(This is the previous edition (part 2) of the following article: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/176840-denver-broncos-primed-for-a-playoff-run-a-look-at-the-afc-west-part-2 )
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers ended last year at 8-8, making a comeback at the end of the season to oust the Denver Broncos from the top of the AFC West.
In most cases, Broncos fans can thank or blame the Chargers for all of the Broncos' changes this year. The bottom line is if the Broncos went 11-6 last year, instead of 8-8, Mike Shanahan and Jay Cutler would still be in Denver.
The Chargers underachieved last year, plain and simple. With key injuries to starters Shawne Merriman and LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers were missing their leaders and seemed flat at times. It pains me to say this, but the Chargers should be much better this season. But key offseason losses could possibly derail them again.
The Chargers return with their explosive offense, led by Tomlinson. LT still has a lot of juice left and last year's "poor performance" shouldn't have any negative effects on his running this year. If anything, LT will come into 2009 with a chip on his shoulder.
It's interesting how the league gave him a bad wrap, when he rushed for 1,110 yards and caught 52 passes for 426 yards. I guess if a star player doesn't get 1,800 yards a year, then he's on the downside of his career.
The Chargers have a tough offense to handle with freaky-sized receivers like Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd. Antonio Gates' production was down last year, but anytime an organization can get 700-plus receiving yards from your tight end, they should be happy.
Phillip Rivers is a great quarterback and should be just as good as he was last year or better.
The loss of veteran guard Mike Goff may effect their running game, as he is a strong run blocker. Someone will need to step up on the offensive line to take his place.
Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera comes back for a second season. Rivera, a former linebacker in the '80s for the Chicago Bears, saw success with his aggressive style of defense in a three-year stint as the Bears' defensive coordinator. With Shawne Merriman back in the lineup, the Chargers' pass rush should be rejuvenated.
The Chargers also used this year's first-round choice on a sack specialist in defensive end Larry English, who should add a mean streak to the defensive line. It's possible that Rivera will switch from the 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive scheme, which he used in Chicago.
In a 4-3, English would be a pass rushing specialist used on passing downs while in a 3-4, English would be used as an outside linebacker. Compare his skills to those of Elvis Dumervil, who has led the Denver Broncos in sacks the last three years.
The loss of Igor Olshansky is a big one and may hurt the Chargers' run stuffing abilities. The Chargers added a raw talent in the draft with Vaughn Martin. A physical freak, he can spell Jamal Williams at nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. I'm very interested to see how Martin develops in the NFL.
The Chargers have a decent schedule this year. Assuming they are a better team than they showed last year, they should have a much better record.
They do have some tough away games this year in New York (Giants), Pittsburgh and Tennessee. They also have to play Baltimore, Dallas and Philadelphia this year. I could see the Chargers going 9-7 or 10-6 this year.
The Chargers are definitely going to be a challenge in the AFC West. The Broncos are going to have to be flawless if they want to sweep the Chargers this year. I see them splitting the series, with both teams losing on the road.