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Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Thursday, November 3, 2016 at 11:55 AM

The AFC West offers an excellent divisional race, with the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs all tied in the loss column and the winner of this race is in position to emerge as the #2 seed in the AFC overall and the prime challenger to the New England Patriots in the playoffs. The AFC West takes the Sunday Night stage this week when Denver travels to Oakland (8:30 PM ET, NBC). We’re going to take a long-term look at the division race through the end of the year, with the strengths and weakness of each team compared to the AFC West betting odds…

Denver: The defending Super Bowl champs are the narrow 3-2 favorite to win this division. Like last year, if you bet on the Broncos it has to be because of the defense. Von Miller is making a run at Defensive Player of the Year. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib have continued to be the best lockdown corner combo in football. Offensively, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders continue to be reliable targets.

But there are the expected growing pains that come with Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Siemian’s 6.9 yards-per-attempt is weak, and he throws interception on 1.9% of all his passes—that’s not awful, but it’s much to high for a game manager, which is still where he’s at in his career development. The offensive line, outside of center Matt Paradis, is a mess and the reason C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker can’t get anything going in the running game.

Oakland: At 12-5, the Raiders get you what is narrowly the best price in this three-team race. The best price comes at the cost of the worst defense. Oakland ranks 22nd in the NFL in points allowed. Over eight remaining games, it’s hard to imagine that the D doesn’t eventually cough up a game they should have won and that game could tip the balance in this division.

Derek Carr has been a Fantasy players’ dream, with his 17-3 TD/INT ratio, but the 7.2 yards-per-attempt the Raiders are getting out of the passing game has to be considered disappointing given Carr’s arm strength and the presence of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree at the wideouts. Either the big plays on offense need to increase or the defense needs to get better.

Before we take too negative of an approach though, let’s note that when you break down personnel the only obvious weakness the Oakland defense has is a softness on the interior of their four-man front. They’re getting good play in the secondary, the edge and at linebacker. The pieces are here, it’s just a question of whether they can click enough to at least be league-average by season’s end.

Kansas City: At 2-1, the Chiefs are in the middle price-wise. The schedule has two X-factors to keep in mind. The first is that while Kansas City is tied with Denver and Oakland in the loss column, they’ve also played one fewer game and are a half-game back at 5-2. Each bettor has to decide how much that bothers them, but it is a factor—especially when Alex Smith and running back Spencer Ware are both in the concussion protocol right now, making an otherwise quite winnable home game with Jacksonville a lot more interesting on Sunday.

The other X-factor works in KC’s favor though. They’ve already beaten Oakland on the road and have both games with Denver remaining, presumably with a healthy Smith and Ware. The Chiefs are well-positioned to go at least 3-1 against their rivals and that could be the difference in a tiebreaker situation at the end.

There’s a lot at stake in this race in terms of playoff positioning and there’s an opportunity to profit for NFL bettors. I have to reserve my final verdict on this for clients, but these are just some of the issues to think about in betting the AFC West race.

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