NFL training camps opened up this week, meaning we’ve officially begun the point of the year where speculating about the upcoming season is mainstream, and not just an activity for sad people in need of a hobby. (Not that I don’t fit into the latter category; I just haven’t put my speculations into writing yet.)
Jazzed to get back to writing about football, I began pouring over the endless bets and futures one can play for the upcoming season, and something quickly jumped out to me. Long ago, Horace Greeley famously wrote “Go west, young man,” favoring westward expansion as a way to prosperity. While we’re long past the days of horse and buggy, I think the west seems like a prosperous place to bet football this year.
When it comes to the AFC West and NFC West, oddsmakers and I disagree on who should be the odds-on favorite, which is why I think there’s value to be had. But even looking at it through an objective lens, the races are set to be so tight that there are some decent odds on every team. So let’s examine each of these divisions a little more closely.
Denver Broncos: 9/5
Kansas City Chiefs: 21/10
Oakland Raiders: 5/2
San Diego Chargers: 13/2
The reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos have claimed this division title five years in a row; so why are they not favored by more? The Mark Sanchez factor is certainly part of the reason why, but it actually has more to do with the level of competition. Kansas City finished last year on a ten-game win-streak to wind up 11-5, meaning the difference between division champs and a Wild Card spot ended up being a Jamaal Charles fumble in Week 2.
Not only should the Chiefs remain a force in the West, but the long suffering Oakland Raiders are expected to make a leap as well, after bringing in some defensive help to match the (expected) production of Derek Carr and this young offense. Even the Chargers aren’t total longshots to win, as Philip Rivers has shown he can succeed surrounded by mediocrity. However, Rivers hasn’t been able to get San Diego to double-digit wins since 2009.
There’s a case to be made for every team in this division, but the case that speaks the loudest is that of Kansas City. Over the last decade, the NFL averages 4.6 new division-winners each season; though change hasn’t been common in this division, it is a constant in the league. Now, the AFC West is ripe for change.
The Bronco defense was historically great last year, but now faces the burden of success, losing key players to free agency and needing to find more motivation for those that remain. Denver fans will argue this team won despite an ineffective offense last season, and are more than capable of doing it again, but bet on that at your own risk. Last year, the Broncos record was not indicative of their play, as the team took a lot of games by the skin of its teeth. Kansas City finished last season with a better point differential and DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).
Given that they’ve had very little turnover this offseason, it’s hard to pass up the Chiefs at +210. The optimistic types may want to play the Raiders, as well, but this young team still has to learn how to win consistently.
Seattle Seahawks: 10/11
Arizona Cardinals: 7/5
Los Angeles Rams: 15/2
San Francisco 49ers: 20/1
Unlike the AFC West, I can’t believe the reigning champions aren’t the favorite here. The Arizona Cardinals won the division by a whopping three games and may have gotten better with the addition of DE Chandler Jones. Throw in the fact that they would have won the division in 2014, as well, were it not for a Carson Palmer injury, and it seems unfathomable that the odds don’t back this team.
Health scares are a reason to think twice about backing the Cards, but I don’t think their injury potential is any scarier than Seattle’s, since the Seahawks have a terrible offensive line and also lost key playmakers Marshawn Lynch and Bruce Irvin.
The Seahawks did finish 2015 with the league’s best DVOA, but Arizona was close behind, finishing third. These two should be in a dogfight all season to win the title, but that’s why their odds should be even. The fact that Arizona is +140 or better on some boards makes them the worthwhile play.
Of course, if you’re the ever-optimistic type, like mentioned before, you may like what’s happening in Los Angeles. The Rams have long been good enough on defense and on the ground to win games, but the lack of a passing game kept them just shy of .500. If you believe rookie Jared Goff can be the difference-maker, then +650 will speak to you. Although, if that’s the case, you could also just take him at 5/1 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. But who am I to tell you what to do?
Oh right, that was the whole point of this piece.
(Photo credit: Victor Araiza (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/].)
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