AFC West Preview

IS DENVER DONE? OR DO THE BRONCOS HAVE ONE MORE YEAR ATOP THE COMPETITIVE AFC WEST DIVISION?

We continue our summer series of NFL divisional previews with a look at the AFC West. Ostensibly, this was originally scheduled to get you ready for the Kansas City Chiefs' big Friday Night game at home against the Seattle Seahawks. But, the rest of the division plays Saturday! So, you can evaluate all four teams heading into their second week of Preseason action.

Here's what the schedule looks like for this division...
Friday: Kansas City hosts Seattle
Saturday: Denver visits Houston
Saturday: Oakland visits Minnesota
Saturday: San Diego visits Arizona

Two years ago, this division got three teams into the playoffs. Last year, that honor went to the AFC North instead...even though Kansas City and San Diego were very much in the mix until the very end with 9-7 final records. The big question entering 2015 is whether or not Peyton Manning is finished as a championship level quarterback. He sure faded badly when it mattered most last season...though the lack of truly championship caliber football teams across the conference helped hide that.

Here are the key indicator stats from last year...that handicappers can use to set the stage for what's ahead in 2015...

2014 AFC WEST DIVISION STANDINGS

Denver: 12-4 (+5 turnovers, #5 rated schedule)
Kansas City: 9-7 (-4 turnovers, #8 rated schedule)
San Diego: 9-7 (-5 turnovers, #3 rated schedule)
Oakland: 3-13 (-15 turnovers, #1 rated schedule)

Notebook: Because Denver started to look vulnerable in the playoffs, those numbers don't really show much cause for concern. Though, +5 is a relatively low turnover differential for a team run by Peyton Manning. He's more vulnerable to miscues than he used to be. Great schedule strength for these teams. We already looked at the weak schedules played by the AFC North in an earlier preview. You get the sense that we may have had three entries from the West again if everyone had played balanced schedules. Kansas City and San Diego were playoff caliber teams even though they didn't make it...and even though they had negative turnover differentials! If they can fix that category...there's definitely a chance for either (or both) to jump up and scare the Broncos.

2014 YARDS-PER-PLAY
Denver: 6.0 on offense, 4.7 on defense
Kansas City: 5.3 on offense, 5.2 on defense
San Diego: 5.4 on offense, 5.5 on defense
Oakland: 4.5 on offense, 5.5 on defense

Notebook: Great job for Denver...again in a stat that celebrates their regular season rather than the vulnerabilities they started to show late. Important to note that the team had been transitioning toward more of a defensive-minded unit until the coaching change. With John Fox gone, and Gary Kubiak running the show...that defensive average may scoot back upward. Unimpressive differentials for the Chiefs and Chargers are mitigated a bit by the brutal schedules they played. Oakland has its work cut out for them in basically every category. We won't waste your time by saying that in every paragraph!

2014 THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Denver: 44% on offense, 37% on defense
Kansas City: 40% on offense, 37% on defense
San Diego: 45% on offense, 43% on defense
Oakland: 34% on offense, 39% on defense

Notebook: Veteran quarterbacks move the chains...so it's a strike against the Chiefs that they could only manage 40% while two rivals were much higher. San Diego has some work to do on defense before they can be taken seriously.

2015 PROJECTED WIN TOTALS IN LAS VEGAS
Denver: 10 or 10.5
Kansas City: 8.5
San Diego: 8 or 8.5
Oakland: 5.5

As is typical, the market has regressed these teams toward the .500 mark. One of the most interesting issues for handicappers to deal with this season will be what happens in Denver after the coaching change as Manning gradually (or quickly) fades to over-the-hill status. Maybe he still has one more big year in him...which means that projected win total is way too low. Or, his issues last January could be hinting that Denver's Super Bowl odds are way too optimistic...while KC or SD is a great sleeper. Needless to say, things could get very interesting in the AFC West this year!

JIM HURLEY has some ideas about that. And, those ideas might make an early appearance with major releases Friday and Saturday! You can always purchase game day BEST BETS in both football and baseball right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours. It's time to get serious about 2015 NFL!

One final divisional preview comes tomorrow. Then we'll preview the two prime time TV games Sunday and Monday before a brief baseball hiatus. Make plans to be with us for...

Saturday: NFC South Preview to get you ready for New Orleans hosting New England
Sunday: NFL TV Preview...St. Louis Rams at Tennessee Titans on FOX
Monday: NFL TV Preview...Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Bucs on ESPN
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview...Chicago Cubs at San Francisco Giants
Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview...Baltimore at Kansas City
Thurs-Friday: NFL TV Preview...Detroit at Jacksonville on CBS
Saturday August 29: NFL TV Preview...Seattle at San Diego on CBS
Sunday August 30: NFL TV Preview...Houston at New Orleans on FOX

You'll always get helpful stats and analysis here in the NOTEBOOK...and then BIG, JUICY WINNERS direct from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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