AFC West 2017 Predictions
AFC West 2017 Predictions (Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports)

Everyone uses different indicators when predicting divisional winners. There are four keys, in no particular order, that I consider when carefully calculating my AFC West 2017 predictions:

These are not the “end all, be all” qualifications. These are the key indicators that help decide who wins and who loses. Quarterback play is extremely important in the NFL, especially when trying to make a playoff run. As teams continue to win in January, there is a direct correlation with how good their quarterback is.

The strength of schedule is also an important factor. It gives an objective base to start with and make predictions based on their opponents 2016 win/loss record. Regardless of what the popular opinion is, traveling wears on people and yes, that includes athletes. The more your team travels, the harder it is to get ready game after game. And finally, Vegas. When people involve money, everything changes. You’ve heard the phrase “Follow the money” – there is a reason Vegas is so successful. They know what they are doing.

And from there game-by-game selections are made; sometimes going against my better judgment. Additional keys to consider are home field advantage, coaching, offensive/defensive line play, and skilled playmakers.

Now that I’ve bored you with my selection process, let’s talk football. From last to first, below are my AFC West 2017 predictions.

Denver Broncos

AFC West 2017 predictions
Von Miller and Co. hope to dominate opposing offenses in 2017-2018. (John Leyba/The Denver Post)

This may be one of the most surprising finishes in 2017-2018. After averaging 12 wins over the last five seasons, I have the Denver Broncos finishing last in the AFC West. The Broncos continue to have a top-five defense in the NFL but offensively have struggled mightily since they won the Super Bowl.

After Vance Joseph named Trevor Simien the starting quarterback of this team, news spread about Lynch’s preseason injury. Paxton Lynch is reportedly going to miss 3-4 weeks due to a shoulder injury sustained in week three of the preseason. Because of this, the Broncos signed the prodigal son, Brock Osweiler, who returns as their backup quarterback.

Without further adieu, let’s review the Denver Broncos checklist.

  1. The Denver Broncos have the worst quarterback in the AFC West.
  2. Denver has the hardest “strength of schedule” in the NFL this season.
  3. The Broncos travel the second most in the division: 18,842 miles.
  4. Las Vegas has the Broncos winning 8.5 games; third in the AFC West.

8.5 wins is too high in my opinion, but after glancing over the Denver Broncos schedule, I see how the sharks in Vegas think they accomplish this. After cutting strong safety T.J. Ward, the Broncos locker room has shaken quite a bit under rookie head coach Vance Joseph.

Is the Broncos defense deep enough to carry this team anymore? I  think they take a step back this season.

Prediction: 7-9

Los Angeles Chargers

AFC West 2017 predictions
Hopefully, Philip Rivers has healthy targets to play with in 2017 (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY)

Last season, the Los Angeles Chargers finished with a league-high 27 players on injured reserve. Most of them were starters before going down with an injury. Three of them were Rivers’ favorite skilled targets: Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, and Danny Woodhead.

If the Los Angeles Chargers can stay healthier as a team, maybe they don’t blow six 4th quarter leads in 2016. I do not think the results of 2016 are indicative of how talented this roster is. Think about any NFL quarterback losing his top three receivers. Most of them wouldn’t finish the season with a winning record, either.

The Chargers plan to put that behind them in 2017. What do their keys to success look like?

  1. Philip Rivers, right now, is the best quarterback in this division. 
  2. The Chargers have the third hardest schedule in the NFL this season.
  3. Los Angeles travels the second most in the AFC West: 26,134 miles.
  4. Vegas has the Chargers winning 7.5 games in 2017 – the least in the division.

The Chargers won’t be dominant, but with both sides of the football healthy, they will absolutely contend with other teams; especially having the third easiest schedule. This is arguably the toughest division in the NFL and the Chargers are trending upward.

Don’t sleep on them.

Prediction: 8-8

Kansas City Chiefs

AFC West 2017 predictions
Eric Berry is the brightest star on this defense. They go as he goes (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

The Kansas City Chiefs are known for their strong defensive play. Year after year, the defense finishes in the top five. This season, I don’t imagine it ending in any differently. While the offense continues to search for an identity, this defense keeps games close.

The addition of Patrick Mahomes has created a controversy talking heads didn’t think would arise this early in his young career. In a few preseason games, Mahomes has shown us his big, accurate arm, his poise when pressure is sent after him, and how he can extend plays with his athleticism. Andy Reid is salivating on his new shiny red toy. But how long is it until Mahomes plays over Alex Smith?

Chiefs faithful don’t see it happening soon. Only time will tell. For now, let’s plan on the Chiefs sticking with Alex Smith. What do their keys look like?

  1. Alex Smith is a formidable quarterback, not a great one. He ranks third in this division behind Rivers and Carr.
  2. The Chiefs have the second hardest schedule in the entire NFL.
  3. Kansas City travels the least in the AFC West: 14,671 miles.
  4. Vegas has the Chiefs winning 9 games – second in the division.

The Chiefs return many starters on the defense outside of hole-clogger Dontari Poe. While there are always questions about the Chiefs offense, maybe Mahomes is the answer.

He makes players around him better. Isn’t that part of being an NFL quarterback?

Prediction: 9-7

Oakland Raiders

AFC West 2017 predictions
Can the Oakland Raiders duplicate their results from 2016? (Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

All aboard the Oakland Raiders bandwagon!!!!”

That’s what happens when an NFL staple team like the Oakland Raiders are good again. Just like Cowboy fans, they come out of the woodworks when the Raiders start winning. All kidding aside, isn’t this exactly what the NFL wants – Its two most important franchises rising to contention again?

The Oakland Raiders clearly took their rebuilding seriously. They started with the most important position group in football – the offensive line. Once solidified, they started building towards the sidelines and it’s paying dividends.

Let’s check the Raiders keys to another double-digit win season.

  1. The Raiders have the second-best quarterback in the AFC West in Derek Carr. With that being said, over the next year or two, he will overtake Rivers as the best QB in this division.
  2. Oakland has the easiest “strength of schedule” in the AFC West.
  3. The Raiders travel the second most in the NFL: 30,899 miles.
  4. Vegas has the Raiders winning this division again with 10 wins. 

This Oakland team has one of the highest ceilings as an offense. However, I do not have the Raiders winning more than 10 games because of the inconsistency on defense. If teams are able to contain the defensive front, which is the strong suit of this defense, opposing quarterbacks will pick apart this secondary.

Most games will be shootouts – and that’s a lot to ask of a young quarterback. But Derek Carr doesn’t seem like the guy to back down from a challenge.

Prediction: 10-6

Who do you have winning this division?