As we kick off the month of July, the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders prepare to get training camp going in less than a month.
After the Broncos came away with the AFC West title with an 8-8 record and the Chiefs falling in last place with a 7-9 record, it is hard to predict who will win the AFC West as all four teams were within one game of one another. After a huge offseason acquisition for Denver, the AFC West can only get better and a team will need a record over .500 in order to win the division in 2012.
There are 25 players in the AFC West who can step up for their team and help them accomplish that task. In this slideshow, we will take a look at the top 25 players in the AFC West going into the 2012 season.
Keep in mind, this slideshow is not based off a player's performance from just the 2011 season alone.
- Broncos RB Willis McGahee
- Chargers ILB Takeo Spikes
- Chargers OLB Antwan Barnes
- Chiefs S Kendrick Lewis
- Chiefs WR Steve Breaston
Staying in the AFC West, new Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt can be a great No. 2 cornerback for the Chiefs and give them a strong pass defense.
With the front seven players the Chiefs have on defense, it will allow Routt to do well.
Darrius Heyward-Bey stepped up big time. Heyward-Bey put up career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
His big improvement in 2011 is a true example of what kind of receiver he is, and he can be a huge asset for the Raiders on offense.
Carson Palmer will have the opportunity to spend an entire offseason with the Raiders. After going through his first training camp with the Raiders, we can find out what kind of a quarterback he really is with his new team.
Eric Winston is one of the league's most underrated offensive right tackles in today's game.
The Chiefs picked up a reliable player who can help his new team as a pass-blocker and run-blocker.
Richard Seymour had one of his best seasons since joining the Raiders in 2009. Seymour came away with six sacks and two huge blocks on special teams to help Oakland finish 8-8 for the second consecutive year.
This year, Seymour will turn 33 during the season and hopes to lift his team by having a repeat performance of last year.
Rolando McClain made a big jump from his rookie season to his second year in the league.
McClain became more of a versatile linebacker, recording 99 tackles and improving his sack total by five. New head coach Dennis Allen would like to see him take more of a leadership role in his third season.
It was not long ago when Matt Cassel gave the Chiefs their biggest turnaround in franchise history while throwing 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Cassel is returning from a season-ending hand injury after an up-and-down 2011 season. With a lot of offensive weapons general manager Scott Pioli recruited, Cassel has what he needs to succeed.
The AFC West does not have a lot of elite offensive linemen, as Ryan Clady stands out in this division and is regarded as one of the best in the league since being drafted in 2008.
Clady is one of Denver's most valuable players, starting all 64 games since being part of the Broncos franchise and earning two Pro Bowl honors.
Ryan Mathews is another player who made a big jump from year one to year two. Mathews remained healthy and had more rushing yards than any running back in the AFC West.
Going into his third season after a rough 2011 season for the Chargers, Mathews would like to make his postseason debut and help his team return to the playoffs after falling short the last two seasons.
Despite being a safety, Tyvon Branch is one of the better tacklers on the Raiders defense.
Although he does not come up with many takeaways, Branch has the ability to defend passes while going up against wide receivers.
D.J. Williams has spent his entire eight-year career with the Broncos and has done consistently well.
Williams will miss the first six games of the season due to a drug suspension. The Broncos will need him to return in his strong form as the season will begin to pick up by the time he makes his debut this season.
Despite not having a big breakout season yet, Brandon Flowers has continued to improve each season and is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC right now.
With a strong secondary and some of the division's best pass-rushers, Flowers could be set to have a career high in interceptions.
Eric Berry had an incredible rookie season in 2010 and was already labeled as one of the top safeties in the league.
But 2011 was a different story. Berry's season was cut short due to a torn ACL injury he suffered in Week 1 and hopes to contribute in helping the Chiefs compete in the division.
After registering a total of six interceptions in his four-year career, Eric Weddle surpassed that total in 2011 alone with a career high of seven picks.
Weddle tied with two other players for most interceptions collected in 2011. After a close battle to win the AFC West, Norv Turner hopes Weddle can continue his dominance after punching his first Pro Bowl ticket.
Now that Vincent Jackson is no longer part of the Chargers organization, Dwayne Bowe is currently the division's best wide receiver.
However, Bowe missed all of OTAs due to a contract dispute. The Chiefs want to see consistency out of Bowe, hence why they are skeptical of making him a top five paid player in his position.
Other than the Indianapolis Colts, no team was more stressed out than the Chiefs after losing Jamaal Charles early in the season.
Charles, who nearly shattered Jim Brown's yard per carry average in a single season, has had ample time to recover and hopes to come back strong in 2012.
Even at the age of 34, Champ Bailey has no problems locking down on some of the best wide receivers in the league today.
Bailey has been tabbed as one of the best cornerbacks of his era and perhaps the best of all time. He would like to capture a ring with the Broncos before his time is up.
Darren McFadden was on pace to set his numbers beyond what he put together in 2010. But his season was cut short due to a foot injury.
While McFadden has a lot of talent, he has had an injury-marred career and has yet to play a complete season. If he stays healthy, he can be a special player for the Raiders.
Elvis Dumervil went from bring the league's sack leader in 2009 to missing all of 2010. Last year, Dumervil came back making plays with a strong supporting cast on defense.
If the Dumervil and the Broncos linebacker corps stay healthy, they are set for a promising 2012 season.
Philip Rivers proved he has a lot of talent after setting career highs in completions and passing yards. But Rivers also set a career high in turnovers with 25 last season while having the lowest quarterback rating in his four years as the Chargers primary quarterback.
Without Jackson on his team, Rivers is one big weapon short, but knows that if he limits his turnovers, the Chargers can find success.
Derrick Johnson set a career high in tackles, having a breakout season as one of the best inside linebackers in the league in stopping the run.
Now that Johnson has evolved into one of the league's best linebackers, he must continue to make big stops to help the Chiefs defense force more three-and-outs.
Even though Antonio Gates has missed nine games in the last two years, nothing has stopped him from coming away with 17 touchdowns in those two seasons.
Gates will be Rivers’ primary target now that Jackson is gone. Gates has never had more than 89 catches in a single season and that could very well change by the time the 2012 season is over.
Von Miller won the league's Rookie of the Year award, and managed to place in the top 10 in sacks as a newcomer.
Miller is already one of the league's biggest nightmares for opposing quarterbacks as offensive tackles struggle keeping him away from the pocket. At this rate, Miller is set to be the player he idolized his whole life, Derrick Thomas.
Tamba Hali's transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in the 3-4 system has gone smoothly for him. Not only has Hali put up some of his best seasons as a linebacker, but he has made his presence noticed as a linebacker more than he did as a defensive end.
Hali recorded 12 sacks last year and 26.5 in the last two years. Quarterbacks have not been able to make certain passes, as they have been disrupted by Hali's pass-rushing abilities. Head coach and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel believes he can continue carrying that over to help the Chiefs defense surprise a lot of fans.
Isn't this a surprise? Peyton Manning missed all of the 2011 season and somehow ranks No. 1 in the AFC West. Allow me to explain.
He is Peyton Manning, after all. Sure, he's only won one Super Bowl, but his individual success is off the charts. Manning has shattered several records and has been named the AP NFL MVP four times.
John Fox and John Elway added a huge piece to help complete a football team that won the AFC West last year. The addition of Manning makes them even better and the Broncos hope that he can help them repeat as AFC West champions.