How the AFC West Will be Won: Team by Team Look
The AFC West should be an interesting division to watch in 2010. The defending division champ is coming off another disappointing playoff loss, while the other three teams failed to make the playoffs.
This could be the year that the balance of power shifts in the AFC West, and it could also be the year that the division has a chance to field two teams in the playoffs.
There has been new high profile coaches added and new high profile players added. A future Hall of Famer will no longer be in a certain backfield, and for the first time in a long time, the Raiders will have the same head coach roaming the sidelines for three consecutive years.
Each team has a road map to success they need to follow if they plan on winning the division. Let's take a look at what each team needs to do during the offseason and what they need to do during the season to claim the division title.
The Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are coming back from another season at the bottom of the AFC West. This was a team that I felt last year could have won the division title, after some of their offseason moves.
They just forgot how to block and how to stop other offenses.
The Chiefs have a lot of money to spend, and so far have done some spending by adding more former Patriots to the team. They have added coaches that enjoyed more success being assistants than head coaches. Charlie Weiss is the new offensive coordinator and Romeo Crennel is the new defensive coordinator.
The coaching staff is solid, now they must get the right players to take them to the next step.
They also added Thomas Jones and have brought back Chris Chambers, which should make the Chiefs offense under new offensive coordinator Weis an overall better unit.
They currently possess the fifth pick in the draft and should address one of a couple areas of need. There are about three or four offensive tackles that could start right from the start and make an impact. This would be great for quarterback Matt Cassel and for Jones.
There are also some safeties that may be on the radar.
For the Chiefs to make a push to win the division title they need to get more out of their defense, especially young guys Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson who were drafted high to make an impact.
The offense should be a much improved unit, and should help the defense out.
If the Chiefs can improve on defense they will have an opportunity to compete for the division title. Their offense currently looks like an offense that has potential to put up points and dominate the time of possession.
Record Prediction: 7-9
The Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have had their struggles in the last seven years, but are not far off from competing within the division. They split their season series with the Broncos and Chiefs, and came very close to beating the Chargers on opening night.
One of the reasons for the Raiders struggles in the last seven years is the lack of continuity from the head coaching position. Tom Cable has returned as the head coach, and this will give the locker room more continuity than they've had in a long time.
They too have added a new offensive coordinator in Hue Jackson, who should help improve the Raiders offense that was very weak in 2009.
The Raiders have a lot of young talent on offense, and have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. If the offense can create more points and keep drives alive then the defense can be a top-10 defense.
The biggest question of the offseason for the Raiders is JaMarcus Russell. He is coming off a horrible year, and needs to have a strong offseason to keep his starting job and possibly save his career.
The Raiders need more production from their last three first round draft picks, Russell, Darren McFadden, and Darius Heyward-Bey. Luckily for the Raiders they have later round picks in Michael Bush, Zach Miller, Louis Murphy, and Chaz Schilens who can step up and be major players.
The Raiders have the eighth overall pick in this year's draft.
Perhaps one of the biggest weaknesses the Raiders have had in the last seven years is the offensive line. They have not had one pro bowl player from the offensive line since Lincoln Kennedy in 2002. This is why they have gone through so many starting quarterbacks since 2002. With no protection, no quarterback can be successful and no proven quarterback would want to come to Oakland.
They've ignored this position for a very long time, and have only drafted one since they drafted their quarterback of the future in 2007. As a matter of fact, they've ignored it so much, that it might be the only position that makes sense to draft with the eighth overall choice.
If the Raiders can solidify their offensive line, their strength will be their running game. Bush and McFadden should benefit from being the two primary backs. The Raiders don't need a quarterback to win them games with his arm, they just need one that can manage the offense and reduce turnovers.
The Raiders are an offensive line away from competing for the title. If they can fix this issue the Raiders should finish first or second in the division.
Record Prediction: 8-8
The Denver Broncos
The Broncos started last season better than any team could hope for. A 6-0 record to start the season should all but secure a team a playoff spot. Their start was surprising considering the fact that new head coach Josh McDaniels traded away their young pro bowl quarterback.
McDaniels was trying to run a tight ship, and follow in the footsteps of his mentor Bill Belichick. The Broncos late season collapse, which was worse than the previous year, all but assured the rest of the world that McDaniels is no where near the coach Belichick is.
Their bright spot last year was the way the defense played early in the season. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan made the Broncos defense a force that put fear into many offenses.
The defense had been a weakness for Denver for many years, but with Nolan at the helm it was their strength. They ranked in the top-10 in the league for the first time since 2004. So it made a lot of sense for McDaniels to let Nolan go after such a successful year.
The Broncos are in a very uncomfortable situation. Their head coach is starting to weed out the players and coaches he doesn't like. Unfortunately, one was a pro bowl quarterback, one was a good defensive coach and others were solid under old coach Mike Shanahan.
Brandon Marshall appears to be on the list also.
The Broncos defense must try and duplicate their success from last season if the Broncos want to compete for the division title. Their defense is old, so it wouldn't hurt to add some young guys.
The offense should be okay unless Marshall finds a new team. Then that would leave the Broncos with a lot of questions.
They currently hold the 11th pick in the draft, and they could look at many options. Dez Bryant has been mentioned in that spot. The Broncos might be better off looking at Ronaldo McClain or another defensive player.
The Broncos surprised a lot of teams early in the season, but I don't see it happening this season. If they want to compete for the title, they must try and keep Marshall and make sure their defense doesn't get weaker.
Record Prediction: 6-10
The San Diego Chargers
Last year marked yet another division title for the San Diego Chargers. It also marked another empty handed trip to the playoffs. The Chargers were one of the most successful teams of last decade and one of the most talented. That wasn't enough to win a Superbowl, which would have been their first one ever.
It may be a consolation to Charger fans that Drew Brees, the quarterback they traded away, led his team to a Superbowl and won the MVP. Maybe not.
The Chargers should be in a good spot next year. They still have the most talented quarterback in the division, and their offensive line is still a solid unit.
The biggest question for them is who will run the football for them? They recently released LaDanian Tomlinson, who signed with the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
They hold the 28th pick in the draft, and they should be looking at a running back or a defensive tackle because they also released long-time defensive tackle Jamal Williams.
The Chargers are notorious for slow starts, and terrific finishes. This year the AFC West looks to be more competitive and a slow start is something the Chargers can't afford.
They have plenty of picks in the draft this year, so look for them to get younger at many positions.
For them to stay atop the AFC West they must find a running back that can bang inside the tackles. This is a pass heavy team, that needs a bruising back. If they can find a running back that can share the load with Darren Sproles efficiently then they should be able to regain their title.
Record Prediction: 9-7