How the AFC West Can Be Won

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How the AFC West Can Be Won
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The AFC West looks to be one of, if not the worst division in all of football next season.

The good news for teams like the Denver Broncos, who are looking to improve off of a  2008 season, is that their not out of it yet.

The bad news is that the San Diego Chargers are also in the division and will be heavy favorites entering the season.

The Broncos have certainly had the most interesting off season of the four division teams, first with the firing of head coach Mike Shanahan and the hiring of youngster Josh McDaniels all the way through some questionable draft picks last month. Not to mention trading their pro-bowl quarterback for a less talented quarterback and some draft picks.

The Kansas City Chiefs look to rebound from a terrible 2008 season and do so with a new coach and general manager. They also traded for New England quarterback Matt Cassel after roughing it with Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen last season.

The Oakland Raiders look to improve and hope to do so with JaMarcus Russell stepping up and becoming the quarterback the Raiders hoped he would be when they drafted him No. 1 overall. Darren McFadden staying healthy wouldn't either.

This team already had a decent defense, but they did come under intense scrutiny when they drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey No. 7 overall out of Maryland with Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin still on the board. We'll just have to wait and see if he pans out.

The San Diego Chargers merely need to stay healthy and they should run away with the division. Injuries to LaDainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman, and Antonio Gates crippled their season, although they were able to salvage some of it by rebounding to win the division win a playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Injuries were another recurring theme with another team in the division.

For the Broncos, the bulk of their injuries came at the running back position, where running backs Selvin Young, Andre Hall, Michael Pittman, Peyton Hillis and Ryan Torrain all ended the season on injured reserve.

The team addressed the issue at running back by signing LaMont Jordan, J.J Arrington and Correll Buckhalter in free agency as well as drafting Georgia standout Knowshon Moreno with the 12th pick in this year's draft.

But for the Broncos, their biggest question marks are: Can Kyle Orton and Chris Simms step up and fill the shoes left by Jay Cutler, and Will their porous defense from a year ago be any better?

These are questions that will not be answered until the season begins. With the defense, it still seems like there are still several holes. Brian Dawkins was added for leadership purposes at the safety position and Andra Davis was signed to help the linebacking corps.

But the defensive line is still a huge question mark. Many of the old faces are gone (which may not be a bad thing) but there are still holes.

Robert Ayers was drafted and the jury's still out on 2007 draft picks Tim Crowder, Marcus Thomas and Jarvis Moss, but Thomas is the only one who has contributed thus far. Here's hoping they can thrive under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Also not helping is the brutal non-division schedule the Broncos will face. They will have difficult home games against the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, and near-impossible road games against the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, and Philadelphia Eagles.

In the end, the Broncos just have too many question marks to be competitive this season. The Raiders and Chiefs are still a few years away (at least). The bottom line is, if the Chargers stay healthy and play hard, they should run away with the division.

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