Predicting the AFC West

The Footballguys staff looks at how the AFC West will end up in 2021

Links to discussions of other divisions:


Let's dig a little into the AFC West. Who takes this division? How many wins do you predict for each team?

AFC West Team
Vegas Win
Totals
Staff Predictions
Avg Place
1st-Place Votes
2nd-Place Votes
3rd-Place Votes
4th-Place Votes
Kansas City Chiefs
12.0
1.0
12
0
0
0
Los Angeles Chargers
9.0
2.6
0
7
3
2
Denver Broncos
7.5
3.1
0
4
3
5
Las Vegas Raiders
7.5
3.3
0
1
6
5

Note: Vegas Win Totals are taken from VegasInsider.com.

Jeff Haseley

The AFC West is Kansas City's to lose as long as Patrick Mahomes II and Andy Reid are there. I can see them winning 12 games, losing five, with the fifth loss coming in Week 18 at Denver in an otherwise meaningless game. How does the rest of the division finish? I think Vegas has this right with Los Angeles winning nine games. It might even be higher than that. The Chargers have what Denver and Las Vegas don't -- a quarterback in Justin Herbert who can take over a game or come from behind when needed. As a result, the Chargers with Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen healthy, along with a stout defense, can make things interesting in the AFC. Right now, the hottest landing spot for Aaron Rodgers, if he moves from Green Bay, is Denver. If that happens, the AFC West will be a hotbed for fantasy productivity and playoff aspirations.

  • Kansas City 12-5
  • Los Angeles 10-7
  • Las Vegas 9-8
  • Denver 8-9

Jeff Tefertiller

Kansas City is the AFC favorite and should have a strong chance to best the 12-win line. The offensive line is improved.

The Chargers are a strong bet for the 9 wins, especially getting injured defenders back. Plus, Justin Herbert should improve on his impressive rookie campaign.

Denver is the wildcard if the Broncos can pry Aaron Rodgers away from Green Bay. The win total assumes Teddy Bridgwater is under center. With Rodgers, this could be a 10-win team.

Under most scenarios, Las Vegas should be the worst team in the division. This team will struggle for 7 wins.

  • KC - 13 wins
  • LAC - 9 wins
  • DEN - 9 wins as is; 11 with Rodgers
  • LV - 6 wins

Anthony Amico

This is a sneaky-competitive division, even if we assume the Chiefs continue their dominance under Patrick Mahomes II and Andy Reid. Kansas City spent a lot of money to upgrade the offensive line -- a clear sore spot in the Super Bowl, and doesn't have very many other holes. They are the favorites to win the title.

Denver is a real wild card here. I believe they will ultimately be the team to trade for Aaron Rodgers -- which would represent a MASSIVE upgrade at the quarterback position. The Bronco defense already has the potential to be excellent, and the team has one of the best young group of pass-catchers in the entire league.

The Chargers have been a real tough-luck team the last few seasons, but they are hoping that changes under Brandon Staley. The biggest catalyst here will be Justin Herbert under new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. This offense should be fun and explosive, and there are still some blue-chip players on defense.

The Raiders are an obvious punching bag candidate, after revamping almost the entire offensive line (the strength of the team in 2020), and making no major improvements anywhere else. They will need a breakout from Henry Ruggs III to score enough points to keep up with this ailing defense.

  • Kansas City Chiefs -- 13
  • Denver Broncos -- 12
  • Los Angeles Chargers -- 9
  • Las Vegas Raiders -- 6

Andy Hicks

Compared to 2020 over/unders, the predictions for this year are similar to last year, with the Chargers up, the Chiefs down one game, and the other two reasonably the same.

The one that I see with the greatest variance is the Chargers. They are the only team with a new head coach. We see how this can either lift a team or sink them. Obviously, if Aaron Rodgers ends up in Denver then that adds at least three wins to the Broncos.

For the Chiefs, a new offensive line on paper is an improvement, but cohesiveness usually takes time. This team obviously has the highest floor in the division and if Mahomes stays on his feet it is almost impossible they finish under 500.

Las Vegas also have been retooling their line and the development of their young receiving group will be watched closely. The addition of Kenyan Drake may not help fantasy managers but will be vital for proving variety in the running game. Ultimately this side sinks or swims with the defense.

Is Denver only a quarterback away from a Superbowl? If that quarterback is Aaron Rodgers then yes. The receivers here also will need to make progression and if the defense doesn’t get hit with injuries I would be hammering the over.

Lastly is my favorite to finish bottom, the Chargers. I am not a fan of young quarterbacks having to learn a second offensive system in their second year and the receiving group lacks depth. Austin Ekeler may be a fantasy darling, but I still have reservations about his ability to be a genuine number one running back.

  • Kansas City 9-15 wins, prediction 12-5
  • Denver 5-15 wins, prediction 13-4 with Rodgers, 6-11 without
  • Las Vegas 7-13 wins, prediction 10-7
  • LA Chargers 4-13 wins, prediction 6-11

Chad Parsons

The Chiefs are the class of the AFC West and the AFC overall, but this division is a competitive one for multiple wild card spots even if not for the division itself. The Broncos are ready to go as a Super Bowl contender IF the quarterback position holds up its end of the bargain. With Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater that is a significant ask. While I do not think Aaron Rodgers is traded, if he landed with Denver, they would be a substantial threat to the Chiefs in the division and the conference.

  • Chiefs 13 wins
  • Raiders 9 wins
  • Chargers 9 wins
  • Broncos 7 wins

The Raiders feel like a darkhorse team being underrated within the division. Derek Carr gets lost in the quarterback shuffle but has been on an MVP level during his career. Carr has not been the problem for the Raiders. Josh Jacobs is underrated and Darren Waller is a stud. If John Brown, Bryan Edwards, and Henry Ruggs III can form a respectable wide receiver depth chart, the Raiders beat their Vegas projection and made the playoffs.

Ryan Weisse

What always strikes me about the AFC West is that no matter how good the best teams are and how bad the worst teams are, they always seem to beat up on each other. This division seems to have some of the best home-field advantages for each team, outside of the Chargers.

The Chiefs are going to win the division again. Their offensive firepower is too much for any of these defenses to keep up with and their schedule is favorable. A 14-win season is possible.

The Chargers’ offense took a big step last year with the addition of Justin Herbert and should continue to improve with new coaching. If the defense can stay healthy, a big “if”, they should easily finish second and make a push for a wildcard.

Denver seems to have the right pieces but, as of now, the quarterback position might be holding them back. There are talks that they are in the running for Aaron Rodgers, which would certainly change some destinies, but until that happens they are a middling team.

The Raiders bring up the rear. Their offensive line is basically a full rebuild and it will be hard to let fast wide receivers, like Henry Ruggs III and John Brown, get open with no time to throw. They have one of the best running back tandems in the league, but that will do little good when always playing from behind.

  • KC 14-3
  • LAC 12-5
  • DEN 7-10
  • LV 5-12

Jason Wood

So much of this depends on whether the Broncos acquire Aaron Rodgers. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll assume they have Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock under center. In that case, Denver is no better than .500 in this division. If they land Rodgers, I think they'll win at least 11 games and make the playoffs. I agree with my colleagues -- the Chiefs are the team to beat until proven otherwise. Not only should they be viewed as the AFC West favorites, but they're also the conference favorites given the core nucleus they bring back. I'm down on the Chargers versus expectations because of the coaching situation. LA went cheap and hired a young coach who took what we believe to be the cheapest NFL head coaching salary in the league, instead of courting Brian Daboll who wanted a salary commensurate with other coveted coaching hires. I recently looked at the coaching experience of NFL rosters and the Chargers have the least experienced staff in the NFL, and arguably the least experienced of the last decade. Maybe that works out, but I wouldn't bet on it in Year One. The Raiders will take a step back given the offensive line -- which was a strength -- being shockingly dismantled this offseason.

  • KC -- 13-4
  • DEN -- 8-9
  • LAC -- 7-10
  • LV -- 7-10

Sigmund Bloom

The AFC West gets the AFC North (tough draw) and NFC East (easy draw) along with their divisional opponent and three additional games. Those three additional games?

  • DEN - @JAX NYJ DET
  • KC - BUF @TEN GB
  • LV - MIA CHI @IND
  • LAC - NE MIN @HOU

The AFC West also-rans tend to play Kansas City tougher than out of division opponents, and it is generally tough to predict how divisional matchups will go in the AFC West so it makes sense to project everyone except the Chiefs at 3-3/2-4 in the division, although the Raiders swept Denver and beat Kansas City last year -- results we shouldn't expect to be repeated. The tough AFC North probably won't afford any AFC West team a winning record against them except the Chiefs. The NFC East is easier, but probably not as easy as last year. It's ambitious to project anyone except the Chiefs having a winning record against them, but it's certainly within the realm of possibilities. With all this in mind (and assuming Aaron Rodgers remains with Green Bay):

  • Kansas City: 14-3
  • Denver: 10-7
  • Los Angeles Chargers: 8-9
  • Las Vegas: 6-11

Denver over and Las Vegas under seem like the best bets (along with the Chiefs continuing to win with regularity), and Denver's improved defense plus the addition of a game manager in Teddy Bridgewater to take over if Drew Lock continues to plateau should keep them in Wild Card contention. I'm not sold on Brandon Staley getting the Chargers out of their find a way to lose ways in year one, and the Raiders probably scored a few own goals with their offseason management.

Ryan Hester

This division isn’t quite what the old AFC East was in the New England heyday, but it’s definitely a situation where one team is the prohibitive favorite. The Chargers will be the second-best team and are improved on paper from last season, but they’re nowhere near ready to take Kansas City’s crown.

In the bottom half, Las Vegas will hang around and steal a division game from LA, but they won’t contend for a playoff spot. Denver will be at the bottom due to its lack of offensive creativity (assuming they don’t acquire Rodgers).

My predicted wins for each team:

  • Kansas City - 14
  • Los Angeles - 10
  • Las Vegas - 8
  • Denver - 6

If Rodgers is acquired by the Broncos, flip Denver and Las Vegas. But this seems like a one wild-card division either way.

Jordan McNamara

The Chiefs are definitely the chalk in this division, with 12 wins a really good line. Kansas City's 14 wins last year were more than 3 wins over expectation based on their point differential from 2020. Those just looking at the quarterback and last year's win total will be tempted to take the over, but I think the number is right, particularly considering the upheaval along the offensive line.

The other team that sticks out is Denver. I'm just not sure how they are more than 2.5 wins better than their expected win percentage last year unless Aaron Rodgers is traded to Denver.

Given the new coaching staff and quarterback on a rookie deal, this is a win-now scenario for the Chargers, who could be in the running for additional help this summer in the form of Julio Jones.

  • Denver Broncos -- 6
  • Kansas City Chiefs -- 12
  • Las Vegas Raiders -- 8
  • Los Angeles Chargers -- 10

Jordan McNamara

I think the Denver Broncos projections are fascinating particularly for those who gave with Rodgers and without Rodgers records, with the difference two win improvement on the low and seven on the high end. I think the number is in between there, but remember if you are betting this line, the Denver win total has some Rodgers trade upside baked into the number. I think if they acquire Rodgers they are likely a wild card team, but more of the 10-7 variety than 12-5 variety.

Pat Fitzmaurice

It's boring to pick Kansas City to win the division again. Hey, I don't mind a little chalk dust on my hands. The Chiefs have an annoying habit of playing down to the level of competition, but their offense is terrific and their defense is good enough.

How long have the Chargers been trying to patch up a bad offensive line? It looks as if they've finally done it, signing center Corey Linsley and then having left tackle Rashawn Slater fall to them in the draft. Now they just need to put right tackle Bryan Bulaga in bubble wrap for the season. I really like the Chargers' roster, but it wouldn't be surprising if Justin Herbert took a step back before he takes another step forward.

I don't think the Broncos will trade for Aaron Rodgers. It's not about lack of desire on their part. I think the Packers' clunky ownership structure will prevent it. If the Packers are going to let a second walk-in Hall of Fame quarterback leave under unhappy circumstances, I doubt GM Brian Gutekunst will be making that decision unilaterally. He'd have to get team president Mark Murphy and members of the Packers' executive committee on board. Bottom line: The quarterback position holds back the Broncos for at least one more year.

I used to love Mike Mayock's draft analysis on the NFL Network and figured he'd be a good GM. So why have the Raiders' drafts been so awful ever since Mayock's hire? Is Jon Gruden calling the shots in the war room?

  • Chiefs: 12-5
  • Chargers: 9-8
  • Broncos: 7-10
  • Raiders: 5-12

Victoria Geary

The Chiefs are of course the clear-cut frontrunners to take this division again, though it won't be without a fight. The Chargers have a new coaching staff, a bolstered offensive line, an assumably healthy Austin Ekeler, and they finally got their guy in Justin Herbert. Though the team is in the middle of the pack in terms of their 2021 strength of schedule, I don't think they've done enough to truly challenge Kansas City for the title just yet.

Much like the Miami Dolphins, it seems all of the pieces for the Denver Broncos are a sure bet - except for their quarterback. I expect the Broncos to start Drew Lock out of the gate, even with Teddy Bridgewater lurking in the shadows. They need to see what they have in Lock one final time before going to Bridgewater as their literal bridge quarterback. If Lock is not what they hoped he would be, this Broncos season may be a lost cause.

The Raiders completely dismantled their offensive line, replaced their deep threat in Nelson Agholor with John Brown, and really didn't make any splashes in the draft. Though they usually surprise us with a few division wins each season, it wouldn't shock me to see this team regress in 2021.

  • Kansas City 13-4
  • Los Angeles 10-7
  • Las Vegas 8-9
  • Denver 7-10

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