|02-08-2008, 05:15 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
AFC West? Call it AFC Worst
Once highly competitive, the division now is ruled by the talent-rich Chargers.
By Bill Williamson
The Denver Post
HONOLULU — John Lynch has been following the AFC West for nearly three years. A Chargers fan as a child in San Diego, Lynch had always considered the division one of the most powerful in the NFL.
In fact, one of the reasons Lynch signed with the Broncos as a free agent in 2004 was the AFC West. It had it all — history, competition and serious cachet.
Now, suddenly, all the AFC West seems to have is the San Diego Chargers.
"The Chargers clearly own this division now," Lynch said this week while preparing for Sunday's Pro Bowl. "There is much talent on that team, and the other teams are struggling a bit. The Broncos have to find a way to get it all together and make it our division again."
In what had been a strong, competitive division until the 2006 season, the AFC West has become the Chargers' show. The Chargers, who lost to New England in the AFC championship game, head into the offseason full of promise and hope for another long playoff run next season. The other teams in the AFC West — Denver, Kansas City and Oakland — have their share of issues. None seems to be a quick fix away from seriously pushing San Diego for the division crown.
"They are way out in front right now," Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen said of the Chargers. "It is the three other teams' jobs to even things out."
After long being considered the best division in football, the AFC West was a candidate for the worst division this season. Things are so bad the Broncos finished in second place in the AFC West with a 7-9 record, only the second losing season in coach Mike Shanahan's 13 seasons with the club.
The Chargers, who beat Denver by a combined 64-6 in two games this season, ran away with the division at 11-5. The division crown was officially being worn with two weeks remaining in the schedule. The Chiefs and Raiders both finished 4-12 and neither was in the race. A look at the AFC Pro Bowl roster also shows the disparity of talent in the division.
There will be plenty of Chargers' helmets roaming at Aloha Stadium on Sunday. The rest of the AFC squad — which is coached by San Diego's Norv Turner and his staff as a reward for being the AFC runner-up to conference champion New England — is not exactly teeming with AFC West talent.
Including injured players, nine Chargers made the Pro Bowl. The rest of the division has a total of five players: Lynch and teammate Champ Bailey; Kansas City's Allen and tight end Tony Gonzalez; and Raiders punter Shane Lechler.
"You look at all of the Chargers here and you realize how good they are," Bailey said. "They're the team to beat. But look at the division's history. Everybody has gotten their chance in recent years, and now it's the Chargers' chance. We have to find a way."
Turner — whose team went 5-1 against the division last season, losing only to Kansas City — said he is not taking anything for granted, especially the upcoming season.
"I'm never comfortable in the league and I shouldn't be," Turner said. "I truly think there is good talent on the other teams. The thing is, it is a rivalry division. Every team gets up for the other, and all three of those cities are tough places to go play. They'll get it together. We know they're all coming after us."
To Lynch, it's personal.
"This used to be a great division," Lynch said. "It was the best. Somehow, we have to catch up to San Diego. The Chargers have so much going for them, and we have to find a way to get there."
Bill Williamson: 303-954-1262 or firstname.lastname@example.org
How the West has been won
The San Diego Chargers have become the dominant team in the AFC West. NFL reporter Bill Williamson analyzes each team in the division:
San Diego Chargers
2007 record: 11-5
Strengths: One of the best rosters in the NFL. Balanced on both sides of the ball.
Weaknesses: Coach Norv Turner has yet to prove he is an elite coach.
Skinny: The Chargers are a team that should continue to push for a Super Bowl berth.
2007 record: 7-9
Strengths: Quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall are the focal points of a potentially strong offense.
Weaknesses: Denver needs to make major improvements to its front seven on defense.
Skinny: The Broncos have to continue their recent trend of drafting well to rebuild and become a playoff threat again.
Kansas City Chiefs
2007 record: 4-12
Strengths: The Chiefs have some good young players, such as Jared Allen, a free agent, and running back Larry Johnson.
Weaknesses: There are questions at quarterback and there are holes on both sides of the ball.
Skinny: The Chiefs waited a couple of years too late to begin rebuilding and are a long way away from being a playoff team.
2007 record: 4-12
Strengths: The Raiders have some good, young linebackers and defensive backs.
Weaknesses: The offense is still a mess and the defensive line is no longer good.
Skinny: Coach Lane Kiffin remains a man under fire and the Raiders continue to be one of the worst-run franchises in sports.