the team. Picking anyone else when betting on the AFC West involves betting against Patrick Mahomes.

Maybe you are in the mood to do that, but I’m certainly not.

Enjoy this AFC West preview? Check out my breakdowns of the other AFC divisions.

Michael Wynn

As a former Division I collegiate golfer, Michael Wynn loves writing about golf. He's also an expert in most of America's most popular sports, writing extensively for GamblingSites.com on football, basketball, and baseball.

Michael's a Las Vegas native and has been with the company since 2017.

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