AFC West: Preview and Predictions for 2009

John RansomContributor IMay 7, 2009

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MAY 03:  Head coach Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos chats with running back LaMont Jordan #32 during minicamp at the Broncos training facility on May 3, 2009 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

San Diego Chargers

2008 record: 8-8 

While the Chargers produced a subpar campaign in 2008, the team decided that it was nothing that a little rehab and some minor tweaking with the roster couldn’t fix.

And they are probably right.

Although they let defensive end Igor Olshansky go to the Cowboys as a free agent, it’s hard to credit that any defensive end playing in a 3-4 is worth $18 million over four years.

The Chargers added tweener defensive end/outside linebacker, Larry English, through the draft.

English will have to learn the linebacker role but can probably be used to rush the passer right away. Perhaps as revenge for the Olshansky signing, the Chargers pilfered right outside linebacker Kevin Burnett from the Cowboys.

The biggest change on defense from 2008 will come by having a healthy Shawne Merriman. Oh, and did we mention he’s in his contract year?

Expect Merriman to play “lights out.”

On offense the story is similar.

2008 was marred by injuries to stalwart running back LaDainian Tomlinson (toe, mouth, attitude). If he gets back to form in 2009 the offense will be as balanced as any team in the league.

If not, then the Chargers still have Philip Rivers, who posted a career high 105 passer rating in 2008. And sure Vincent Jackson rocks, but who plays wide receiver after that?


Predicted finish: 10-6 


Denver Broncos

2008 record: 8-8 

Forget about the Cutler trade. It’s old news and if one thing is clear from the new regime in Dove Valley, it’s that they are going to remake the team in the image of...

Well that’s the question, isn’t it?

Is Josh McDaniels going to be the next Bill Belichick or the next Romeo Crennel?

For now it’s sufficient to say that there has been quite a bit of turnover on the Bronco’s roster.

They’ve released one group of running backs and brought in another. They got rid of their quarterbacks, too, in exchange for fresh faces.

They are set at receiver and on the offensive line. The offense should be solid, but maybe not spectacular.  

On defense, they’ve switch permanently to the 3-4. While they’ve done quite a bit of work to improve the linebacking corps, the front three on the defensive line remains suspect with anonymous starters there.

Adding Brian Dawkins at safety and Andre’ Goodman at cornerback bolsters the team’s defensive secondary, which is good. But expect teams in the early going to try to run on the Broncos.

Under Mike Shanahan, the Broncos occasionally lost some games they should have won.

Complacency should not be an issue under McDaniels unless the season gets completely out of hand and the regime goes on death watch.  

But it’s more likely that the team will outperform its talent pool. Teams under first year coaches often do.   

Predicted finish: 8-8


Kansas City Chiefs

2008 record: 2-14 

The Chiefs are another team attempting a Belichick-type makeover, this one under the auspices of former Patriots GM Scott Pioli, who took over the Chiefs in the offseason.

Like the Broncos, there has been a lot of turmoil and turnover on Chiefs roster. But whereas Broncos watchers felt that the 2008 team was close to playoff caliber, the only thing the Chief’s were close to was the Detroit Lions' No. 1 Draft choice.

Like the Broncos, the Chiefs got a brand new, semi-used quarterback of the future. But the Chief’s acquisition is definitely an upgrade over last year’s quarterback of the future in Kansas City.

At running back, the lack of action on draft day says the Chiefs plan on having Larry Johnson contribute all season barring a late trade. If they keep Johnson, look for the offense to improve just a bit under first year coach, Todd Haley.

On defense the Chiefs added veteran linebackers Zach Thomas (free agent) and Mike Vrabel (trade), while using the first three picks they had in the draft to prop up a defense that finished 31st in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed.

They’ll make marginal progress, but quarterback Matt Cassell will be more Sage Rosenfels than Tom Brady.

Predicted finish: 7-9


Oakland Raiders

2008 record: 5-11 

One of these years Al Davis is going to use all of his draft picks to take wide receivers. No. He didn't this year. It it just felt like it.

The train wreck that is the Oakland Raiders just gets more twisted every year. Davis used his first picks to take Darrius Heyward-Bey, the fast and rangy wide receiver from Maryland,  and safety Michael Mitchell, a non-combine player who worked out well at pro day.

Both picks are debatable. And just like with most things Davis does, people have been debating the wisdom of the picks.

Heyward-Bey has never quite lived up to his measurables, with many analysts puzzled by the Raider's selection of him, but the packaging a player comes in is all Davis has seemed to care about recently.

Heyward-Bey will be a great target for quarterback JaMarcus Russell, but it begs the question: Does Russell have the accuracy to find the fleet target down field consistently?

One thing’s for sure: Backup quarterback Jeff Garcia lacks the arms strength to make deep throws. 

On defense, the Raiders picked up some depth at line in the draft and the aforementioned safety. It shouldn’t be enough to turn things around in Oakland. 

Predicted record: 4-12