Based on all I've been reading, it's seen as conventional wisdom that San Diego Chargers will win their fourth straight AFC West title this season. After all, the competition is pretty weak.
Admittedly, the competition doesn't look very strong, but really, are the Chargers such a sure thing? For one thing, we're talking about a team that started 4-8 (ok, it should've been 5-7, but still), and only made into the playoffs do to the compelte meltdown of the Denver Broncos.
This mediocrity occured despite a stellar season by Philip Rivers. Are we counting on him putting up similar numbers in '09? He has a good shot, but I wouldn't call it a guarantee.
First off, are the Broncos guaranteed to suck? I don't think so.
Kyle Orton played fairly well with the Bears last year, and he'll have a lot more talent in Denver. Brandon Marshall might miss a few games, but still, he'll have Eddie Royal, who really stood out in his rookie campaign last year, along with Jabar Gaffney who played well in New England despite being overshadowed by Moss and Welker.
Orton doesn't have the strong arm like Cutler, but he's had enough success to inspire at least some confidence in Bronco's fans.
Then, there's the Chiefs, who probably have the best chance to do what the Dolphins did last year. It's been two horrible seasons, but the addition of Matt Cassel provides them with consistency at QB for the first time since 2005, while Mike Vrabel, and first-round pick Tyson Jackson will definitely improve their struggling defense.
Add to this a coach and GM who know what they're doing, and the Chiefs certainly have a chance.
As for the Raiders, they improved a bit last year, and at times actually looked like a decent team for once. This year is probably the make or break year for JaMarcus Russell (although No. 1 overall picks get more chances than most).
He looked good at times last year, but has yet to put together a consistently good season. He has some decent weapons on offense, with Darren McFradden and Justin Fargas at running back, and Javon Walker and the speedy Johnnie Lee Higgins at receiver.
It might take another year for the Raiders to truly "arrive", but they should at least improve this year. 8-8 is at least a possibility.
The point is, two out of the three other teams are better than they were last year, and the Broncos aren't as bad as people think they are. The Chargers can't afford to sleep through the first 12 games like they did last year.
If LaDainian tomlinson can get his old form back, and Rivers can put up big numbers, they are still the favorites, but those are two pretty big "ifs", and fans in Kansas City, Oakland, and even Denver have reason to be optimistic that the bolts will fall to earth in '09.