Lets head out to the Wild Wild West. This division was once the playground of the Denver Broncos, but has been all San Diego for the past few years. The Chargers have maintained a stranglehold in the AFC West, bringing home the last 4 divisional titles. And with Phillip Rivers at the helm, do you think this is really going to change?
In all honesty, this was a pretty weak division last year. You had a dominant team in the Chargers that appeared to be the best in the AFC until the Jets shocked them in the playoffs. Then you had everyone else. Sure Denver started out the year hot and really surprised some people. But they finished the year on a 4 game losing streak, which is starting to become a team tradition. They also lost 3 in a row to end the season in 08. But other than these two, both the Chiefs and Raiders have been pretty horrendous. Neither have been at all relevant since the Chiefs went 9 and 7 in 2006.
AFC West: Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders (alphabetical order)
Oakland Raiders (4th): This once proud franchise has been utterly woeful for the last 8 years. They have not had a winning season since 2002. They have not even won more than 5 games in a season since 2002. What is going on with Raider Nation? Well first of all their former number 1 draft pick Jamarcus Russell was one of the biggest busts of all time. Both on and off the field if you want to talk about his recent drug bust. So they have not had a quarterback really since Rich Gannon. This year, their offensive attack will be led by Jason Campbell, who was the guy who could never cut the mustard in Washington. They have Darren McFadden and Michael Bush as their combo at running back , who are mediocre at best. And though Darren has big time abilities, he suffered turf toe and some knee injuries which really hurt his performance. Also, it is hard to run the ball effectively on a team that has such an anemic passing attack. Unfortunately, for Darren, the Raider’s most recognizable receiving threat is still their tight end, Zach Miller. The only bright spot on this team really is a very strong secondary, led by Nnamdi Asomugha. But other than that, the future still looks very dim for Raider nation. Do not expect this team to make much noise.
Kansas City Chiefs (3rd): This is another team in the AFC West that has struggled for the past few years. The days of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson pounding the ball are long gone. The Chiefs have not won more than 4 games in a season since 2006. It has been quite ugly to sum things up. This is a squad that had a weak offense, and an even worse defense. This team could not stop the run or the pass. Which led to a lot of long games. There was really only one bright spot for this team. The emergence of Jamaal Charles as a big time back. Is this the Chief’s new version of Priest Holmes or Larry Johnson? Kansas City certainly hopes so. Also the Chiefs made a solid pickup in getting Thomas Jones. Now the KC boys have a pretty strong 2 headed running back attack in Jamaal Charles and the savvy veteran Thomas Jones. Matt Cassel has potential to be a solid quarterback. He has put up numbers for a couple of years now. Guys like Dwayne Bowe, Chris Chambers, and the rookie out of Ole Miss, Dexter McCluster really need to step up. It was embarrassing how anemic this team’s aerial attack was last year considering they have an arm like Matt Cassel to work with. With an enthused running attack, possibly the passing game will fall in line. Demorrio Williams, Corey Mays, and Glenn Dorsey will have to bring the defense back to respectability though if this team wants to sniff contention in the West. I will state this team has some potential to do some damage with an outstanding rushing attack and possibly a decent aerial attack. But can the defense hold up? This will decide if the Chiefs win 4 games or 8 games. Do not be surprised if this team makes a little noise though.
Denver Broncos (2nd): Mike Shanahan is now coaching in Denver. The former legend is now with another team. Josh McDaniel is fully in the saddle now. There will be no offseason conflict or jabbering with Jay Cutler. It is strictly football in Denver for Josh and the Broncos. Denver, a team that dominated the late 90s, have not made an appearance in the playoffs since 2005. The Mile High Boys are thirsting a return to playoff football. Due to a few late season collapses, this team has just fallen short for the past 4 years. Kyle Orton will once again be at the helm. And despite heavy criticism during the duration of his 4 year career, he has dramatically improved each season and is coming off the best year of his career. So he is not a quarterback that is going to put a team on his back, but he can help a team win ball games. Denver was a middle of the road defensive team last year, and a pretty strong offensive power led by the typical tough Denver rushing attack. Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter once again proved that Denver can always run the ball no matter who the backs are. Expect this attack to be even better this season. But also expect Cutler to have a much tougher time passing the ball this year. There will be no instances where he can count on a guy to make 21 catches in a game. The Brandon Marshall soap opera is over, but guys like Eddie Royal, Gaffney, and Stokley are all solid. They will all three have to step up in a big way though to give this team a chance at contending. Lastly, the defense will be solid. Led by the guy with the coolest name in the NFL, Elvis Dumervil, do not expect an amazing defense, but expect a respectable one. So the Broncos are an AFC Wild Card bubble team. I have them finishing either 8 and 8 or 9 and 7. But I do think the playoff drought continues into a 5th year.
San Diego Chargers (1st): Expect a 5th straight West title to come back to San Diego. This team is the best on paper, and should have no trouble conquering the division again. Phillip Rivers has turned into one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. Expect another big year from a guy that throws to the outside of the field better than any other QB in the game. LT will be missed though from a rushing standpoint. I do think Darren Sproles is game to take on the challenge. But is Mike Tolbert ready to step into the number 2 role? As I have mentioned many times before, the NFL has become a game where you must have 2 running backs ready to compliment each other every game. Will the Chargers be able to do this? Vincent Jackson has emerged as possibly the best deep threat in the entire AFC. Due to some offseason troubles (DUI), nobody is sure when he will be suiting up though. But between Jackson, Gates, and Phillips amazing passing ability, you better believe this aerial attack will be outstanding again. Do not be surprised if there is another top 5 passing performance in San Diego. Last year, the Charger’s defense was just good enough not to lose them games. With the loss of Antonio Cromartie, I do not see where the defense really improved. I do expect them to possibly fade a bit as a defensive unit which could cost them some games. Can Shawn Merriman save the defense singlehandedly? Once again I see the Chargers winning the division, but possibly in less dominant of a fashion. Maybe they will only win 10 or 11 games this year. Look for LT to seek redemption come playoff time on the franchise that he once put on his shoulders.
So I got the Chargers winning the AFC West for a 5th straight year. Overall, I think this is a fairly weak division, where the team at the top did not improve. The Chargers will still be good enough to bring home the divisional title, but do not be surprised if the Chiefs turn some heads this season behind their outstanding rushing attack.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.