AFC West: the NFL's tightest divisional battle
By Nate Winkler
Cold, Hard Football Facts Gridiron Goat-Roper
The AFC West may be the tightest division in football again in 2012 just as it was a season ago. Tightest, not best.
Last season a single victory was the difference between first and last place, by far the least of the eight divisions in the NFL. All indications are that it will come down to the wire again as the upcoming season unfolds.
|DIVISION||1ST PLACE||W-L||LAST PLACE||W-L||DIFF.|
|AFC WEST||DENVER BRONCOS||8-8||KANSAS CITY CHIEFS||7-9||1|
|NFC EAST||N.Y. GIANTS||9-7||WASHINGTON REDSKINS||5-11||4|
|AFC EAST||NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS||13-3||BUFFALO BILLS||6-10||7|
|BALTIMORE RAVENS||12-4||CLEVELAND BROWNS||4-12||8|
|AFC SOUTH||HOUSTON TEXANS||10-6||INDIANAPOLIS COLTS||2-14||8|
|NFC SOUTH||NEW ORLEANS SAINTS||13-3||TAMPA BAY BUCANNEERS||4-12||9|
|NFC WEST||SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS||13-3||ST. LOUIS RAMS||2-14||9|
|NFC NORTH||GREEN BAY PACKERS||15-1||MINNESOTA VIKINGS||3-13||12|
The Denver Broncos won the three-way split at the top of the AFC West with a .500 record. Also finishing at 8-8 were the Oakland Raiders, who were in contention late in the season for the first time since Saddam Hussein was still in charge of Iraq.
The San Diego Chargers were also .500 and have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons after winning the division every one of the previous four (2006-2009).
Kansas City brought up the rear at 7-9 after coming out of nowhere and winning the West in 2010. All four have realistic scenarios in which they could either win the division or wind up in the cellar in the upcoming season.
Taking a look at how the AFC West teams have fared against their 14 common opponents over the last 10 seasons should give us some insight into how they may actually wind up when the final whistle blows in Week 17 next January.
The teams in the AFC West have played each other twice a year (6 games) since re-alignment was instituted beginning in 2002 and the division went from five teams to four.
They also rotate between playing every team from another division in each conference every year (8 games), with this seasons draw being the AFC North (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland) and the NFC South (New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay).
This formula comprises 14 of the 16 games on the schedule, with the other two coming based on each teams place in the final standings.
Although strength of schedule statistics can often be misleading, the fact is 5 out of the 8 teams in the AFC North/NFC South made the playoffs last season. Assuming that the teams of the AFC West split their games at 3-3 each like they did last year, the team that fares the best in it's cross division games will have the inside track to the division title.
If we go back 10 years to that 2002 season and take a look at the records of each AFC West team against their cross-divisional opponents we find some interesting facts:
|TEAM||VS AFC NORTH||ATS||VS NFC SOUTH||ATS||TOTAL (ATS)|
|DENVER BRONCOS||14-7||(9-12)||6-2||(2-5-1)||20-9 (11-17-1)|
|KANSAS CITY CHIEFS||9-11||(11-9)||1-7||(2-6)||10-18 (13-15)|
|OAKLAND RAIDERS||8-11||(8-11)||3-6||(3-6)||11-17 (11-17)|
|SAN DIEGO CHARGERS||10-10||8-12||4-4||(5-3)||14-14 (13-15)|
- The Denver Broncos are head and shoulders above their division foes against the AFC North and NFC South with a .690 winning percentage in 29 games, but are just .379 against the spread.
- Kansas City has the lowest winning percentage at .357 but the Chiefs are a relatively good bet in those games as they're tied atop the division at .464 against the spread.
- If you're going to take Oakland you might as well take the points and the money line. The Raiders have covered exactly the same amount of times they've won against these cross-division opponents.
- The Chargers have held their ground outside of the division at a perfectly average .500 while not costing too many San Diegans their mortgages as they cover almost as often as they win.
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