How To Bet The AFC West
By Jason McIntyre
After a wild offseason in which the best QB in NFL history (Tom Brady) changed teams, two of the best receivers in the sport (DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs) were traded, one franchise moved (Las Vegas Raiders), and a pandemic set the stage for a season unlike any other, what should your approach be to gambling on all 32 teams?
We're here to help. Starting today with the AFC West, we're going to run through every team in every division with a few trends you need to know, picks on season win totals and chances to make the playoffs, and much more in "Fade or Follow."
Against the spread record in 2019: 4-9-3
Why they can be profitable: The Chargers were 2-9 in one-score games in 2019, and that tends to flip year-to-year. In 2018, when the Chargers went 12-4 and lost to the Patriots in the playoffs, they were 6-1 in one-score games. Other numbers you don’t expect to continue: LA ranked last in fumble recovery rate and special teams in 2019.
Cement shoes Philip Rivers was a turnover machine (20 interceptions, including seven in the 4th quarter), and as long as Tyrod Taylor can do what he did in Buffalo — protect the football, lead a run-heavy attack — there’s going to be value on the Chargers to win a lot of low-scoring games.
Ominous trend/fact: Tyrod Taylor’s last NFL start was in September of 2018, and he’s got an entire new right side of the offensive line. The Chargers red zone defense was last in the NFL last year, and they couldn’t get off the field, ranking 29th in 3rd down defense, and 30th on 3rd down defense in the red zone.
2020 Over/Under: 8. Over. Easily. They have the third easiest schedule in the NFL. At some shops, the Chargers opened at 7.5 and were bet up to 8.
To make the playoffs: Yes (+150). Have you looked at the Wild Card options in the AFC?
Fade or follow verdict: Follow. I’m not a believer in conservative Anthony Lynn, but structurally I love what the Chargers bring to the table. They will be one of my favorite bets early this season, starting with the opener in Cincinnati.
Against the spread record in 2019: 8-8
Why they can be profitable: Rookie Henry Ruggs is a deep threat opening the middle of the field for emerging TE Darren Waller and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. Josh Jacobs led the AFC in rushing in his second year as a pro. All of this adds up to the Raiders being the backdoor cover kings in the NFL in 2019.
Ominous trend/fact: Besides having (at least) five new starters on defense, the Raiders have the fourth toughest schedule in the NFL when you look at opponent over/under win totals.
2020 over/under: 7.5. A slight lean to the under here because the schedule in September and October is brutal, with four straight games against 2019 playoff teams, then hosting Tom Brady’s Bucs after the bye week. A 1-6 start is entirely possible.
To make the playoffs: No (-300). While I don’t completely trust anyone in the AFC after the Ravens and Chiefs, and the Derek Carrr-Jon Gruden combo is the second best QB/coach duo in the AFC West, where was the help for the anemic pass rush (27th in adjusted sack rate) that might help a woeful secondary?
Fade or follow verdict: Fade early, follow late. The offense should click with 10 of 11 starters returning, but the (mostly) new defense will take some time. Basically, I’m forecasting the opposite of the Raiders 2019 season, which started 6-4, and then they lost five of six.
Against the spread record in 2019: 13-5-1 (best in the NFL)
Why they can be profitable: The Chiefs trailed all three playoff games by double digits — including 24-0 vs the Texans — and still covered in all three. Patrick Mahomes is 23-12-1 ATS as a starter the last two years.
Ominous trend/fact: The Chiefs led the NFL in penalties in 2018, and were tied for sixth in 2019. They struggled stopping the run all year, finishing 29th in efficiency. The 49ers rushed for 141 yards in the Super Bowl. The Ravens rushed for 203 yards in a September loss to KC. (Yes, the Chiefs won both games, but didn’t cover vs Baltimore.)
2020 over/under: 11.5. I give a slight lean to the under. Weirdly, the Chiefs have four sets of back-to-back road games, and coming out of the November bye week, have a stretch of four road games in five weeks.
To make the playoffs: Yes (-1200). Don’t bet this. Barring an injury to Pat Mahomes, it’ll happen. But it doesn’t make fiscal sense to tie up $1200 all season to win $100. It’d make some sense to take the +700 they’ll miss the playoffs, but who wants to root against one of the most fun, explosive offenses in sports?
Fade or follow verdict: Slight lean to fade at the right number. The Chiefs are going to be overpriced all season. The sports books know that fans like offense and stars, and KC checks both boxes.
Against the spread record in 2019: 9-7
Why they can be profitable: The Broncos have 1st or 2nd round picks at QB, RB, their top 3 WRs, and at TE. The talent is there.
Ominous trend/fact: The Broncos have the fifth toughest NFL schedule per over/under win totals and third toughest by Football Outsiders DVOA metric.
2020 over/under: 7.5. The public is hot for the Broncos, but the under is calling my name. Just because Drew Lock feasted on some shoddy pass defenses late last season and Denver drafted two high-upside receivers in Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, let’s not pencil them into the playoffs.
To make the playoffs: No (-200). The 2020 Broncos will be the 2019 Browns. Promising young QB, exciting offseason moves, and a strong finish to the previous year. But the Broncos are still a year away.
Fade or follow verdict: Follow in week one, fade after that. Lock should carve up the Titans defense in the opener, but after that he’s got to face four Top 20 pass defenses, and betting against a 1-0 Denver team is right in my wheelhouse.