The 2022 NFL season is less than two weeks away, and the team at BeerLife Sports is gearing up to help you make money. In this article, The Professor will look at season-long outlooks for the AFC and NFC West alongside the Division Odds and Win Totals available on DraftKings. Previews for the remaining six divisions will follow later this week.
Remember, if you haven’t signed up to get the Oracle’s picks this season, be sure to sign up today! The Oracle hammered the NFL in 2021 (Up +65 units), so you’ll want to get his picks texted directly to your phone starting Week 1!
Please note that The Professor’s model produces two key numbers to consider: Games Favored and Model Expected Wins, which is based on the Pythagorean Expectation for each team’s projected points for and points against. This helps to pull down some extremes and is a reminder that a team favored to win all seventeen games is not being projected to go undefeated.
AFC West Outlook
|Team||PF||PA||Favored||Model Expected Wins||DK Win Total||DK Division Odds|
Before any Kansas City Chiefs fans lose their minds, let me start by saying that the Chiefs are tied with the Chargers as the highest-rated team in the AFC West. Of course, that begs a question: why did they end up at the bottom of the division in expected wins?
I dove into the model expecting to find some error in the 2021 to 2022 model transition, and instead realized that the Chiefs play one of the most brutal schedules imaginable. On top of the inter-division matchups the AFC West teams share, Kansas City plays a first-place schedule, and the three first-place matchups are at home against Buffalo (model’s top-rated team) and on the road against Cincinnati and Tampa Bay (both top-ten). Throw in the fact that the rest of the division gets their AFC East and NFC South matchups against far lesser opponents, and you get a good chunk of the points that account for the difference in expected wins between the Chargers and Chiefs, which, at 1.12, is by far the smallest Division margin the model has produced in its five years of existence.
As that margin indicates, this division has every chance of living up to the hype as the NFL’s deepest, most talented division. The biggest question around Kansas City is how they will replace wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the offense, but the answer to that question may be by running a different offense, a twist that renders the original question moot. The idea that Patrick Mahomes, who would go into the Hall of Fame based on his four seasons as a starter, could accomplish everything that he has only to meet his demise when he has to work in an adjusted offense is a bit ridiculous.
The bigger question for the Chiefs is on defense, where Kansas City drafted five players in the first four rounds, including two first-rounders in cornerback Trent McDuffie and defensive end George Karlaftis. The Chiefs need contributions from that group early, because they play the Chargers in Week 2, and Los Angeles has taken advantage of the cap surpluses on quarterback Justin Herbert and left tackle Rashawn Slater’s rookie deals to put an absurd amount of talent around their transcendentally talented signal-caller. The Chargers have a trio of standout skill players in running back Austin Ekeler and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, as well as an offensive line that could challenge the Chiefs as the best in the NFL from left tackle to right guard. On defense, the Chargers were aggressive in addressing a unit that struggled throughout 2021, adding big-bodied linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, and Morgan Fox, who should provide the stability that bigger-name acquisitions such as edge rusher Khalil Mack and cornerback J.C. Jackson hope to provide.
Given the fact that the Chargers already had blue chip defenders in safety Derwin James and edge rusher Joey Bosa, it’s hard to imagine another defense being the best in the AFC West, but the Broncos will give them a run for their money if the edge-rushing tandem of Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory pans out, an admittedly dicey proposition. Denver’s secondary, which is anchored by potential First Team All-Pros in safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Patrick Surtain, has a chance to bring back the “No Fly Zone” days as one of the best groups in the NFL. However, that won’t have the same impact if injuries slow Chubb and/or Gregory, who both have a rough history on that front. Second-round pick Nic Bonitto could also provide a boost, but the more straightforward path is for the highly-drafted/paid Chubb and Gregory to play to their respective ceilings.
Denver’s defense should get legitimate offensive support for the first time in years with Russell Wilson at quarterback. The Broncos lost receiver Tim Patrick early in camp, a disappointing development, but still have Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy in the fold. Sutton was a dominant downfield presence before his 2020 ACL injury and will put up huge numbers if he’s back at that form in 2022, and Jeudy could surprise some who have written off the former top prospect after two quiet seasons. For my money, Jeudy brings some legit juice as a route runner and a similar rapport to the one Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett had with Wilson.
The Raiders are something of an afterthought – like last year, Las Vegas is fourth in the AFC West preseason projections, which some Raiders fans might take exception to, given that they finished second in the division and got to the playoffs despite trying off-field circumstances, then upgraded their talent level in the offseason. Granted, there are still significant issues on the offensive line, but those issues existed last year, and quarterback Derek Carr will navigate them with new head coach Josh McDaniels rather than the hodgepodge of offensive coaches who scrambled to fill the void when former head coach Jon Gruden was unceremoniously ousted. Carr also has superstar receiver Davante Adams at his disposal, so it wouldn’t surprise to see the Raiders use the quick-hitting “now” routes the Packers would throw to Adams to keep the defense from creeping in on the run game and disrupt the timing of the pass rush.
Las Vegas arguably has the most questions on defense in the division, though that could change if newly-acquired edge rusher Chandler Jones shows he has another big-time season left in him. Fellow defensive end Maxx Crosby’s dominance seems almost assured at this point, but Jones is on the back nine of his career, and the Raiders need both of them to thrive on defense given some of the uncertainty that exists in the back end. The Raiders may be the fourth-best team in the division, but the +650 odds seem long for a team that is arguably among the 12 best teams in the NFL.
The Professor’s Favorite AFC West Plays
I don’t love the options in the AFC West; the Raiders over 8.5 looks good on the surface, but with the DraftKings price currently at -130, it’s leaning toward a 9, which saps some of the value. Meanwhile, the model suggests the Chiefs under is a play, but even against a brutal schedule, I have a tough idea with the idea that Kansas City falls off the map.
Instead, I’ll point to my favorite value of the top three teams to win the division (Los Angeles Chargers, +220, 31.25% break-even) and add the Raiders’ AFC West odds to the pool of reasonable long-shot bets. Denver is a tight runner-up to the Chargers in the AFC West odds, so if you’re cheering for the Broncos, you can swap out the picks and get similar value, but I don’t want to put together a portfolio of hedges here, and as excited as I am to see Wilson in blue and orange, I would rather roll the dice on Herbert’s freaky abilities and the overall talent of the Chargers.
Premium Picks: None
Solid Value: Los Angeles Chargers, AFC West Champs, +220
Reasonable Long Shots: Las Vegas Raiders, AFC West Champs, +650
|Team||PF||PA||Favored||Model Expected Wins||DK Win Total||DK Division Odds|
The NFC West didn’t quite turn out to be the four-horse team many expected in 2021, though things may have played out differently had then-Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson not injured his hand with Seattle in the lead in a game against the Rams, a contest that Los Angeles ultimately came back in, course-correcting their season and starting Seattle’s downward spiral. Now Wilson is out of the division, and with Trey Lance set to take over at quarterback for the 49ers, the NFC West is set to have a different dynamic.
The division starts with the defending Super Bowl champs, the Los Angeles Rams, who are in a good position to run it back now that quarterback Matthew Stafford’s elbow injury seems to be fading into a non-issue. The Rams have tweaked some things: Allen Robinson is in and Odell Beckham Jr. is out at wide receiver, the defense lost a star edge rusher (Von Miller) and gained a star inside linebacker (Bobby Wagner), and the offensive line has two new starters, with the big change coming at left tackle, where Joe Noteboom signed an extension to take over for the retired Andrew Whitworth.
There will be some differences, but the certainty provided by Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey puts the Rams at the head of the division. The 49ers are the most probable candidate to push them, as last year’s outstanding defense could be even better with former Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward set to shore up the one problem position, but the likely ups and downs of Trey Lance’s rookie season complicate the discussion. Lance’s preseason performance has shown his upside as well as his downside; Lance is one of the NFL’s most dynamic athletes at the position, and his arm strength will open up San Francisco’s downfield offense, but he needs to work on throwing the ball with better pace and placement, particularly in the short areas of the field.
If Lance hits his MVP-contender ceiling, this 49ers offense, which features elite players in left tackle Trent Williams, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and tight end George Kittle, could be one of the NFL’s best. Whether quarterback Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals have a similar ceiling is a matter for debate; even before the bizarre film-watching clause that was inserted, then removed from Murray’s contract, there were reasons to worry about his development trajectory.
Murray did an excellent job of quickly adapting to the speed of the NFL game as a rookie, and his production improved in 2020 as the Cardinals added receiver DeAndre Hopkins and head coach Kliff Kingsbury adapted his offense to the NFL. However, Murray’s game has seemed to plateau since, with an overreliance on his electric athletic ability that has contributed to his streaky results. Now, after a playoff appearance that showed the Cardinals have a ways to go to become a Super Bowl contender, Murray will need to take a step forward to lift this offense during Hopkins’s six-game suspension to start the season. The addition of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown will help to some degree, but there is very little overlap between the two players’ styles, and Brown is certainly not capable of carrying the offense the way Hopkins can.
Arizona could be in a bad way if Murray doesn’t take that step, because it’s hard to say how losing edge rusher Chandler Jones and failing to add a replacement is going to make an iffy defense any better. Question marks remain at both outside cornerback positions, and if J.J. Watt goes down again up front, Arizona doesn’t have any pass rushers your average NFL fan would recognize. Perhaps one of their third-round picks, Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders, emerges to complement veteran Markus Golden, but this Arizona unit is likely to bring much juice off the edge. Even if the duo of former first-round picks at linebacker, Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, turn into the best outlook of their draft profiles, this defense would likely struggle, and that might be an overly optimistic outlook for the pair.
As for the Seahawks, the most compelling question might be why head coach Pete Carroll is back to coach this Geno Smith-led bunch. With everything Carroll has accomplished in Seattle and at USC, and the Seahawks on the precipice of a rebuild, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see him retire or pursue a better rebuild opportunity.
Instead, Carroll is running it back to his roots in Seattle, with the team back to the pre-Russell Wilson phase when they cycled unsuccessfully through options including Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, and Matt Flynn before stumbling onto Wilson in the third round. Their win total and NFC West odds at DraftKings reflect the same perspective that the model holds: it is likely to be a long year for Seattle, but if Carroll is having a great time, more power to him.
The Professor’s Favorite NFC West Plays
There is a chance that Trey Lance brings back memories of Robert Griffin III’s rookie season and outplays Stafford because of the element he adds with his legs, but it is a relatively small one, particularly when you factor in the chance that Lance could have a roller-coaster season as he tries to smooth out his accuracy issues. The Rams and 49ers are close in terms of talent, but the variance of their quarterback outcomes could not be more different, even if both players have MVP-caliber ceilings. As a result, I like the Rams’ odds to win the division at +130.
The Cardinals signed general manager Steve Kiem, head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and quarterback Kyler Murray all to long-term contract extensions this offseason, but Arizona may have peaked after three seasons of steady improvement. The offensive line is getting old at left guard, center, and right tackle, and Kiem was already forced to trade for Bills guard Cody Ford because Justin Pugh, the aforementioned left guard, is dealing with a stinger. If Hopkins were available for the first six games, it would be one thing, but his absence is part of the reason the model projects Arizona at 7.77 wins and only favors them in four of seventeen games.
Premium Picks: None
Solid Value: Arizona under 8.5 wins, -110; Los Angeles Rams, NFC West Champs, +130
Reasonable Long Shots: None
This article broke down the AFC West and NFC West ahead of the 2022 NFL Season; be sure to look out for the Professor’s AFC/NFC breakdowns for the North, East, and South divisions on BeerLife Sports in the days to come.
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.