Forever it seems, that the division has been among the toughest divisions in football.
Teams new they were in for a fight when they played the West and NOBODY wanted to visit. Arrowhead, Mile High, or the Black Hole...please. Not to slight the Chargers but I don't know anyone who would hate a trip to San Diego, the Chargers not withstanding.
In past years, nobody wanted to draw the AFC West.
With nobody over .500 last year a good bit of that luster was wiped clean and the fear was no longer there anymore, even at home. This year the teams are stacked with talent, they have made a number of front office and personnel moves throughout the division in an attempt to improve.
So as we stare into the 2009 season I wonder aloud, are they in need of some more time to age...or are the players and coaches set to regain that reputation? To get after it. And to do this damn thing!
Kansas City Chiefs: 2-14 in '08
The Chiefs really cleaned out the cupboard. Well more like raided the Patriots cupboard but hey, whatever it takes, right. They released Herm Edwards and though I love Herm, it was time to go.
They replaced him with Todd Haley and he wasted no time lighting a fire under his players. (He has rubbed a few players the wrong way though, and it seems there may be a few growing pains as they find some middle ground in K.C.)
The biggest news has to be acquiring Scott Pioli from the Pats. He has proven he can build a winner and his ability to pull the trigger and get Matt Cassel was proof of his abilities. Cassel may or may not be the star many think he is but he has done one critical thing for the Chiefs already.
The QB position is finally settled. The ailing line has improved dramatically with the additions they have made and they are much improved on both sides of the ball. That's where the fortunes will lie for the Chiefs, down in the mud and the muck with in the big uglies up front.
The Chiefs may have been tough for their fans to watch lately but amidst their slump, they have had a lot of success in one key area. The NFL draft. They are young and talented and that's a dangerous combination. If the young players can gel and the veterans can lead, things can improve in a hurry in KC.
The success of the season will not be Cassel's lone burden to bare. If the Chiefs turn a corner it will be the young studs on D...Flowers, Hali, Jackson and Dorsey. If these young guys can light that fire and keep it burning...then the domino's can start to fall into place.
The long tradition of winning football through a feared defense can once again reign, and return fear to the hearts of anyone traveling to Arrowhead.
Oakland Raiders: 5-11 in '08
The Raiders have tried numerous ways to regain the luster that is the Silver and Black. Different coaches,
high priced players but nothing has clicked as of yet in Oakland.
Recently however they have tried utilizing the draft, perhaps not so much this year but over the past few years they have put some very good players into place. Heyward-Bey will help the vertical attack while McFadden will have plenty of SportsCenter moments at tailback.
The new head coach Tom Cable is an offensive minded coach and has had a very productive offense everywhere he's been. The talent and speed is there for him but it all revolves around one man. JaMarcus Russell.
I know that many still wonder if he'll even be the starter come September, but if they are going to make a serious turn towards bettering themselves...he will be. He's a massive man, has a cannon for an arm and now has a coach that will gear things to him, but none of that is what really matters.
Entering the draft rumors circled that Russell would sit out a year rather than play for Oakland, true or false...you make the call. He did not seem to embrace the team early on though, and that is the where I see the tuning point.
JaMarcus calls a personal training camp for him and the receivers? How's that for embracing your team. That, I believe, is more than a just a story, it's huge!! He has the talent and Cable is proven as an offensive mind...so look for real fireworks Oakland this season.
As for the defense, well who even knows who the starters will be, do you? If the offense is clicking and scoring the points they're capable of, then the defense can take chances.
They may not be ready for prime time just yet, but I can tell you that few teams look as exciting. It seems like the Raiders are the proverbial "any given Sunday" kind of team in '09. However, with the talent they wield on offense, there's only six words that describe their potential...NaNaNa...NanNaNa
San Diego Chargers: 8-8 in '08
The Chargers have been the lead dog in the West for a couple of years now and one of the most talented teams in the NFL. They have played their best ball late in the season and have shined at times in the playoffs. Especially their quarterback Phillip Rivers.
They hope to get Merriman back at full strength and if they do, the Chargers will be looking awfully good again in '09.
L.T. has seen his best days, but may have one more good run in him as he tried to hold off Darren Sproles.
Rivers can hit the open man on call and does not need household names to shine. That said, the offense should be as good as advertised under Rivers. Add to that L.T. having something to prove. Watch out now.
The difference maker for the Chargers though should be it's defense, it's where their toast is buttered. Not because it's better than the offense but because it's the most solid unit in the division and could have them hosting games in January.
If Ron Rivera can find a way to get after the QB and protect his secondary (ranked 31st last year v. the pass) then the Chargers can finally live up to the hype.
The window of opportunity in the NFL is small and the Chargers need to get it done soon. If Rivers keeps his head straight and leads his team the way he's capable of, there's only one reason I can see that could hold them back. Norv...he's a wild card, and that has not been a strength for his teams in the playoffs.
Everyone expects big things in San Diego this year, as well they should. Rushing attack in order, a great QB, Merriman...a well rounded team like this can send a serious "Charge" up your backside if you're not ready to play 60 minutes of football.
Denver Broncos: 8-8 in '08
Last but not least the Broncos. It kind of depends on who you talk to around here as to the answer to the question, are the Broncos better off? Hands down the question is yes, in some areas at least...time will tell on the rest.
Lucky is better than good was the theme in '08 and Josh McDaniels has been charged with duty of flipping that theme on it's ear.
No Jay Cutler this year but as I said before when talking about the Chargers, wild cards are rarely helpful in the NFL. (Ahem T.O.) So I think the Broncos are better off in that aspect.
Meanwhile, Denver holds out hope that McDaniels has another QB spell in his bag for Kyle Orton. The offense was good last season but stats are deceptive and all the attention paid this off season to the "O" will pay dividends, especially on the ground.
Knowshon Moreno was a great get for McDaniels as was the veteran Brian Dawkins who can be that difference maker for the Broncos.
The secondary has been a great liability for years and the release of Dre Bly helped in ways that may prove immeasurable. McDaniels REALLY cleaned house on the defense and has brought a new air and a new attitude to the Rocky Mountains.
T.E.A.M. The single most lacking quality of the Broncos for years has been that one word.
They haven't been balanced on either side of the ball and it's showed, especially late in the year when it's harder to produce. They cleaned the cupboards and the attic and are starting fresh in Denver for the first time in a long time.
It's time to get after it again, to run teams into the ground, gasping for oxygen. It's time to snort fire and crap thunder again...in two words, Get Nasty.
The West has been too quiet lately and it seems things are about to change. Are they ready to regain their reputation as the toughest division in football...no. They are however ready to make some noise again and
noise is what defines the AFC West.
There's no question that the Chargers have everyone's attention, that's a given, and nobody wants to see them on the schedule. It's the other three teams that will define the division as a whole in 2009.
The Raiders? The offensive talent alone will give teams pause, and a trip to Oakland, come on. Who in their right mind, wants to see a black hole.
K.C.? Denver? They have been almost mirror images of each other since January. Now with the Cassell trade that involved Cutler, and the Patriot connection on both sides, there will be comparisons drawn for a while between the two clubs. Both teams have started from scratch and will look to their big uglies and their defenses to set the tone.
Qualcomm, Black Hole, Arrowhead, Mile High...the names say it all. The luster may have faded a bit, and the West may not be as lethal as it once was but do yourselves a favor fans...don't sleep!