The San Diego Chargers have the luxury of playing in the mild, mild west. Last year, the squad's three AFC West divisional foes mustered just 15 wins combined.
For Chargers fans, that looks nice on paper, but sometimes looks can be deceiving.
While Oakland, Kansas City and Denver appear to be automatic gimmes right now, will the three stooges still be considered cupcakes when the season begins? After all, nobody expected the Miami Dolphins or the Atlanta Falcons to make any noise in 2008. Could one of their rivals shock the Bolts?
The fact the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos are all expected to struggle should actually be making Chargers fans nervous. Here's why:
* Everyone laughs at the Raiders. But if you look at its roster, Oakland is creeping up. Sure, taking Darius Heyward-Bey with the seventh pick was a stretch, but the signing of Jeff Garcia could go a long way—if he ever gets on the field.
Granted, Oakland will have to admit Jamarcus Russell was a mistake and hand the keys to Garcia. That's a lot of dough for Al Davis to kiss goodbye. But if that happens, Oakland, which has a loaded backfield and a solid defense, could surprise. Seriously.
* Denver wasn't going anywhere with Jay Cutler under center. Is Cutler a Pro Bowl talent? Absolutely. But the guy was not a winner. Why? He's never won. Not in college. Not in the pros. Losing him isn't the colossal loss some pundits believe.
This doesn't mean that Kyle Orton will take the Broncos to the promised land, but he's not as bad as you think. New coach Josh McDaniels has taken a ton of heat this offseason, and some of it was deserved, but the guy has total confidence in what he's doing.
And while it wasn't a screaming need, selecting a running back as talented as Knowshon Moreno will look genius in a few years. Watch.
* Kansas City's new coach, Todd Haley, knows how to direct an offense. In Matt Cassell, he has a new quarterback who has tasted success.
The loss of Tony Gonzalez hurts the Chiefs, but Chargers fans know all too well how tough they played San Diego last year. This is a team that might not be contenders in 2009, but with Scott Pioli now running the show, will catch up before too long.
All those glowing reviews aside, it's a fact none of those teams have the roster the Chargers possess. But here's what football fans should remember when looking at the schedule: Football is a funny game.
Chargers fans know as well as anyone, injuries, bad calls and unlucky bounces have a way of ruining expectations. There's no denying the Chargers should win the division, and they should probably do it with ease.
But isn't that what everyone said last year?