The AFC West clearly had a down year last year with San Diego escaping with the division crown at 8-8. The Chargers edged out the Broncos on the last game of the season after starting 5-8, since that point those two teams have went in opposite directions the Chargers advanced to the AFC divisional round only to lose out to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.
The Broncos meanwhile promptly fired their longtime coach Mike Shanahan after their late season collapse and traded their up and coming quarter back Jay Cutler. On paper it would seem the Broncos will be in for a very long year and have probably taken two or three steps backwards in their development, the Chargers meanwhile may have gotten even stronger with the resigning of franchise player Darren Sproles and stud pass rusher Shawn Merriman will be returning from a injury that caused him to miss a majority of last season.
With the Chargers the clear class of the division the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders will more than likely be battling it out for second place in the division.
San Diego Chargers: Last season was almost enough to get head coach Norv Turner fired and if he would have lost last season’s finale against the Broncos he very well may have been , but the team went on a amazing late season run that saved his job. The Chargers will have their easiest route to a divisional title in many years the main concern will be getting running back Ladainian Tomlinson back on track after he suffered his worst season since his first year in the league.
The return of all pro pass rusher Shawn Merriman should help as well with the Chargers unable to generate a pass rush much of last season their defense should be back on track. The Chargers are far and away the most experienced and talented team in the division anything less than winning the division would be a wasted year and could cost Norv Turner his job.
Odds on winning the division: 1.5-1
Denver Broncos: Talk about a team in disarray, last year in November the Broncos had a three game lead with three games left in the season. The Chargers looked old and the Broncos looked like the team that would take control of the division for the next five years, after a three game slide at the end the Broncos lost their long time coach then traded star quarterback Jay Cutler. Now Brandon Marshall the up and coming receiver wants out of town as well, it seems like all the progress the Broncos have made over the past three seasons has been completely lost.
First year head coach Josh McDaniels who comes from the Patriots organization has quite a tough road laid out for him to get this team back to being perennial division powers. The only positive for the Broncos this off season has been a solid draft class highlighted by Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno and defensive end Robert Ayers.
Odds on winning the division: 10-1
Kansas City Chiefs: This has been a off season of change for the Chiefs, Carl Peterson the long time general manager and occasional face of the franchise is gone so is coach Herm Edwards and perhaps the greatest Chief of all time Tony Gonzalez. Not all is lost though Scott Pioli has taken over the general manager duties and he brought tough talking Todd Haley to coach the inexperienced team.
Most of the players from the Herm Edwards youth movement are still here while coach Haley and Pioli try to figure out which ones will fit the system. Meanwhile most of the veterans from that era have been replaced by Zach Thomas, Mike Goff, Mike Vrabel and Mike Brown but this season will come down how much success first year Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel can have behind a partially improved offensive line and how quick the defense will respond to the switch to the 3-4 defense. The Chiefs may have the pieces in place to be on the rise but they are at least another season away from competing.
Odds on winning the division: 11-1
Oakland Raiders: Year after year it is the same story in Oakland a new coach who owner Al Davis will eventually sabotage and ruin any progress the team is making. If Davis would have left Lane Kiffin in place as coach this could have been the season the Raiders took a real jump with young players like JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and rookie receiver Darius Howard-Bey.
The Raiders are set up for the long term better than any team in the division but may take longer than normal to reach their potential due to a revolving door of coordinators and coaches. The most important thing for the Raiders to establish this season is consistency. The Raiders have the core of talented players to be successful but they new consistency in the playbook, the roster and most importantly the coaching. If the Raiders keep Tom Cable as their coach for the next three years the raiders could really blossom as a AFC power in the next two to four years.
Odds on winning the division: 20-1