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AFC West: A Preview of the Division and How the West Is Won

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20:  Quarterback Kyle Orton #8 of the Denver Broncos passes against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 20, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
John SzurlejAnalyst IAugust 30, 2011

The AFC West is a division where you never truly know how things will play out.

There are a bunch of teams all scrambling for the division title (and all capable of getting there), but it remains to be seen if the West's representative will actually contend in the playoffs.

Here is a breakdown of the teams and where they should end up this season.

 

Oakland Raiders

This is the perfect example of a roller coaster team. The Raiders are bad, good, average, bad, good, and average as time goes by. Owner Al Davis is the NFL's mad scientist, as he continues to collect players that resemble the motley crew of the league; putting them out to play.

Jason Campbell, Trent Edwards and Kyle Boller are the Quarterbacks and despite the declaration of a starter, I mention all three due to the issues of injury and the (at times) revolving door of the position in Oakland. I think Campbell is overrated, Edwards is washed up, and Boller is average at best.

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 26:  Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders runs against Fili Moala #95 of the Indianapolis Colts during an NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December  26, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The real captain of this team starts in the backfield as Darren McFadden is primed to make another quiet campaign as one of the most overlooked running backs in the league.

If McFadden can stay healthy all season, look for his numbers to improve as he truly sets the pace for this Raiders team and is the heart and soul of the offense.

Complimenting McFadden is Michael Bush, who is capable of being a spot starter, but mainly is effective as a change of pace back. Him splitting carries with McFadden will provide a good combination in the ground game that will carry this team.

In the receiving corps, Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford will continue to mature and each have moments where one will outshine the other in the season.  A key to the effectiveness of the receiving game needs to see Darrius Heyward-Bay step up and start making consistent plays.

Tight End Kevin Boss should provide another quality option for the passing game in certain match-ups as he is not a consistent threat in every game. 

Defensively, the Raiders are average and must see improvements in certain areas to be able to dictate the tempo of the game.  The unit allowed over 30 points to be scored against them six times in their eight losses last year.

HOUSTON - OCTOBER 17:  Quarterback Matt Cassel #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws passes during warm ups before playing the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on October 17, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Look for the raiders to continue their holding pattern and finish 6-10.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

This is another team that makes you scratch your head. 

The Chiefs continue to play their version of football in what I refer to as the tricks and mirrors offense.

Quarterback Matt Cassell is the modern day version of Trent Dilfer, as he will continue to be on a leash and throw only when necessary. The upside is that when he does his throws are usually safe, as he is not a gambler which keeps his interceptions down. 

The scary thing here is that he is one injury away from leaving the team without a proven quarterback capable of leading this team which could be a death knell to the season.

The ground game will be the main focus of this team once again. The combination of Jaamal Charles and Dexter McCluster (replacing Thomas Jones) gives the Chiefs exciting playmakers that will be the key to success in Kansas City.  if either back struggles, Jones may step in and contribute in an increased role and on situational downs.

Charles should be fine after tweaking his knee, and if not, McCluster should be able to handle the workload.

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 11:  Knowshon Moreno #27 of the Denver Broncos at Cowboys Stadium on August 11, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Receiving wise, the Chiefs rely on Dwayne Bowe to be the primary target. It would be scary to see the numbers he could produce provided he had a better quarterback throwing to him, but despite that he can produce when it counts which speaks to his talents as he scored 15 touchdowns last season.

Defenses will double team Bowe and try to press him which adds more pressure to him so he needs another receiver to help counteract this.

The Chiefs drafted wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and we will have to see how he handles his duties against regular season defenses. Look for Steve Breaston to work his way into the mix to help Bowe especially in press coverage situations.

Defensively, the Chiefs need the linebackers to help carry the team and protect the second level against big run plays as most of their wins came against teams that weren't competitors last season.

Outside of that, I have concerns. Look for them to end up at 5-11.

 

Denver Broncos

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 27:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers watches from the sidelines during the preseason NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 27, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cha
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This year's Broncos look to make gains and it seems possible that this could be a sleeper team in the West and possibly make a run for the division if the cards are played right.

Kyle Orton leads the team and should have less of a burden now that Knowshon Moreno is the main back to provide the rushing impact. Orton will continue to look to Brandon Lloyd to continue to make plays but Eddie Royal must elevate his game to take the pressure off of him.

Willis McGahee has shown this preseason that he can be effective and bring sorely needed aid into the end zone, as he will see a majority of the goal line scores.  McGahee should produce nicely and be a very credible player for defenses to be concerned with.

Defensively, the Broncos' face is Champ Bailey. Look for him to try to lead the unit, but at the same time, there is only so much one man can do. There is still much needed improvement in all areas here and it will be a tall order for the Broncos against teams like Green Bay, the NY Jets, and Patriots this year.

Look for the team to improve and finish at 9-7.

 

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers are always a dangerous team as they have a lot of talent and pose difficulties for defensive coordinators around the league.

Phillip Rivers continues to be one of the league's tier one quarterbacks and he should continue to lead this team without much difficulty.

The backfield offers Ryan Matthews, who if stays healthy, could finally be the player the team hoped for. Mike Tolbert provides a capable second string running back and should see most of the third down carries in the Chargers' packages.

Though, if Matthews goes down again, Tolbert could hold his own and provide enough of a ground game for the team.

Wide Receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd should be able to continue making plays and open the field up as they are one of the better combinations in the league at this position.  Additionally, look for Patrick Crayton to contribute when back form his injury.

The Chargers are hoping they don't need help at this position early on as the depth is somewhat limited.  The insurance policy is Antonio Gates, who needs no introduction. Gates will be a massive part of the offense and will be a force again in the NFL.

Defensively, the Chargers have enough to get the job done, but it's not an elite unit. However, look for improvements to be seen in the secondary and line backer positions.

Overall, the team is set to rebound from its somewhat lackluster 2010 campaign and I'm forecasting the Chargers to finish at 11-5 and win the division.

The AFC West is a division on the rise and will provide a lot of entertaining games and interesting divisional games. 

If the teams in this division can all play to their potential, it could be a very interesting scenario. Only time will tell.

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