The Rams have dominated headlines in L.A., but the Chargers might be just as talented. Philip Rivers is still a franchise QB, and they have star pairings at edge rusher and cornerback. Patrick Mahomes steps in for the Chiefs, who are hoping his big arm and aggressive approach mesh with a talented supporting cast. Jon Gruden takes over a disappointing Raiders team that needs Derek Carr to play like he did in 2016. And the Broncos still have the defense, but can they score enough points to move back into the playoff picture?
Odds to win AFC West:
Los Angeles Chargers +150
Kansas City +225
Pick to win AFC West: Los Angeles Chargers
Best AFC West value: Kansas City +225
Los Angeles Chargers
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 9 (-140) / UNDER 9 (+120)
OFFENSE: The additions of former Dolphins C Mike Pouncey and 2017 second-round draft pick G Forrest Lamp (missed 2017 with a torn ACL) bolster L.A.’s only offensive weakness, its line. Philip Rivers calls and controls the game at the line of scrimmage and has a ton of skill-position talent to work with.
DEFENSE: The Bolts could not stop the run last season, leading to the signing of former Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane. The pass defense has an elite combination of rushing the quarterback and coverage abilities. Corners Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams were stellar last year, and the addition of first-round draft pick Derwin James bolsters the secondary. Edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram combined for 23 sacks last year; they could be even more effective rushing the passer if they can worry less about compensating for a weak run-defending defensive interior.
BOTTOM LINE: L.A. has a playoff-caliber roster that’s as good as any in the AFC. The Chargers were really just a few missed field goals away from a division title last season. They’ll likely be favorites in six of their first seven games, allowing them to avoid another slow start. OVER 9
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 8 (-150) / UNDER 8 (+130)
OFFENSE: Despite QB Alex Smith’s career year, head coach Andy Reid is moving forward with second-year quarterback Pat Mahomes under center. Mahomes is far less conservative than Smith and profiles as a risk-taker with a cannon arm. He’s surrounded by explosive playmakers in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt and newly acquired wideout Sammy Watkins. It will be a much different (and probably more entertaining) Chiefs offense.
DEFENSE: Coordinator Bob Sutton’s bend-don’t-break defense tries to limit big plays at the expense of lightening the box and allowing success in the running game. Mercurial corner Marcus Peters was traded away, but three-time All-Pro safety Eric Berry is back after last year’s Week 1 season-ending Achilles injury. Kendall Fuller (acquired in the Alex Smith trade) is one of the league’s best slot CBs, and DE Chris Jones is developing into a top-tier pass-rusher.
BOTTOM LINE: Head coach Andy Reid finds a way to win more often than not, and K.C. is 16-2 against the AFC West over the past three seasons. While there’s uncertainty with a new QB taking over, Mahomes is surrounded with too much talent to fail. OVER 8
Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 8 (-120) / UNDER 8 (+100)
OFFENSE: QB Derek Carr needs more from his supporting cast. New head coach Jon Gruden wants to resuscitate Amari Cooper after his nightmare 2017 season. Cooper will either have to work from the slot or go in motion, because he struggles mightily against press coverage. Jordy Nelson looked done last year, Martavis Bryant is maddeningly inconsistent and Marshawn Lynch will only be effective if his touches are limited.
DEFENSE: Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack is not only a lethal pass-rusher, but also an exceptional run defender. He and outside backer Bruce Irvin combined for 18.5 sacks last season, but Oakland got very little production from the rest of the front seven. The young secondary was problematic last season, though 2017 first-rounder CB Gareon Conley should be an asset as he returns from a shin injury that limited him to two games last season.
BOTTOM LINE: After nine years out of coaching, it’s anyone’s guess as to how effective Gruden will be in his return to Oakland. Aside from Carr and Mack, there isn’t much to like about this roster. A last-place finish in the tough AFC West is a distinct possibility. UNDER 8
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 7 (-140) / UNDER 7 (+120)
OFFENSE: The Broncos are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with Case Keenum coming off a breakout season in Minnesota. He inherits a formidable receiving duo in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, though there are nothing but question marks elsewhere in the receiving corps. Denver hopes third-round draft pick Royce Freeman will energize the running attack, but he has a poor offensive line to work with.
DEFENSE: Even with Aqib Talib gone, the cornerback combo of Chris Harris and Bradley Roby could be one of the league’s best. Harris held opponents to 26 yards per game and has the versatility to cover the slot. The Broncos held opponents to a league-best 3.3 yards per carry, and the pass rush should get a boost from the arrival of No. 5 pick Bradley Chubb. He and perennial DPOY candidate Von Miller will be a nightmare for opposing QBs.
BOTTOM LINE: The Denver defense is still playoff-worthy, but did not always play to its potential in head coach Vance Joseph’s first season. The offense should improve with Keenum under center, though plenty of other problems are still prevalent on that side of the ball. UNDER 7