This year, I expect every team in the AFC West to improve. This division won't be quite as easy for the Chargers as it has been in the past few seasons, as each team has a young quarterback with much to prove.
In KC, is Matt Cassell going to return to form? In Denver, how often will the Broncos utilize their newest weapon, who happens to be one of the most heralded college players of all time? In Oakland, how much better is Jason Campbell than JaMarcus Russell?
All these questions will be answered this season, and here's my take on how it will end up.
Jamaal Charles started to come on at the end of last season, and Todd Haley is bound to be better than his 4-12 posting last year. The Chiefs are now one of the younger teams in the league, and in a few years, under the guidance of Scott Pioli, will be a fierce squad.
First-round draft pick Eric Berry also hopes to be worth the money, signing a contract making him the highest paid safety in NFL history, before playing. Matt Cassell also comes off of a campaign in which he showed signs of weakness not as visibly present during his stint as the Patriots QB in 2008, guiding that New England team to an 11-5 record.
While their competition will provide some close games (as division games often do), I still think both a lack of experience and leadership will hurt the Chiefs this year. On the bright side, it's just growing pains, and watch out in a few years.
My Prediction: 6-10
The Broncos shouldn't finish in third place. Odds are, they probably won't. However, ending a season on a 2-8 skid is not promising for a team that started the season 6-0.
The team drafted arguably the most popular player in the draft in Tim Tebow, but also selected Demaryius Thomas in the first round: a promising group of men.
Josh McDaniels is hungry to continue what he started last season: a more physical defense and a quick, high-flying offense. Then, things begin to look less promising. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who really turned around the Broncos D, left for Miami. The Broncos' star linebacker, Elvis Dumervil, may be out the whole season. Both RB Knowshon Moreno and RB Correll Buckhalter got hurt in the first practice of training camp, with injuries that may impede on their seasons as well. Of course, while they have WR Eddie Royal, the Broncos also lost their leading receiver, Brandon Marshall, also to the Dolphins.
Overall, what once looked promising doesn't quite look so strong.
My prediction: 7-9
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think the Oakland Raiders are in for a better season. T
heir offense finally has a competent QB, although nothing is ever guaranteed with the Raiders, especially with Al Davis at the helm. However, with all of the unfortunate luck that has befallen the Broncos, and the Chiefs having less experience, this team actually could finish with the second best record in the division.
I also don't think that translates into a playoff berth, especially in the very tough AFC, but look for the Raiders to play the spoiler for some playoff hopefuls, as they tend to do every year, even when they really aren't good. They actually also had a pretty good draft, and I expect their defense to continue to play pretty well, as long as Nnamdi Asomugha is their CB. This should be enough to place second, even if they manage a losing record.
My Prediction 7-9 (win tiebreaker over Broncos)
This team is still, both on paper and on the field, the best team in this division. I expect it to continue its reign of dominance, although it should be a different team due to losing LT, no matter his lack of effectiveness the last few seasons.
I think if the Chargers are to get further in the playoffs, two things must happen.
The first is K Nate Kaeding must get over his nerves. If the Chargers are ever going to go to the Super Bowl with this squad, he's got to get himself under control and make a kick in the playoffs.
Second, Vincent Jackson has to continue to play as well as he has when he returns from a 10 game absence, but the other receivers need to step up, especially while he is out. While Jackson demands double coverage, and Antonio Gates remains one of the top TEs in the league, the rest of the corps must establish themselves as more than a supporting cast.
My Prediction: 10-6