2009 AFC West Predictions: Bolts Cruise

Pete TreperinasCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2009

ATLANTA - AUGUST 29:  Linebacker Shawn Merriman #56 of the San Diego Chargers sports a blue mohawk during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on August 29, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Falcons beat the Chargers 27-24.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

4. Kansas City Chiefs: 4-12

Matt Cassell isn't as good as people think he is. Look at all of the talent that he had around him in New England. The Patriots pass blocking was ranked 11th last year, as opposed to the Chiefs who ranked 30th.

And instead of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Cassell will throw to Dwayne Bow and Bobby Engram. The point is, Cassell didn't prove anything in my opinion last year, and before I'll give him credit, I want to see him win some football games with this Kansas City team.

A potential sleeper/comeback player this year is Larry Johnson. He's fallen from his top five running back status, but I believe that Johnson has at least two more years left in the tank. He had 874 yards for five touchdowns which isn't bad. 

Glenn Dorsey will continue to work hard in order to repair the defensive end position. When defensive end Jared Allen left KC for the Vikings a year ago, Dorsey was drafted to fill the void. Dorsey's rookie season wasn't too special, and the Chiefs were the second to worst defense in the NFL.

Kansas City made strides to help the D by drafting Dorsey's former teammate and fellow defensive end Tyson Jackson from LSU. The Chiefs also added veteran linebacker Zach Thomas, so things could be looking up. 

The other big change for the Chiefs was the coach. Herm Edwards is out and Todd Haley is in. Haley's resumé features seven years of assistant coaching, most notably being his job as offensive coordinator of the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals last year.

Things won't be pretty for Kansas City this year; 4-12.

3. Oakland Raiders: 7-9

2009 will be the Raiders best year since their trip to the Super Bowl in 2002.

This isn't really saying much though, seeing as Oakland hasn't won more than five games in a season since '02. 

JaMarcus Russell is maturing and we know he has a great arm. But if things get hairy this season, I have a feeling the Raiders won't hesitate to give veteran Jeff Garcia a shot. 

I feel like this will be Darren McFadden's year to break out. In 13 games McFadden had just shy of 500 yards and found the end-zone four times. Not a bad start considering Oakland's offensive line isn't too special and he was primarily the back-up to Justin Fargas. 

As of now, McFadden is still listed as the second-string tailback, but I can see this changing if he has a couple big games. 

I have Johnnie Lee Higgins penciled in to be another break-out player on this Raiders roster. This will be his third year, and after scoring four touchdowns and after logging 366 yards on 16 receptions, Higgins could be headed towards the number one receiver slot for Oakland. He was also the Raiders primary punt returner in 2008. 

As for the defense, coordinator John Marshall comes over from Seattle and brings with him d-line coach Dwaine Board. Nnamdi Asomugha was an All-Pro last year, and the safeties look pretty good as well. 

The Raiders are not a playoff team or anything too close to it either, but they will show signs of life in 2009. 

2. Denver Broncos: 8-8

Let me start by saying Kyle Orton isn't that bad. He compiled a 21-12 record with the Bears and actually had a pretty decent 2008 campaign. 

Orton also has a fairly decent group of receivers as well. With Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal, and hopefully Brandon Marshall, I think Denver has a chance to do all right this year. 

Knowshon Moreno is the future at running back for the Broncos, and he could make an immediate impact. He'll compete with LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter, so I look for Moreno to get quite a few carries in 2009. 

This is pretty close to the same Broncos team that had the second best offense in the NFL. And sure, they lost a Pro Bowler in Cutler, but they gained head coach Josh McDaniels who was the offensive coordinator in New England where he produced one of the best offenses ever in 2007. 

In addition to McDaniels, Mike Nolan comes in as the new defensive coordinator. Long-time Eagle free safety Brian Dawkins signed with Denver this off-season as well. Dawkins is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a potential Hall Of Famer, and he'll now get a chance to play in the secondary with another future Hall member in cornerback Champ Bailey. 

People seem to think that when Cutler had his tantrum and was traded, the Broncos were automatically forfeiting the 2009 season. But I look at Kyle Orton as an efficient passer, and McDaniels has experience with potent offenses. Denver won't win the division, but they're going to be a fairly competitive football team. 

1. San Diego Chargers: 12-4

For a number of years, the AFC West has belonged to the Chargers. This year will be no different. 

The only difference this year will be that San Diego's defense will be better than their offense. The Chargers will stick with the 3-4 defense this year. I like both Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie to lock down the secondary, and a healthy Shawne Merriman will lead the defensive line. 

I'm going to come right out and say that Merriman is the best linebacker in the game, and he's pretty young too. He'll be terrorizing the AFC West for years.

I still think LaDainian Tomlinson is one of top four or five running backs in the NFL. It's funny that after he had a 1,100 yard season with 11 touchdowns a lot of people seem to think he's fallen off the map.

He didn't put up his usual stats, but Tomlinson's 2008 stats are nothing to be mad about. LT is still the guy who you want carrying the ball when you need that first down or a touchdown in the red-zone.

Philip Rivers has his work cut out for him if he wants to top his 4,000 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 105.5 passer rating from 2008. Rivers has completely developed into the leader that the Chargers were hoping he'd be. But let's not forget his job is a lot easier when he has tight end Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and Chris Chambers to throw to.

The San Diego Chargers will win the AFC West, and possibly the whole damn AFC for that matter.


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