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2011 AFC West Preview
by Lenny Del Genio

1. San Diego Chargers

Prediction: 11-5, AFC West Champs

Odds: O/U 10 Wins | -225 to win AFC West | +575 to win AFC | +1200 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: Every year, it seems all of us get sucked in by the Chargers. Last year, a clear case was made that the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks were the worst division champs in post-merger history. I could make a case than San Diego was the BEST team ever NOT to win its division. Statistically, they finished with the league’s top offense AND defense. They finished top five in point differential. I view the 9-7 finish as a definite ‘worst case scenario’ and they will certainly finish with a better record in 2011. Special teams were the clear culprit for three losses last season, one against Seattle in particular. I think Philip Rivers (MVP of every bowl game he played in college, thank you Mel Kiper) could emerge as the best QB in the AFC this year. There is of course one thing preventing the Chargers from contending for a Super Bowl and it’s the same it is every year – the coach. How is Norv Turner still drawing a W-2 here? One thing is for certain, he won’t be any longer if the team does not make a deep run into the postseason. Marty Schottenheimer was fired after a 14-2 regular season that ended with a one and done in the playoffs against New England. Although it has not helped previously, I think it’s important that San Diego gets a first round bye in order to avoid some of the cold weather teams in the playoffs. The Lightning Bolts have been a notorious slow starter under Turner, going 8-12 SU and 7-12-1 ATS the first five weeks. From game six on, they are 33-11 straight up and 28-15-1 against the spread. Last year, they dug far too deep of a hole, losing five of the first seven games. One thing that signals an upswing is the fact that last year, the Chargers had a league record 74 players miss time with injury. This year’s schedule calls for four trips into the Eastern Time Zone, which is notable because early start times on Sunday usually spell doom for West Coast teams. Wide receiver was definitely a point of weakness in 2010 with no one having more than 37 receptions. That unit should be stronger this year with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates available for a full year. This is the easiest division winner to call in the AFC, but of course we all say that every year.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Prediction: 8-8

Odds: O/U 8 Wins | +365 to win AFC West | +1750 to win AFC | +4100 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: Last year, I predicted the Chiefs would be the most improved team in the AFC and sure enough they went from 4-12 to 10-6 and earned their first division title since ’03. Those 10 wins equaled their win total of the previous three seasons combined. However, things did not end well with a bad home playoff loss to the Ravens. Did you know that KC has not won a playoff game since ’94 when Joe Montana was the QB? The 50/50 playoff rule suggests that the half of the previous season’s playoff teams will not return the following year and if you are looking for an obvious choice this year not to make, it certainly looks like Kansas City is your team. (By the way, I think the 50/50 theory comes out on the high end this year due to the lockout – probably 8/9 returnees, which would tie/set the record for the most since ’90 playoff realignment.) I am not really a believer in Matt Cassel at QB. Charlie Weis may be fat and the former coach of some really overrated Notre Dame teams, but he is a good OC and he departs for the college ranks, which is a bad loss for the Chiefs’ coaching staff. Remember that the offense did nothing in Todd Haley’s first year here, even though he was the supposed offensive mastermind in Arizona. One of the lamer exercises to engage in from year to year is when some surprise team starts out well and after three weeks people start asking “can they make the playoffs?” This happened with Kansas City last year at 3-0 and I remember looking at the schedule thinking “My god, where are the good teams?” This year, the schedule is much tougher w/ a five week stretch that includes New England, Pittsburgh, Chicago, the Jets and Green Bay, which if you are keeping score at home is the final four from last year and the team that finished with the best regular season record. The drop off from last year could be more severe than I’m projecting here.

3. Oakland Raiders

Prediction: 6-10

Odds: O/U 7 Wins | +450 to win AFC West | +2650 to win AFC | +5000 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: For the first time in eons, there is actually optimism by the Bay. Last year was the first time since the Super Bowl season of 2002 that the Silver and Black won more than five games as they somewhat shockingly finished .500, including a 6-0 record vs. the AFC West. However, there are some factors pointing down for 2011 if you are a Raiders fan. For starters, they were the first team ever to sweep the division schedule and NOT win the division. What that also means is a 2-8 record vs. non-division opponents and keep in mind that they played the NFC West. This is a QB driven league, as I will repeat ad nauseum, and Oakland’s QB is still Jason Campbell. They used a 3rd round supplemental draft pick on Terrelle Pryor, but can you really expect anything there? They lost their best player (DB Nnamdi Asomougha) via free agency. Hue Jackson is the seventh different QB in the last decade here. What a jealous old man Al Davis has become. In 2001, he had Jon Gruden as his head coach. But when Gruden began to supplant Davis as the true face of the franchise, “Chucky” was shown the door and since then it’s been a revolving door with the likes of Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable. Wow.

4. Denver Broncos

Prediction: 5-11

Odds: O/U 6 Wins | +1000 to win AFC West | +4000 to win AFC | +6000 to win Super Bowl

Analysis: Allow me to be the last person to contribute my opinion on the ongoing Orton vs. Tebow QB debate. If the Broncos do elect to go with Orton (update: it looks as if they definitely are), they are making the wrong choice. I do not know for certain that Tim Tebow will be a success in this league, but I can say for certain that you aren’t going anywhere with Kyle Orton as your starting QB. Attention Orton supporters, Denver was 3-10 with him as the starter last year. It’s easy to put up good passing numbers in garbage time when your team is consistently getting its butt kicked. Denver has no defense, so it really doesn’t matter who the QB is this season anyway. Still I’d side with Tebow. He will sell tickets for a last place team. The defense had only 45 sacks a year ago, which was the 45th lowest total in the franchise’s 50 year history. John Fox is a first year head coach; he can sustain a rebuilding year. If this were a Jack Del Rio situation, I probably could see you going with Orton. How far has this organization fallen? They started 6-0 SU/ATS in Josh McDaniels first season (2009). Since that time, they have just six wins total in 26 games (8-18 ATS).

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