Predicting The AFC West: Will Anybody Challenge San Diego In 2009?

Old AccountSenior Writer IJuly 22, 2009

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 07:  Linebacker Shawne Merriman #56 of the San Diego Chargers exhorts the crowd against the Carolina Panthers on September 7, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Panthers won 26-24.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

As the 2009 NFL season begins, the talk begins. Who will stay on top of the league as true contenders? Who will disappoint? Who will surprise?

As the formal predictions begin, we are taking a look at the AFC West, a division that had an 8-8 team as a representative. Yet, there is promise in the future of this division.

The Denver Broncos begin the post-Cutler era. The Oakland Raiders are still trying to live up to the expectations of their fans, while the Chiefs begin a new plan under a new front office, and head coach Todd Haley.

Who will take the division? Who will slump? Who shall make the most improvement in the AFC West?

1. San Diego Chargers—The San Diego Chargers head into the season as the favorite to win the division, with not much surprise. While no major moves were made this off season, every contributor was brought back to the roster in 2009. San Diego's defense comes at full strength this year, especially with linebacker Shawn Merriman back on the field.

On the offensive sign of the ball, Philip Rivers continues to improve his game, along with returning Antonio Gates at full health.

Not much trouble for San Diego this year, as the Chargers will head back to the playoffs once again.

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Prediction: 11-5

2. Denver Broncos—The Denver Broncos begin the 2009 season, known as the post Cutler era, without their franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler. In the offseason, they signed Pro-Bowl safety Brian Dawkins to try and improve the offseason woes. In his first season as head coach, Josh McDaniels will find it difficult.

Kyle Orton could play well in McDaniels' system, yet he didn't prove in Chicago he can throw the ball downfield where the receiving corps, led by Brandon Marshall,who loves to make the big grabs.

The addition of Dawkins helps the defense; but there are many holes on the field, particularly the lack of pass-rush.

The Broncos will play well in their home stadium; though a rough season does await in 2009.

Prediction: 7-9

3. Oakland Raiders—The silver and black finished the 2008 season on a winning streak under Tom Cable, despite being six games under .500.

The organization is expecting a progression from JaMarcus Russell, who has underachieved as the number one pick in the draft.

Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas are becoming a forceful running back combo beneath our eyes.

On the defensive side, the brightest spot is Nnamdi Asomugha, whom they signed to a long-term contract as a building piece on defense.

Tom Cable could be the answer in Oakland, that is, if he gets lee-way as coach to help build the roster.

The Raiders do face a tough schedule on the road, which includes; New York, Pittsburgh, and Dallas, along with games against the Eagles, Ravens, and Redskins.

The Raiders will put on a show, but are a few off seasons away from contending again, another losing season is coming for Oakland.

Prediction: 6-10

4. Kansas City Chiefs—The Kansas City Chiefs began their project by hiring new head coach Todd Haley, an offensive mastermind who led the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance.

With that, Kansas City traded for quarterback Matt Cassel, who had his career year with the Patriots. Just a few weeks ago the front office signed him to an extension, making him the quarterback for the forseeable future.

Receiver Dwayne Bowe continues to make strides as an offense threat, however, he is still the only bright spot in a weak team.

One of the worst offenses in the league in 2008, Kansas City shipped Tony Gonzalez out of town, their only productive weapon, statistically the best tight end in the NFL.

This year with the third overall pick, the Chiefs selected Tyson Jackson out of LSU. Along with Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City is building a defensive line for the future. However, with a very young squad, the talent is simply not there to build a winning team at the moment.

Prediction: 4-12

Matt Miselis is a writer for BleacherReport.com

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