The San Diego Chargers made the playoffs last season by going 8-8. While without a doubt they are still the favorites to win the division in 2009, the Broncos and Chiefs are by no means auto-wins, as both have the capability to finish around .500.
The Broncos said goodbye to coach Mike Shanahan as well as quarterback Jay Cutler. While SportsCenter may miss the drama that always came with a Cutler-Chargers matchup, the Broncos will be a much more mature team without him.
With a passing core of Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Tony Scheffler, and Brandon Stokley, the Broncos’ offense in 2009 will be the only one with a chance of outscoring San Diego’s.
As always, their running game will be an asset. Knowshon Moreno should contribute immediately. Giving the No. 12 overall pick a bit of a push and some veteran leadership will be free agent additions J.J. Arrington, Correll Buckhalter, and Lamont Jordan. We shouldn’t forget Peyton Hillis either.
However, the big question mark is still their defense.
With the No. 18 overall pick, the Broncos drafted Robert Ayers out of Tennessee. He, like Moreno, will contribute immediately. While their defensive line and linebacker core remains suspect, the addition of Ayers is still important, even though he should not be seen as a savior.
As for the secondary, not only do they get a healthy Champ Bailey back, but they also signed veteran Brian Dawkins.
While the Broncos are in a transition year with new coach Josh McDaniels, they will still challenge the Chargers for the AFC West title.
Kansas City Chiefs
Even with the loss of Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs are the most improved team coming into the 2009 season. An 8-8 record, or even a 7-9 one, should be viewed as a successful season by their fans.
Both their offense and defense have vastly improved.
On offense, Matt Cassel is an upgrade over Tyler Thigpen, and Larry Johnson is still one of the better running backs in the NFL. The problem for Cassel will be; who does he have to throw to?
On defense, not only did they use their No. 3 overall pick on DE Tyson Jackson, but they also signed Zach Thomas and Mike Vrabel. While nearing the end of their career, Thomas and Vrabel should still help shore up the defense.
Almost everyone is still left wondering how the Raiders could pass on WR Michael Crabtree.
The Raiders failed to improve in the draft, but at least another year of experience for JaMarcus Russel and Darren McFadden is something to look forward to for their fans.
While I would say they are going to be better than last year that still shouldn’t be anything better than last place in the AFC West.
There really isn’t anything more to say about Oakland. Yes, it’s that bad Raiders fans.
The division is by no means strong but all-in-all has improved in the offseason. This season, the Chargers cannot afford to rely on another meltdown by their AFC rival Broncos.
With a healthy Antonio Gates, Nick Hardwick, Marcus McNeil, Shawn Merriman, and LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers are no doubt the favorites to win their division. The Chargers should now invest in a better training staff to keep their stars healthy.