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Handicapping the NFL's most competitive division: The AFC West

Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) runs the ball for a touchdown ahead of Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett (96) during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL season is now halfway over, and while Week 9 offered some really baffling results — with the Bills losing to the Jaguars and the Cowboys getting shellacked by the Broncos at home — much of the 2021 playoff picture is now settling into place.

Of the league’s eight divisions, only the AFC West has a favorite that is +100 or longer on the betting markets. You heard that right: Per DraftKings Sportsbook, the Titans (-10000), Packers (-2000), Cowboys (-1600), Buccaneers (-800) and Bills (-500) all have a break-even probability of 83% or better to win a division title. The Cardinals (-225) and Ravens (-175) are sitting pretty, though they don't have it wrapped up just yet.

PFF's betting simulation largely agrees, with the aforementioned teams all possessing more than a 50% chance of winning their division.

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Conversely, all four teams are in it in the AFC West. Our simulation tool projects each team to finish the season between 9 and 10 wins, and no team has more than a 31% chance to win the division outright.

In this article, I will look at how to approach this division from the betting market’s perspective and see if there’s an edge to be found the rest of the way.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Current Rating: 5.9 points better than an average team on a neutral field (3rd)
  • SOS Before: 6th
  • SOS After: 10th
  • Projected Win Total: 9.9 wins (market number 10.5, over +125/under -150)
  • Current Playoff Odds: 62% (market number yes -250 (71% break-even)/no +190 (34%))
  • Current Division Odds: 31% (+160 (38%))
  • Super Bowl Title Odds: 4% (+1200 (8%))

The Skinny: The Chiefs have won the AFC West for five consecutive years, which is the first such occasion in team history where they’ve won even back-to-back titles. The dominance of this division has been long-standing and even pre-dates Patrick Mahomes. That being said, the Chiefs have shown a lot of flaws this season and notably enter the week with a defense tied with Baltimore for a league-worst 6.3 yards allowed per play. They are generating a turnover on just 10.1% of opposing offensive drives, which is just 18th in all of football.

None of this would matter that much if not for the offensive struggles. While they were very good at moving the ball in the first half of the season, they have struggled to do even that over recent weeks. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has failed to earn a 65.0 PFF passing grade in each of the last five games and has failed to produce a big-time throw in the last two.

As the defense has somewhat rounded into form, allowing just 16 points per game over the past four games, the offense has not played to its capabilities. Nevertheless, the market believes it eventually will, which is why they make you believe that the Chiefs will make the playoffs more than 71% of the time for you to make a sound wager on the yes. The Chiefs' break-even Super Bowl probability of 8% is twice what we have them at. 

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