The Kansas City Chiefs will win the AFC West this year. That team has top-level talent (Jamal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali) and depth at almost every position (unlike some other teams, they seem to have recognized that players like Kevin Boss and Brady Quinn, while unreliable for consistent first-string production over 16 games, are great insurance policies).
What’s more, the Chiefs have players that do different things well. Consider:
- The contrasting running styles of Charles and Hillis;
- Dexter McCluster’s value in the return game and as an underneath route-runner to move the chains against teams that shift too much attention the way of downfield threats Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin;
- Management may not trust Javier Arenas as a full-time corner, adding Stanford Routt to replace Brandon Carr, but he is a solid back-up and an explosive returner.
The one clear deficiency on this team is at quarterback and in the coach’s booth. Matt Cassel must devote himself this year, as Alex Smith did in 2011, to minimizing turnovers and trusting his running game and defense to carry the team to wins in close games. Romeo Crennel has never generated consistent production from his players, and you wonder if the likes of Bowe, Baldwin, and starting defensive end (!) Glenn Dorsey will stay the course if they struggle early on.
Kansas City gets the nod over the rest of the division because of its schedule. I defy you to find a game in which the Chiefs will be outclassed. If they survive back-to-back road contests in Buffalo and New Orleans in Weeks 2 and 3, they could build a big lead in the division.
I am high on the Broncos, too, actually, assuming Peyton Manning can stay healthy. They have a talented, deep team, especially on defense. But the Broncos face the AFC North and NFC South plus New England and Houston. The Broncos are stuck with the football gods this year, and they are not smiling on them.
This year’s Chargers could have taken the Division from last year’s competition. They will play an improved brand of defense, I am confident. Everyone is talking about first-round sensation Melvin Ingram and Larry English’s improved health – and those guys don’t even start at outside linebacker! The Chargers rotate those two along with sack-specialist Antwan Barnes in with Shaun Phillips and free agent acquisition Jarrett Johnson. That’s a fearsome crew.
I don’t see the Chargers putting points up consistently and – crucially – hanging onto the football well enough to win more than nine games. Rivers will need to rush a lot of throws because heir offensive line is patchwork at best. I worry that Mathews’ injury will linger, too. Maybe most importantly, Norv Turner has a way of lulling his crew into believing that careless plays can be overcome, when it’s just the opposite – turnovers cost even a talented team a lot of wins.
I like the Raiders to surprise some unwary teams again, (remember their win in Houston last year?), but not to contend. They just lack talent in crucial spots – quarterback, receiver, and defensive backfield, most prominently. They can run the ball and stop the run, though, so teams