Not only are Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers favored to win the AFC West in 2018, but the Bolts are being looked at as a legitimate challenger to win the AFC conference crown.

While the Bolts haven’t won a division title since way back in 2009, oddsmakers everywhere have installed the Chargers as prohibitive favorites to win the division this coming season. Whether they pull off the feat or not remains to be seen, but they’ve clearly got the talent to do so. Thanks to my expert analysis on the division odds, you’re about to find out whether they will or not.

Los Angeles Chargers +140

The Chargers went a positive 9-7 in 2017 in their first season under no-nonsense head coach Anthony Lynn era and they are expecting to improve on that mark for several reasons. First and foremost, veteran quarterback Philip Rivers was at his gun-slinging best a year ago while throwing for 4,515 yards and 28 touchdowns, with only 10 interceptions.

While the Chargers ranked a modest 13th in scoring last season (22.2 ppg), the pieces are in place for the Bolts to improve on that ranking in 2018. The AFC West title hopefuls finally parted ways with future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates, but they still have a dangerous aerial attack thanks mostly because of veteran wide receiver Keenan Allen and 2017 first round draft pick, Mike Williams, who is back on the field after he missed a half-dozen games last season with a back injury.

More importantly, the Bolts were nothing short of phenomenal on the defensive side of the ball last season in finishing third in points allowed (17.0 ppg). The Chargers also upgraded their overall talent level on that side of the ball in the draft by drafting safety Derwin James, edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu, defensive tackle Justin Jones and linebacker Kyzir White with their first four selections in this year’s NFL draft, not to mention the fact that defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are as good a pair of defensive ends as there is in the entire league.

Kansas City Chiefs +240

Yes, it’s true that Kansas City has won the AFC West in each of the last two seasons, but the fact of the matter is that they’re entering the 2018 regular season in a bit of unchartered waters. You see, after being led by virtually mistake-free veteran signal-caller Alex Smith for the last five years, the Chiefs will take to the field in 2018 under a first-time starter in second-year signal-caller Patrick Mahomes and right now, no one knows exactly what to expect out of the former Texas Tech star. Yes, Kansas City still has a lot of elite talent at the skill positions with guys like play-making wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt, but Kansas City also parted ways with superstar cornerback Marcus Peters, so they’ll be hard-pressed to replace his immense talents.

Oakland Raiders +325

The Raiders signed former head coach Jon Gruden to a stunning, $100 million dollar 10-year deal to help them rebound from the wake of an uninspiring 6-10 campaign that saw them take a huge step backward from their 12-4 campaign in 2016. While I expect the addition of Gruden to pay almost immediate dividends, the fact of the matter is that Oakland ranked an uninspiring 23rd in scoring last season (18.8 ppg) and equally underwhelming 20th in points allowed (23.3 ppg). Fortunately for Gruden and company, the Raiders still have a ton of talent, although most of it is on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Derek Carr needs to start playing like a potential future MVP, but he’s got targets, starting with gifted wide receiver Amari Cooper. Veteran Marshawn Lynch still looks like he’s got plenty left in the gas tank, but what the Raiders will get out of their defense is anyone’s guess right now.

Denver Broncos +525

The Broncos are looking to bounce back from an uninspiring 5-11 record and it looks like they’ll have a good chance to do just that seeing as how they finally have a ‘real’ quarterback in veteran Case Keenum after struggling to find their franchise signal-caller the last two seasons while choosing between Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and the completely awful Brock Osweiler. Second-year head coach Vance Joseph will need to win his fair share of games this coming season or I suspect he won’t be back in 2019, so they’ve got plenty of motivation. Keenum has a good pair of veteran wide receivers to throw to in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but the Broncos have a big question mark at running back after parting ways with veteran C.J. Andersen. Defensively, the Broncos also fell off from their Super Bowl-winning ways a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, doing so may not be quite as easy as they hope after parting ways with Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib.

Division Analysis

The AFC West is generally a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish for the most part, but this coming season, I believe oddsmakers have nailed it perfectly. The Chargers are the pick to get it done with the Chiefs, raiders and broncos all having more question marks than answers.

Pick:Los Angeles Chargers