2010 NFL Preview: AFC West

2009: San Diego Chargers, 13-3
2008: San Diego Chargers, 8-8
2007: San Diego Chargers, 11-5
2006: San Diego Chargers, 14-2
2005: Denver Broncos, 13-3
2004: San Diego Chargers, 12-4
2003: Kansas City Chiefs, 13-3
2002: Oakland Raiders, 11-5

All four teams won the division in the first four years, with the Chargers owning the division the last part of the decade. Of course, the Raiders made the Super Bowl in 2002 and haven't had a winning record since. The Chiefs and Raiders have both been very bad the last few years. We all remember Denver's epic collapse in 2008, allowing the Chargers to win the division with a .500 record. The teams haven't had much playoff success, with San Diego being annual playoff disappointments.

1. San Diego Chargers (11-5). The Chargers have ruled the AFC West for the last half decade, but do not even have a Super Bowl appearance to show for it. Last year franchise cornerstone LaDainian Tomlinson ran out of gas, but the Chargers marched through the regular season anyways behind the arm of Philip Rivers. Rivers is still elite, but he has lost both his blindside pass protector (Marcus McNeil) and top receiver (Vincent Jackson) to holdouts. The offense adds Ryan Mathews but those two losses will be significant. On defense, the team was in the middle of the pack last year. They have to hope that Shawne Merriman can bounce back from his injuries of 2008 and provide that terror from the outside he used to. The team has plenty of options to play opposite him. The team will rely on draft picks and young players to fill out most of the other defensive positions. Make no mistake, the Chargers are still the toast of the division. But do they have enough to finally crack through and make a Super Bowl appearance, and can Norv Turner get them there? My answer is no, but I have been wrong once or twice.

2. Oakland Raiders (8-8). I originally had the Raiders at 10-6 and a playoff spot. But I just cannot do that. They are still a very young, inexperienced and stupid team. But I think they have talent at key positions to make a run at a winning record. Lets start with the running game. Justin Fargas no longer stands in the way of Oakland's two most dangerous weapons. Mainly Michael Bush, a bruising 230+ pound monster who showed what he could do in two division games against the Chiefs and Broncos. He is a bruiser who also has surprising breakaway speed. Darren McFadden is the name but would be a better complimentary back. Let's not forget the subtraction of JaMarcus Russell and addition of not-Jamarcus Russell. The passing game should continue to struggle, but Zach Miller is an underrated up and coming star who will be a great safety blanket for Jason Campbell. On defense, we all know about how good the secondary is, but the key will be if the Raiders can stop anyone from running all over them. They got bigger with the additions of Kamerion Wimbley, Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston. The Raiders have the talent to make some noise, but they have always found a way to beat themselves. If that can change this year, they could surprise. If not, the Patriots get themselves a pretty sweet draft pick in 2011.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (6-10). The Chiefs have added enough young players that they can start to think about working towards a winning season. They thought they were deep enough to afford the luxury pick of Eric Berry fifth overall for example. But the fact is that many of their key players are too young, don't fit the scheme or underpreform. Dwayne Bowe, for example, who has all the skills to wreck but disappears for long stretches. Matt Cassel was extremely mediocre and predictably looks like a product of the Patriots system. The running game is something to get excited about, however, as steady veteran Thomas Jones joins electrifying youngster Jamaal Charles to form one of the best 1-2 punches out there. They will have to rely heavily on those two to run behind a line that is still trying to come together. The defense still lacks parts for a true 3-4 set. Ends Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are both former top five picks who have done little thus far. Tamba Hali and Mike Vrabel were solid outside linebackers, and the secondary is a work in progress. I think the Chiefs are at least one or two good drafts away from turning the corner.

4. Denver Broncos (4-12). What to say about the Broncos? Obviously I am not a Josh McDaniels fan. He has managed to run both Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall out of town, replacing them with rookies Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas, neither of whom are near ready to play in an NFL game. The defense played way over their heads in 2009 before falling flat on their face in the second half of the season. What they do have is a steady, solid quarterback in Kyle Orton, a decent line and some talent scattered on the roster. They also added plenty of experience in the last couple of years. But are those players any good? Not to mention star Elvis Dumervil might miss the whole season after recording 17 sacks in 2009. The Broncos could surprise me and put together another 8-8 season, but I think the wheels are dangerously close to falling off.

Jonathan Carrano

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