For the last few years, it has been a no brainer pick for most football experts when they think about whom to tab as the preseason favorite to win the AFC West.
When I first thought about analyzing this situation, it was more of a look at where the Chargers stood in the division if Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil truly did hold out for the first 10 games of the season. But as I dove more into it, the fact became more and more apparent that there is legitimate potential for this team to be upset in this division.
The Chargers always had the best quarterback, the best running back and clearly the most talented team in the division. But San Diego’s roster has seen significant changes in the last year, which may not guarantee another division crown this season.
This offseason, the Chargers either traded or cut former Pro Bowlers LaDainian Tomlinson, Kassim Osgood, Jamaal Williams and Antonio Cromartie.
No matter what you currently think of these players – on and off the field – the fact remains that this roster has seen a severe loss of top-level talent that has for the most part been replaced by their 2009 backups.
Most of the questions surrounding the team have been covered on this very site in the last few days. Whether it is an evident lack of pass rush, wide receiver depth, questionable talent at corner or a seemingly suspect offensive line, there are legitimate concerns that will be addressed early this season.
Even the highly talented rookies that were brought in will still have the normal learning curve to fight through. No matter how many yards Ryan Mathews runs for, if he cannot pass block he will not be able to stay out on the field enough to improve the run game. Fifth rounder Cam Thomas was thought to be a steal in the draft, but at the moment is being out played by veteran Antonio Garay.
In addition to San Diego’s own organizational questions, each of the teams in the AFC West should me much improved over last season. Historically, each of these teams have managed to give the Chargers a tough match up in at least one of their games each season.
Kansas City had a good draft in which they were able to add a very special player at safety in Eric Berry while grabbing another offensive weapon in Dexter McCluster. While both rookies will have to get past the same learning curve as Mathews, they too will be put in position to succeed immediately. Add them in with the great ability that Jamaal Charles showed last season – especially at Qualcomm – and the Chiefs become a potential thorn-in-your-side team.
Even the Raiders became a team that many experts applauded this offseason with the additions of veteran quarterback Jason Campbell and former Alabama stud Rolando McClain. For the first time in years Oakland may have a respectable offense to go along with what has been an overpowering defense in the past.
The Broncos seem to be a team that no one is quite sure of after the addition of Tim Tebow, trade of Brandon Marshall and the unfortunate injury to Elvis Dumervil that will keep him sidelined for the season. But they showed last year with their 4-0 start that anything can happen on Sundays.
On the other hand, the Chargers will have a few factors tipping the scales in their favor. Based on 2009 results, this season’s opponents for San Diego earned a sub-.500 win-loss record last season, and this year the AFC West will play the entire NFC West, which is year after year one of the worst in football.
While the Chargers should still be the favorites to win out West, there is no doubt that the 2010 season will be their toughest test in some time. With the rest of their division on the rise, this may be the last year that all the experts will be willing to give San Diego the preseason nod.
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