NFL Futures - 2021 AFC West division odds, preview and best divisional bets: Don't sleep on the Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert AFC West
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Andrew Ortenberg

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I'm an NFL handicapper here at Pickswise who was raised in a household full of sports fanatics. Since I unfortunately never had LeBron James' jumping ability I wasn't able to make it to the NBA, and chose writing about sports as the next best thing. An avid sports bettor myself, I'm excited to get to write about the industry as it gets set to take off across the country. Buckle up.

Just like the NFC West, the AFC West is widely expected to be one of the toughest divisions in football. All four of its teams have legitimate playoff aspirations. The Kansas City Chiefs have reigned supreme in recent years, but the other three teams are all looking to catch up in 2021.

The Los Angeles Chargers have routinely underachieved their talent level, and are looking to breakout in the second year of the Justin Herbert era. Vic Fangio is hoping that a potentially elite defense can lead the Denver Broncos back to relevancy, while the Las Vegas Raiders are looking for Derek Carr to build on last year’s promising campaign.

If you’re looking for more in-depth analysis and futures picks ahead of the 2021 NFL season, be sure to check out our predictions for who wins Super Bowl 56, as well as our assessment of which three teams will improve dramatically this year, and which teams will regress. As for individuals, we’ve also taken a look at the main player markets including MVP and Offensive Rookie of the Year.

But for now, let’s break down the AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl odds: +500
2020 record:
14-2
2020 ATS record: 7-9
Coaching hires: None
Top draft picks: Nick Bolton (LB), Creed Humphrey (C)
Free agency adds: Joe Thuney (OL), Kyle Long (OL), Jarran Reed (DT), Austin Blythe (OL), Jerick McKinnon (RB)
Free agency losses: Austin Reiter (OL), Sammy Watkins (WR), Bashaud Breeland (CB)

The Chiefs have been the AFC West’s top dog, and the NFL’s top dog, the past couple of seasons, and they made it to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row in 2020. They came up short, as Patrick Mahomes was running for his life from the Buccaneers’ fierce pass-rush. Kansas City then made upgrading the offensive line their main offseason priority. GM Brett Veach completely overhauled the unit, trading for Orlando Brown Jr., and signing Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Austin Blythe. He also used a second-round pick on Creed Humphrey. Mahomes’ protection has been dramatically upgraded, and this is already a team that went 14-2 last season. They’ve got the lowest odds to win the Super Bowl yet again, and it’d be hard for anyone to argue they don’t deserve it.

Los Angeles Chargers (+490)

Super Bowl odds: +3300
2020 record: 
7-9
2020 ATS record: 9-7
Coaching hires: Brandon Staley (HC), Joe Lombardi (OC), Renaldo Hill (DC)
Top draft picks: Rashawn Slater (OL), Asante Samuel Jr. (CB), Josh Palmer (WR), Tre’ McKitty (TE)
Free agency adds: Corey Linsley (OL), Jared Cook (TE), Christian Covington (DT), Matt Feiler (OL), Chase Daniel (QB), Oday Aboushi (OL)
Free agency losses: Hunter Henry (TE), Tyrod Taylor (QB), Sam Tevi (OT), Forrest Lamp (OL), Dan Feeney (OL), Melvin Ingram (DE), Denzel Perryman (LB), Rayshawn Jenkins (S), Nick Vigil (LB)

The Chiefs aren’t the only AFC West team that made upgrading the offensive line a priority. O-line has been a weakness for the Chargers for years, and they addressed it in a big way. Not only did they use their first-round pick on stud tackle Rashawn Slater, they also signed All-Pro center Corey Linsley and new starting guards Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi. That’s four new starting linemen to protect Justin Herbert. Herbert looked like the real deal as a rookie, even as the team underachieved their talent level. Star safety Derwin James is back after missing all of 2020 due to injury, and new head coach Brandon Staley has the potential to be a serious upgrade over Anthony Lynn. There are plenty of reasons for optimism in Los Angeles.

Don’t forget to check out our NFC East division preview, which includes a bet at +450 odds!

Denver Broncos (+700)

Super Bowl odds: +4500
2020 record: 
5-11
2020 ATS record: 9-7
Coaching hires: Christian Parker (DB coach)
Top draft picks: Patrick Surtain (CB), Javonte Williams (RB), Quinn Meinerz (OL), Baron Browning (LB)
Free agency adds: Kyle Fuller (CB), Ronald Darby (CB), Mike Boone (RB), Shamar Stephen (DL)
Free agency losses: Phillip Lindsay (RB), Nick Vannett (TE), Will Parks (S), Elijah Wilkinson (OT), Jeremiah Attaochu (DE)

Denver was the worst team in the AFC West last year, but they too have some reasons for optimism in 2021. Many observers believe Vic Fangio’s defense has the potential to be one of the best in the league. The Broncos bolstered their secondary big time, drafting Patrick Surtain in the first-round while signing fellow corners Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby in free agency. The big move on offense was their trade for Teddy Bridgewater, who recently won the competition to be the Week 1 starting quarterback. Will Denver regret passing on Justin Fields with their first-round pick? Only time will tell. But with the new guys in the secondary as well as a returning Von Miller (missed all of 2020 with an ankle injury), the defense should be what carries this team.

Las Vegas Raiders (+2200)

Super Bowl odds: +10000
2020 record:
8-8
2020 ATS record: 8-8
Coaching hires: Gus Bradley (DC), Ron Milus (DBs), Richard Smith (LBs)
Top draft picks: Alex Leatherwood (OL), Trevon Moehrig (S), Malcolm Koonce (DE), Divine Deablo (S)
Free agency adds: Yannick Ngakoue (DE), John Brown (WR), Kenyan Drake (RB), Quinton Jefferson (DT), Karl Joseph (S), Nick Martin (OL), Willie Snead (WR), Darius Philon (DT), Solomon Thomas (DT)
Free agency losses: Maliek Collins (DT), Devontae Booker (RB), Nelson Agoholor (WR), Erik Harris (S), Raekwon McMillan (LB)

Despite finishing in second place in the AFC West last season, the Raiders have by far the highest odds to win it this time around. Oddsmakers aren’t expecting much from Jon Gruden’s squad this season. Las Vegas mostly focused on their defense this offseason, most notably by bringing in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. Derek Carr and Gruden have been together for three years now. If they don’t make the playoffs in 2021, major changes can be expected next offseason. For the team to make a leap, they’re going to need to get more out of last year’s first-round pick Henry Ruggs. The secondary can’t be much worse than it was last year, and Raiders fans are holding out hope that Bradley can reinvent his unit. Will they shock everybody?

AFC West best bet: Chargers over 8.5 wins (-160)

As you might have been able to gather, I’m pretty high on this Chargers team. I like the over, and I’d rather pay the juice to go over 8.5 instead of taking 9.5 at +110. This team already had a ton of talent last year, and likely would’ve finished above .500 if their head coach wasn’t Lynn. With Staley now in charge and an infusion of new players, I don’t see how they aren’t dramatically improved. Herbert now has had a full offseason as the starter under his belt for the first time, and his blocking will be leaps and bounds better.

With Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, and Jared Cook, he’s got plenty of weapons at his disposal. The defense is getting back arguably the best safety in the game in James back, and they have one of the league’s top pass-rushers in Joey Bosa. They’ve got stars at virtually every position on the team, and still aren’t getting enough respect from oddsmakers.

Make sure you also read our AFC East division preview, which includes a +350 best bet!

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