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The AFC West is loaded with talented running backs.


AFC West preview:

Broncos: Counting on Cutler | Chargers: Super contenders? | Chiefs: Rebuilding mode | Raiders: Can only go up

The San Diego Chargers are one of the three top teams in the AFC and they have the good fortune of playing in the worst division. There is no reason to assume anyone in the West will challenge their supremacy and there may not even be another team in the division that has a .500 record.

Denver is going in the wrong direction, the Chiefs are already moving in a rebuilding direction and the Raiders continue to seem direction challenged. That should make this a one-team race barring a spate of dreadful injuries. Frankly, even that might not be enough to make this division competitive.

Kansas City is hoping to become a power team but is trying to do it with young offensive talent that is still in the developmental stage. Denver's offensive line is aging and its defensive line is weak and those are the staples of most winning teams. As for the Raiders, they're 15-49 the past four years for a reason -- a talent drought that has yet to end.

Under the radar

NFL.com's Gil Brandt has identified four underrated players in the AFC West, one from each team, who will bear watching this season:

Tony Scheffler
TE, Denver

Didn't become a starter until Week 6 last season and caught 47 passes in last 11 games. A three-sport starter in college, he's got a ton of upside.

Dwayne Bowe
WR, Kansas City

Fine rookie season was overshadowed by team's struggles. Bowe does everything you want a WR to do, and new coordinator Chan Gailey will get him the ball.

Zach Miller
TE, Oakland

Started all 16 games as a rookie in '07 and showed ability as both a blocker and pass-catcher. The most complete tight end Raiders have had since Dave Casper.

Eric Weddle
S, San Diego

Didn't start as a rookie last season, but was a factor in dime packages. Very smart player who is faster than his timed speed, he'll have an impact in 2008.

Then there are the Chargers, who along with the Patriots and Colts, are the elite of the AFC. San Diego has an explosive offense, a powerful running game and a defense that is tenacious and turnover producing. Right there, you've got more than enough to beat back their three divisional opponents.

Team on the rise

Oakland. The Raiders drafted quarterback JaMarcus Russell No. 1 last year and running back Darren McFadden with the fourth overall pick this year, so they have two playmakers in place and in the lineup. Now all they need is to fill all the holes that surround them.

Team in transition

Kansas City is trying to retool its offense away from last year's elaborate motion attack and into a power running game that will be physical and limit turnovers. They'll be trying to do it with new starters in four of the five offensive line positions, which is transition to some, turmoil to others.

Coach in the spotlight

Lane Kiffin. If you work for Al Davis and you don't win you're in the spotlight.

Star on the rise

Selvin Young rushed for 729 yards last year in Denver, piling up 578 on only 116 carries in his eight starts. Mike Shanahan is reluctant to give him the ball full time because of his lack of size but he's the best Shanahan's got and he makes plays.

Impact rookie

Glenn Dorsey better make an impact in the middle of the Chiefs' defensive line. That's why they drafted the 320-pound LSU All-American with the fifth pick. He has size, strength and the right disposition to be an anchor in the midst of a rebuilding defense that had no Pro Bowlers on that side of the ball between 1999 and 2006. Jared Allen changed that last season but he's been traded to Minnesota.

Count on it

LaDainian Tomlinson will have another huge season after stewing all winter and spring over comments that questioned his toughness when he sat on the bench in uniform during the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots but did not play because of an injured knee.

Don't be surprised if

Larry Johnson bounces back this year in Kansas City after missing eight games last season with a broken foot. It's healed and the emphasis will be on him.


2008 AFC West forecast
  Vic Carucci Thomas George Pat Kirwan Gil Brandt
Division winner Chargers Chargers Chargers Chargers
Wild card(s) None None None None
Top offensive player LaDainian Tomlinson Jay Cutler LaDainian Tomlinson LaDainian Tomlinson
Top defensive player Shawne Merriman Antonio Cromartie Antonio Cromartie Antonio Cromartie
Top rookie Darren McFadden Eddie Royal Darren McFadden Darren McFadden
Breakout player Jay Cutler Vincent Jackson Michael Huff Elvis Dumervil




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