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2020 Betting Review: AFC West


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2020 Betting Review: AFC West

I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time — and about 2000 words — breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective this summer. These articles also gave me a chance to do a full accounting of all my off-season/preseason Best Bets. Here were the overall results for my NFL Futures with individual results for each AFC West team below.

NFL Futures

For a full rundown of my NFL Futures from the off-season/preseason click here.

  • OVERALL BEST BETS — 27-27 (+15.51 units)

  • Season Wins — 8-0 (+11.98 units)

  • Season Player Props — 7-8 (-2.47 units)

  • Season Futures — 4-11 (+1.91 units)

  • Draft Props — 8-7 (+4.09 units)

  • Every Team Season Wins — 20-12 (62.5%)

AFC West Reviews

*Playoff team*

1. *Kansas City Chiefs (14-2, 7-9 ATS)*

  • AFC Odds: +200

  • Division Odds: -400

  • Playoff Odds: -1000

  • Best Bets: None.

  • Leans: Over 11.5 wins (win, 14-2); Clyde Edwards-Helaire over 1150.5 scrimmage yards (loss, 1100 yards)

What went right

The Chiefs fell short of their ultimate goal as the 2020 runners-up, but they’ve firmly established themselves as one of the elite teams in the league over the last half-decade. They’ve reeled off double-digit wins and playoff appearances in six straight seasons, and they’ve done both in seven of Andy Reid’s eight seasons in Kansas City. The Chiefs have also won five straight AFC West titles. They finished 2020 with a league-best and a franchise-best 14-2 record, which included a loss to the Chargers in Week 17 when they rested key players. They had a franchise-record 13 game winning streak between 2019-20, which started in Week 11 last season and ended with an unexpected loss to the Raiders as double-digit favorites in Week 5 this season. Kansas City became the first AFC team to host three straight Conference Championship Games, which resulted in consecutive Super Bowl appearances (and a win in 2019).

Patrick Mahomes and the offense once again powered the Chiefs this season as they’ve finished in the top six in both points per game and in yards per game in four straight seasons — Alex Smith led the 2017 offense. Mahomes led the league with 316.0 passing yards per game and he tied Aaron Rodgers for the NFL’s best INT rate at 1.0%. Travis Kelce played a massive part in Mahomes' success last season as he had arguably the greatest campaign by a tight end. He bested his old record for catches in a season with 105 — he previously had 103 in 2018 — and he topped George Kittle’s record for receiving yards (1377) with 1416. Kelce set the new tight end records while resting in the final game of the season too.

What went wrong

The Chiefs looked well on their way to becoming the first repeat Super Bowl champions since Brady and the Patriots did it in 2003-04, but Brady and the underdog Buccaneers had other thoughts with their dominant 31-9 victory in Super Bowl LV. Kansas City actually finished undefeated on the road for the first time in franchise history but they lost their final game in Tampa Bay’s home stadium.

Kansas City’s offensive line was the biggest reason why it couldn’t bring home back-to-back titles as their decimated unit got overwhelmed by one of the league’s best defensive lines. The Chiefs played in the game without either of their starting tackles from Super Bowl LIV with LT Eric Fisher (Achilles) and RT Mitchell Schwartz (back) out for the season. Fisher tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game in late January, which has his 2021 season in jeopardy. Schwartz, meanwhile, had started 141 straight games (playoffs included) to start his career before a back injury ended his ninth season after six games. It also didn’t help that OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff and RB Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season after playing huge roles on their Super Bowl-winning team the year prior.

The game they stole

The defending Super Bowl champs were shockingly on the ropes in Week 2 even after Chargers’ starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was ruled out before the game after his lung was accidentally punctured during a pain-killer injection. Rookie Justin Herbert got the spot start and he nearly shocked the world in his first career game — his performance cemented his spot as the starter the rest of the season. The Chargers raced out to a 17-6 lead in the third quarter before Kansas City rallied back and tied the game with a 30-yard Harrison Butker field goal at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime. Butker then made a 58-yard kick with under two minutes left to win the game in overtime to run their winning streak to 11 games dating back to the 2019 season, which would eventually be snapped after 13 victories in Week 5.

The game that got away

The Chiefs had just two losses in the regular season and one of those losses came with their backups in the lineup in a meaningless Week 17 game. They also got surprised by the deep passing of Derek Carr in a surprising 40-32 loss to the Raiders in a Week 5 loss as 11-point home favorites. Of course, their worst loss of the entire 2020 season came in their stunning 31-9 Super Bowl LV defeat to the Buccaneers as three-point favorites. The Chiefs failed to score a touchdown and they failed to reach double-digit points for the first time in Mahomes’ 54 career starts (playoffs included). Kansas City had +6000 odds to score zero touchdowns in the Super Bowl, a wager that probably saw almost no action after they scored 63 touchdowns in their first 18 games (3.5 TDs/game).

What to look for this off-season

The Chiefs have to improve their offensive line after the unit became a liability during their 2020 Super Bowl run, which was on full display against a dominant Buccaneers D-line in Super Bowl LV. Duvernay-Tardif has indicated he’ll be back on the field in 2021 but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll continue to play at a high level after taking a year off to fight COVID-19. The bigger questions lie at the tackle positions. Schwartz didn’t play in Kansas City’s final 13 games because of a mysterious back injury, which has to call into question his NFL future if it’s a debilitating issue. Fisher’s 2021 is certainly up in the air, as well, since he tore his Achilles in late January. Fisher could easily miss the first month or two of the season even if his recovery goes well and there’s an outside chance he doesn’t even play next season. Outside of their offensive line, the Chiefs will be looking to upgrade their secondary wide receiver option with Sammy Watkins’ time finally up in Kansas City. They’ll also be looking to make some improvements to their linebacker corps and in their secondary heading into 2021.

2. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8, 8-8 ATS)

  • Best Bets: None.
  • Leans: Under 7.5 wins (loss, 8-8); Derek Car under 3500.5 passing yards (loss, 4103 yards)

What went right

New home city. New stadium. Same old results. The Raiders jumped out to a 6-3 start with victories over playoff teams in the Chiefs, Saints, and Browns in the first 10 weeks of the season before it all came crumbling down. HC Jon Gruden’s offense did their part to have a winning season for just the second time since they lost in Super Bowl XXVIII during the 2002 season. The Raiders finished as a top-10 unit in points per game (27.1) and yards per game (383.3) but it still wasn’t enough to get over the hump in 2020. Darren Waller proved that he wasn’t just a one-year wonder last season, backing up his breakout 2019 campaign with a TE2 fantasy. He averaged 16.9 FPG FPG in Weeks 1-16 and he finished with 107/1196/9 receiving overall. Gruden’s newest pet project, Nelson Agholor, also broke out in a big way as he started to live up to the hype as a 2015 first-round pick. Agholor got a fresh start in Las Vegas, and he turned into a dynamic downfield threat once he got a significant role in the final 13 games with 44/822/7 receiving in that span.

What went wrong

The Raiders were on the verge of moving to 7-3 back in Week 11 when they had the Chiefs on the ropes for the second time in 2020 with under two minutes to go. Patrick Mahomes would lead the Chiefs right down the field for the win and that final drive would be the inflection point for the rest of the Raiders’ season. for the rest of the season. They lost five of six games in Weeks 11-16 to knock themselves out of the playoff race, which has become the norm for a once-storied franchise. The Raiders haven’t had a winning record and they’ve missed the playoffs in 17 of their last 18 seasons — 2016 is the only season they’ve done it since 2002. Las Vegas’ defense once again let them down, which earned DC Paul Guenther his pink slip after 13 games. Gruden owns a 19-29 record (.396) in his first three seasons with the Raiders after Las Vegas allowed the third-most points (29.7) and the eighth-most yards per game (389.1) last season.

Derek Carr posted one of his best seasons last year even though he got next nothing out of the three receivers the Raiders drafted in the top-81 picks. The Raiders reached for Henry Ruggs with the 12th overall selection last season, which stings even more after seeing what the likes of Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk, and Tee Higgins accomplished after being selected in the next 25 picks after him. Bryan Edwards’ injury issues also crept back in during his rookie season, and the Raiders gave up on Lynn Bowden in September. They traded him to the Dolphins for next to nothing and he ended up being a contributor for Miami late in December.

The game they stole

The Raiders led the Jets by 11 points well into the fourth quarter of Week 14 before Las Vegas allowed a pair of touchdowns to New York, which had the Jets on the precipice of winning their first game in early December. DC Gregg Williams certainly did his part to keep the Jets from winning with his play-calling late in the game. He sent a zero-blitz that didn’t get home with just five seconds left, which allowed Derek Carr to connect with a wide-open Henry Ruggs for the game-winning 46-yard touchdown. The Raiders were very much in the thick of the AFC playoff race with their 31-28 victory over the Jets, but the win would end up being their only victory in Weeks 11-16, a stretch that ultimately kept them from making the postseason.

The game that got away

The Raiders had their slim playoff hopes dashed by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the Dolphins on national TV in Week 16. Las Vegas held Tua Tagovailoa to just 94 passing yards on 22 passes (4.3 YPA) through 49 minutes before Brian Flores pulled him for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran QB instantly created some magic with 182 passing yards and a touchdown in the final 10 minutes of action, but the Raiders still were in a position to win after Daniel Carlson kicked the go-ahead 22-yard field goal with 19 seconds left. Las Vegas bungled the end of the game by allowing Fitz to hit Mack Hollins for a 34-yard gain down the left sideline while his helmet was being ripped off. Fitz earned an additional 15 yards for the defender nearly ripping his face off, which set up a Jason Sanders’ 44-yard field goal for the 26-25 victory. The loss officially eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs after they opened the season with a 6-3 record through 10 games.

What to look for this off-season

New DC Gus Bradley has his hands full fixing this broken defense. The Raiders have finished in the bottom-10 in the league in points allowed in each of Gruden’s first three seasons despite using 56% of their picks on defense (14 of 25) since he moved from the booth to the sidelines. The Raiders are lacking a true difference-making player on defense heading into 2021 — they could use a Khalil Mack-type player (sorry!). They need help at all three levels of their defense, but they especially need to upgrade their pass rush and their secondary. The Raiders would also love to upgrade their quarterback situation after dabbling in Tom Brady’s free agency frenzy last off-season as they appear to be hitting their ceiling with Carr at quarterback.

3. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9, 9-7 ATS)

  • Best Bets: Under eight wins (win, +1.82 units, 7-9); Justin Herbert under 3400 passing yards (Yeesh, -2 units, 4336 yards); Justin Herbert under 21 TD passes (Yeesh, -2 units, 31 TDs)
  • Leans: Austin Ekeler under 1350.5 scrimmage yards (win, 933 yards)

What went right

The 2020 season will be remembered as a transition year for the Chargers franchise, and it was also a season that showed a lot of promise for the future. The Chargers completed their first season in the state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium and they did it without Philip Rivers as the team’s quarterback for the first time since 2005. The Chargers had one final disappointing season under Anthony Lynn, who was fired at the end of the season, but the future's looking bright after they hit the lottery with Justin Herbert, who was the third quarterback selected in the 2020 draft. It took a bit of luck/misfortune for Herbert to even get into the lineup after Tyrod Taylor had his lung accidentally punctured with a pain-killer injection before their Week 2 game. Herbert stepped into the lineup and nearly knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions, and he never looked back after that.

He broke NFL rookie records for passing yards (4336), passing TDs (31), and completions (396) in just 15 games. Herbert and company also closed the season with a four-game winning streak to build some positive vibes heading into the off-season. Keenan Allen was one of the players who found a new lease on life with Herbert at quarterback. Keenan tumbled down fantasy draftboards with Rivers leaving for Indianapolis, but he continued to show he’s one of the best receivers in the league with his fourth straight season with 97+ catches.

What went wrong

The Chargers vastly underperformed based on their talent level once again, which resulted in the franchise firing Lynn after they missed the playoffs for the second straight season. Lynn’s dreadful in-game decision-making cost them several games (see “the games that got away” below), but he wasn’t helped by injury issues, which has been an epidemic for the franchise for the last decade. RB Austin Ekeler (hamstring), DE Melvin Ingram (knee), C Mike Pouncey (hip), and CB Chris Harris (foot) each missed significant chunks of time last season. Los Angeles’ secondary played below lofty expectations and it certainly didn’t help that they were without S Derwin James’ services once again because of a knee injury. James is one of the more talented safeties in the league but he’s now played in just five games over the last two seasons.

The game they stole

The Chargers opened the season 2-7 in one-score games before reeling off three straight wins in tight fashion over the Falcons, Raiders, and Broncos in Weeks 14-16. Michael Badgley kicked a game-winning field goal with no time left in a 20-17 victory over the Falcons in Week 14 before hitting the game-winning kick with 41 seconds left in a 19-16 victory over the Broncos in Week 16. Herbert had plenty of memorable moments during his rookie season and one of his finest came in overtime against in Week 15 after the Raiders kicked a go-ahead field goal with 3:18 remaining in the extra frame. He hit Jalen Guyton on a downfield strike for 53 yards before paying it off with a one-yard touchdown sneak to pull out the 30-27 victory.

The games that got away

The Chargers lost a couple of excruciating games early in the season, which was a common occurrence during the Lynn era. They had the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs on the ropes in Week 2 in Herbert’s first start before Harrison Butker made a 58-yard field goal to beat the Chargers with two minutes left in overtime. Los Angeles also had the Saints in the corner in Week 5 on Monday Night Football with a 17-point lead before the Saints stormed back and won the game in overtime. However, their most disheartening loss came in Week 8 to the Broncos. The Chargers held a 21-point lead in the third quarter and a 98.8% win probability before slowly letting the lead slip away in the final 22 minutes, culminating in K.J. Hamler’s game-winning score from a yard away with no time left.

What to look for this off-season

The Chargers have been loaded with talent over the last couple of years and they’re hoping defensive whiz kid Brandon Staley is the one who can take advantage of it to make them contenders with the Chiefs in the AFC West on a consistent basis. It feels like we’ve been saying it for the last decade but the Chargers desperately need to upgrade their offensive line. They had one of the worst O-lines once again last season and it should be a priority to keep Herbert healthy and protected going forward. Los Angeles brought in RT Bryan Bulaga and RG Trai Turner last off-season, but the group continued to be a liability even with a young, mobile quarterback as the starter. The Chargers have the ninth-most cap space and they’ll be looking to retain a couple of big-name free agents in Ingram and TE Hunter Henry, as well.

4. Denver Broncos (5-11, 9-7 ATS)

  • Best Bets: Melvin Gordon over 1050.5 scrimmage yards (win, +.91 units, 1144 yards); Second-place AFC West +260 (loss, .5 units, 4th)
  • Leans: Over 7.5 wins (loss, 5-11)

What went right

Denver’s season was over before it ever really got off the ground because of season-ending injuries to key players, which debilitated the rest of this roster. With that said, the Broncos still got some strong contributions from some of their key players. LT Garrett Bolles has come a long way since he took some lumps early in his career after the Broncos drafted him in the first round in 2017. He’s developed into one of the best left tackles in the league under the tutelage of Mike Munchak the last two seasons. Second-year TE Noah Fant continued to show tantalizing potential at just 23 years old, but he once again got crushed by some of the worst quarterback play in the league. The Broncos also had one of the best safety tandems in Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson and cornerback Bryce Callahan played well after missing the entire 2019 season with a foot injury. However, he did miss the final five games of last season with another foot injury.

What went wrong

The Broncos are on one of their worst runs in franchise history. They’ve missed the playoffs in five straight seasons and they have losing campaigns in their last four years. The franchise continues to struggle because they haven’t found a solution at quarterback since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 seasons. Drew Lock, a 2019 second-round pick, failed to make any progress in his first season as the team’s full-time starter after getting five starts under his belt as a rookie. He completed just 57.3% of his passes and he averaged 6.6 YPA with 16 TD passes to 15 INTs. It didn’t help that he lost his favorite target just two games into the season with Courtland Sutton tearing his ACL. Injuries crushed any chance the Broncos had of competing for a playoff spot last season with EDGE Von Miller (ankle) RT Ja’Wuan James (opt-out), and DT Jurrell Casey (biceps) joining Sutton on the sidelines before the calendar even flipped to September.

First-round pick Jerry Jeudy was forced into the #1 WR role after Sutton’s injury and he, somewhat surprisingly, wasn’t ready for the spot despite being a polished route-runner entering the league. He consistently flashed his ability to get open, but he finished second in drops (12) behind Diontae Johnson including a dreadful five-drop performance against the Chargers in Week 16. The Broncos’ low-point of the season came in Week 12 when they had to play one of the NFL’s best teams, the Saints, without a quarterback because of COVID-19 close contact protocols. They also had to play 12 straight games to end the season after their bye week was unexpectedly moved up because of New England’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The game they stole

The Broncos pulled out an improbable victory over their division-rival Chargers in Week 8 after they fell behind by 21 points midway through the third quarter. The Chargers owned a 98.8% win probability in the third quarter before the Broncos clawed back into the game. Phillip Lindsay started the comeback by breaking off a 55-yard touchdown run and Drew Lock threw all three of his touchdown passes in the final quarter. The Broncos completed their comeback on the final play of the game, which was a one-yard touchdown pass from lock to K.J. Hamler.

The game that got away

The Broncos had the chance to get their season off on the right foot against the AFC runners-up in the final game of Week 1. Tennessee’s Stephen Gostkowski missed three field goals and an extra point to keep Denver in the game, but the Broncos failed to take advantage of what would turn out to be one of the league’s worst defenses. Gostkowski would eventually make his first field goal of the game from 25 yards away with 17 seconds left to give the Titans a 16-14 victory in the season opener. Denver’s season would spiral out of control over the next couple of weeks with Sutton and Casey joining Miller on the injured reserve with season-ending injuries.

What to look for this off-season

The Broncos will once again be scouring the quarterback market this off-season, which has become a near-annual pursuit since Peyton retired at the end of 2015. Denver will explore every avenue open to them for a new franchise quarterback, including in the draft in which they have the ninth overall pick. They’re selecting after some quarterback-needy teams so they may have to get creative to move up to get their guy in the draft. If the Broncos strike out this off-season, they should at least bring in a veteran quarterback to push Lock for the starting job this training camp after having just Jeff Driskel as a backup last season. Denver has the seventh-most cap space as of the middle of February to potentially make a big splash. The Broncos will make it a priority to re-sign Simmons and DT Shelby Harris on defense, and they have to upgrade one of their cornerback spots after A.J. Bouye flopped in his one season in Denver after his PED suspension. Denver will also look to strengthen the interiors of their offensive and defensive lines this off-season.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 61.5% clip in 2019 and he was a perfect 8-0 on his Best Bets for season win totals in 2020.

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