2009 AFC West Preview: Chargers to Win Again

NC Nighthawk@NC Nighthawk (my Xbox gamertag)Analyst IJuly 8, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 11:  Snow falls as Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers calls out signals at the line of scrimmage against the Pittsburgh Steelers during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steelers won 35-24.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The big question regarding the AFC West is not who will win the division in 2009, but how deep will the San Diego Chargers go in the postseason?

The Chargers have proven they can handle the Indianapolis Colts again and again, but in the playoffs, they struggle against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots.

Like the AFC East, selecting the expected champion for the 2009 season is easy. It’s evaluating the other three teams that is so challenging.

The San Diego Chargers will easily win the NFL’s easiest division. The Chargers simply have the talent and they lack competition in their division.

Phillip Rivers is developing into an elite NFL quarterback, showing improvement season by season. His wide receivers are also improving, especially with towering Vincent Jackson emerging as their No. 1 target.

We were down on LaDainian Tomlinson in 2008, as he hobbled through the season and lost carries to Darren Sproles. But maybe LT has one more healthy and inspirational season left in him.

With a healthy Shawne Merriman returning, the Chargers defense will play consistently better than they did in the 2008 campaign.

Okay, someone will have to place second in the AFC West. I reluctantly select the Denver Broncos.

Losing QB Jay Cutler may prove to be a disaster for new head coach Josh McDaniels. If the Broncos maintain an effective running game, the offense should do okay with QB Kyle Orton.

Denver’s defense is simply a disaster, particularly against the rush. So why am I predicting the Broncos to finish second?

I may be wrong, and Kansas City may emerge, if they all of a sudden play fundamentally sound like the Atlanta Falcons turned things around last season. That is a big if.

The Chiefs acquired quarterback Matt Cassel from the Patriots in the offseason and we will find out exactly how good of a QB Cassel is. Is Cassel talented, or a product of a system?

Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley are his wide receivers and they are competent. Will Larry Johnson surprise us with a productive season in the backfield, if the passing game works out, and he faces fewer eight-man fronts?

The Chiefs’ defense was terrible last year, but it has nowhere to go but up. First-round pick Tyson Jackson should help with the pass rush in the new 3-4 scheme.

After going 2-and-14, Kansas City has no where to go but up.

The Oakland Raiders finished the 2008 season on a positive note. However, they still won’t find the end zone often enough.

Quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s passing game is still among the worst in the league, as he still struggles to read NFL defenses. Rookie Darrius Heywood-Bey more than likely won’t be the answer this season.

Their running game should be respectable with Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas, if they avoid injuries.

Defensively, the Raiders have issues regarding getting to the opposing quarterback, which puts major pressure on their secondary to make plays.

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