AFC West Preview: Making Headlines for All the Wrong Reasons

William RisserCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2009

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 14:  Runningback LaMont Jordan #34 is tackled by Linebacker Shawne Merriman #56 and Defensive End Luis Castillo #93 of the San Diego Chargers during the 2nd half of their NFL game on October 14, 2007 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Before training camp, during training camp, and through the preseason to now, the teams of the AFC West led the NFL in negative headlines.

With Merriman's Tequila-related arrest, a broken jaw in Raider Land, and a Broncos wideout currently throwing a fit worthy of a six-year-old, I think it's safe to say that no other NFL division even approaches the level of dysfunction achieved by the AFC West.

While some of the sideshow was expected given the total overhaul of the rest of the division, this is not a good thing for the Chargers. Outside of Antonio Cromartie's tweet decrying the culinary offerings at training camp, it had been a quiet, productive preseason. 

Now this. Another Chargers player arrested this offseason—a list that also includes Jamal Williams and Vincent Jackson. So much for rising above the sheer buffoonery that has kept the spotlight on the division for the wrong reasons. 

Now that the regular season is upon us, it will be interesting to see which of the myriad of events makes the biggest difference. Here's a look at what each AFC West team did on and off the field this preseason and what it might mean as the season is poised to open this Thursday night. 


San Diego ChargersFast start can quiet distractions

The dog and pony show that is Merriman's citizens arrest by everyone's favorite bisexual reality show tramp, Tila Tequila, takes the cake. Through the preseason injury free and focused, the Chargers really didn't need this.

It's safe to say crimetime31's Aug. 4 tweet is long forgotten now. 

But as it stands, the San Diego community is really rallying around Merriman. In a case of "he-said-she-said" such as this, the battle of public perception is key. So far, the story has been framed as Merriman trying to keep a drunken publicity strumpet from driving drunk. I don't think he's got much to worry about.

What's more important to the Chargers is getting off to a good start to the season, something that hasn't happened in Norv Turner's tenure. If that happens, all will be forgotten. If not, there are going to be a lot of uncomfortable questions during the Week 5 bye. 

After the final, and second blacked out, preseason game it was time for the Bolts to issues pink slips to get to the 53-man roster. The final cut had a few surprises, which included guard Kynan Forney and defensive lineman Ian Scott.

The departure of Forney and Scott makes the offensive and defensive lines dependent on some younger players, Vaughn Martin and Ogemdi Nwagbuo on defense and Louis Vasquez and Brandyn Dombrowski on offense, which is a gamble if you ask me. 

The lack of depth at corner is made up for by keeping versatile safeties like Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver. However, the situation at strong safety isn't solved. Clinton Hart and Kevin Ellison both had their moments but neither stepped up and took hold of the starting spot.

If defensive coordinator Ron Rivera wants to open up the defense he's going to have to trust his strong safety to keep big plays from happening. Right now, I don't know that he can.

The trade for defensive lineman Travis Jackson will help with the loss of Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire's lingering injury issues. How the defense handles the run will be directly tied to how well the defensive line comes together.

In the preseason, the only thing close to as good as the Bolts' passing game was the run defense at 91 yards per game. Beyond that, there were few areas where the Chargers excelled.

The pass rush was woeful. Four sacks in four games? Not nearly good enough. The offensive line gave up 12 sacks, which is basically half as many sacks as Rivers took last season in 16 games. 

The lack of turnovers was disturbing as well. Hopefully, it was a result of Rivera going with a vanilla game plan. You don't go very far with a turnover ratio of 0. 

It's all about the opening quarter of the season for San Diego. Three AFC playoff teams and a trip to Heinz Field will determine a great deal regarding postseason seeding. After that it's onto the rest of the AFC West foes and smoother sailing. 


Oakland RaidersThe NFL is going to miss Al Davis' antics someday 

When Raiders assistant coach Randy Hanson went to the hospital on Aug. 5, another chapter was added to the ever more bizarre history of the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis hasn't seen a lot of good headlines recently so it wasn't too big of a surprise

The Jeff Garcia cut leaves the entire fate of the offense in Jamarcus Russell's hand. I thought the Raiders would have had a fighting chance with the veteran Garcia leading them. I figured he'd get a shot once Russell inevitably imploded.

Nope, Russell can't take the competition, so Garcia is gone. Should have seen it coming given we're talking about the Raiders. 

Despite the disarray, this is a talented collection of players. The trading of 2011's first-round pick for aging Patriots defender Richard Seymour adds to that talent, but he hasn't exactly beat a trail out to Oaktown. Who knows when he will.  

Really, who's leading this mob? New Orleans' decimation of them, 45-7, this preseason encapsulated what a mess this is. 

The Raiders host the Chargers in the second half of Monday Night Football's opening night, literally the last game of a long weekend. There will be significant pressure, given all the hype and headlines, for San Diego to do well. All the Silver and Black have to do is not look like a Pop Warner team. 


Denver BroncosNew look, same results 

Now, we all know the Jay Cutler, forced trade to the Chicago Bears began the offseason headlines. And when Cutler came back to Denver it was a different atmosphere than most preseason games. Too bad Kyle Orton may now have issues with the shredding the index finger on his throwing hand took. 

Before that, Orton seemed to be getting settled into his caretaker role: hand it off, nothing downfield, and don't turn it over. 

Then there's Brandon Marshall acting like a clown and getting suspended by his own team to facilitate a trade out of town. I guess that means a lot more balls for Eddie Royal. 

With Josh McDaniels dressing like Bill Belichick and putting the same slogans on walls, it's clear he will not relent in putting his stamp on this team. If the Broncos defense can manage not to be terrible, a repeat of last season's 8-8 record is a possibility. 


Kansas City ChiefsInjuries and upheaval 

When your $63 million quarterback goes down and the offensive coordinator is abruptly fired, people smell a story. In this case, the story is that the Chiefs are a bad team. But better than the 2-14 team of last season? The remains to be seen. 

New head coach Todd Haley has had a rough go of it so far. On top of the knee injury to Matt Cassell and Chan Gailey getting the boot, the offensive line is a mess and the defense hasn't made any noticeable improvement. 

Saying the Chiefs are a work in progress is more than an understatement. You have to feel for Larry Johnson.

Opening in Baltimore will not be kind, and no matter who's at quarterback, they're going to be running for their life. The rest of the schedule doesn't get much easier, making for a long year.

And this goes for the entire AFC West. Having to play the AFC North and the AFC East is going to put a hurt on the entire division. Only the Chargers have a chance at beating anywhere near the majority of those teams. Even then, it won't be easy given the travel and elements involved. 


Odd bits and more

I finally found the time to watch The History of the San Diego Chargers. It's a must for any diehard Chargers fan. The archival footage is great. It's premiering tonight in Mission Valley.


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