Offense: QB Phil Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, RB Mitch Tolbert, WR Vincent Jackson, TE Antonio Gates, G Kris Dielman
Defense: NT Antonio Garay, LB Shaun Phillips, LB Takeo Spikes, CB Quentin Jammer, SS Bob Sanders, FS Eric Weddle
The Chargers once again have the most well-rounded team in the AFC West, and it would be a huge dissapointment if they failed to win the division. Rivers is an elite QB, and has both of his favorite targets, Jackson and Gates, back full-time this year. A big key to their success rests on the shoulders of running back Ryan Mathews, who could make the Chargers Super Bowl contenders if he ascends like everyone expects and becomes that 1,100 yard, 8-10 TD back. With Mike Tolbert though too, they can spread the load and keep Mathews fresh. Defensively, the Chargers have a top-notch secondary, but I'm a little worried about their young front-7.
Kansas City Chiefs, 2nd Place
Offense: QB Matt Cassell, RB Jamal Charles, RB Thomas Jones, WR Dwayne Bowe, G Jon Asamoah
Defense: LB Derek Johnson, LB Tamba Hali, NT Kelly Gregg, CB Brandon Flowers, FS Eric Berry
I liked the Chiefs at the start of camp, but Cassell has had a less than stellar preseason as he's failed to synch up with WR's Steve Breaston and Jonthan Baldwin, and the O-Line has underperformed. They have the talent on both sides of the ball to actually overtake the Chargers, but they need their guys to mature into the players they can be. If their young, highly talented ends, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, can get to the QB, their defense could be a force with those 'backers and DB's.
Oakland Raiders, 3rd Place
Offense: QB Jason Campbell, RB Darren McFadden, RB Michael Bush, WR Jacoby Ford, C Stefen Wisniewski (R)
Defense: DT Richard Seymour, DT Tommy Kelly, LB Kamerion Wimbley, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Michael Huff, CB Stanford Routt
I really expect the Raiders and Broncos to finish with near identical records, they're that alike. Now that Campbell has had a year in Oakland to get acclimated, I expect better results, as long as he can stay on the field that is. I expect him to use Jacoby Ford like he did Santana Moss in Washington and Ford to be Oakland's #1 WR. Denarious Moore has also gained headlines this summer, and I expect him to take the #2 spot with Heyward-Bey in the slot in 3-WR sets. This is likely it for Bey (probably cut if Chaz and Murphy were healthy), who could be axed in-season if he doesn't show results. McFadden and Bush are the best two-man combo in the NFL in my opinion, so hopefully the improved aerial game opens up some more holes for them. Also, this defense is improving, despite the loss of Asomugha. Routt and Branch are Pro-Bowl caliber players in the secondary still and Huff is still a ball-hawk. Their D-Line pressures the QB well, and they have the sack machine in Wimbley at OLB. The Raiders are still a ways away; they need an offensive line that will hold up all season, and a wideout or two to really step up this year without Zach Miller gone. If those two things happen, this squad could be right on KC's heels.
Denver Broncos, 3rd Place
Offense: QB Kyle Orton, RB Knowshon Moreno, RB Willis McGahee, WR Brandon Loyd, LT Ryan Clady
Defense: DE Elvis Dumervil, LB D.J. Williams, LB Von Miller (R), CB Champ Baily, FS Brian Dawkins
The Broncos do have a lot of talent themselves, though they've got some issues going on inside their organization and are likely longing for the days of Mike Shanahon right about now. They picked the right guy as their starting QB, and should stick with him. Tebow is a nice wildcat option, but I don't see him as an NFL starter, and I think Denver is just now realizing it. Moreno is an average NFL running back, and Brandon Loyd will have a very hard time repeating last seasons breakout and needs Eddie Royal to help take some coverage off him. Where the Broncos are looking better and moving forward is on the defensive side. They have sack master Dumervil back and have teamed D.J. Williams with #2 overall pick Von Miller at linebacker. They also still have Champ Baily shutting down wideouts, though he has lost a step. If the defense grows together and the offensive line plays well and gets Moreno going, they could overtake the Raiders easy.
And that concludes the AFC Preview portion. Wild Card teams are marked, and (R) stands for rookie if you didn't notice. We'll jump right into the NFC next, but we also have a 49ers post to mix in before we do so check out for that Sunday!