Denver Broncos Primed for a Playoff Run: A Look at the AFC West (Part One)

Ryan AyarsCorrespondent IMay 14, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 28:  JaMarcus Russell poses with his Oakland Raiders jersey after being chosen first overall by the Oakland Raiders at the 2007 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall April 28, 2007 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos may be in a "semi-rebuilding state", but they have as good a chance as any other team in the AFC West to win the division. The Broncos almost won the division last year with a paltry 8-8 record.

No other team has been as active in the free agency as the Denver Broncos, releasing 80 percent of last years defensive starters, signing four new free agent defensive starters and a boat load of undrafted free agents to compete for starting positions.

In this three-part review, I will analyze each of the opposing AFC west teams by using the following criteria: perceived strengths and weaknesses from last season, free agent signing, draft selections, and schedule difficulty.


Oakland Raiders

On offense, the Raiders' rushing attack showcased a talented combination of Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden.  The two runners combined for 1352 yards, giving Oakland a team rushing average per game of 124.2, which ranked 10th overall in the NFL.

The Raiders look to continue their rushing success this year, with Darren McFadden poised to build upon his rookie success. 

Unfortunately, the Raiders' passing attack was quite dismal, netting an average of 148.1 yards a game and an overall rank of 32 in the NFL. The failure of the passing game was the result of a slow progression of their now third year quarterback JaMarcus Russell and the inability of the offensive line to give him good pass protection. 

Russell, showed some improvement during last season, but will be considered a bust, if he doesn't start showing elite talent.  Oakland addressed their offensive line needs by signing veteran tackles, Khalif Barnes, Erik pears, and center Samson Satele.

The players should create a better base for their zone blocking scheme and give Russell more time in the pocket. 

The passing game will receive a jump start this year, with the addition of newly acquired No. 7 draft choice Darrius Heyward-Bey.  Heyward-Bey was the fastest receiver in the draft and should give Russell a deep threat to spread out opposing defenses.

Considering that the Raiders' top receiver last year was tight end Zach Miller, the Raiders will welcome a blue chip prospect like Heyward-Bey to their lineup. The current No. 1 wide receiver, Javon Walker, has season ending ankle surgery last year, which kept him out of the lineup for half the season.

When healthy, Walker is a premier receiver in the NFL. Look for him to bounce back this year and give the Raiders another top receiving threat.

On defense the Raiders still have a lot of concerns. Contrary to popular opinion, the Broncos run defense wasn't the worst in the AFC West. The Raiders ranked 31 overall in stopping the run, allowing an average of 159.7 rushing yards a game. 

The Raiders partially addressed their rushing woes, with the drafting of Safety Mike Mitchell, in the second round. He should replace Michael Huff at Strong safety and add a stronger backfield presence to the running game. 

In my opinion, the Raiders should move Huff to the free-safety position and see if he is a better fit there. As a previous first-round choice, the Raiders should try to keep him and get some value out of their pick, much like they did for Robert Gallery.

They Raiders ranked 10th overall in the NFL in passing defense. The drafting of Matt Shaughnessy should add to the pass rush attack. Nnamdi Asomugha is a premier cornerback in the NFL and should be as good as usual.

With the addition of Safety Mike Mitchell the Raiders should considered a stout pass defense threat. 

The Raiders have some what of a tough schedule this year. They have away games in Pittsburgh, Dallas, and New York (Giants). The also host Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. Based on last years standings, these teams could already represent 5-6 losses. 

If the Raiders split their wins and losses in their conference games, they are already looking at 8-9 losses on paper.  This would be an improvement on last year's 5-11 standing as Raiders look to have as 7-9, or 8-8 season. 

A record of 8-8 won the AFC west conference title last year, so the Raiders would just be happy to be contenders. If the Broncos, didn't address their inability to stop the run, they will have a lot of problems with the Raiders.  This is also the same for the Raiders run defense. 

The Broncos have obviously upgraded with the addition of No. 12 draft choice Knowshon Moreno.