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West Division

In order of predicted finish (2008 record)

September 03, 2009|Sam Farmer

San Diego Chargers (8-8)

Big questions: Can the Chargers get off to a good start? In their first two seasons under Norv Turner, they made the playoffs despite painfully slow Septembers. The return of Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman should beef up the pass rush. On offense, is LaDainian Tomlinson still The Man? Darren Sproles played great last season, but he's not built to be an every-down back.

Big moves: Getting Merriman back is huge, especially because he's in the final year of his contract, so he's motivated to get a blockbuster deal -- probably elsewhere. A little extra motivation -- the Chargers used their first-round pick on his potential replacement, Larry English.

Bottom line: As long as they don't put themselves in another early hole, the Chargers are built for a Super Bowl run. They're in a weak division, and already have shown they can give Indianapolis fits. Now, they need to prove they can get over the hump against Pittsburgh and New England.

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Denver Broncos (8-8)

Big questions: Was getting rid of Mike Shanahan the right thing to do? His successor, Josh McDaniels, is already in hot water with fans who think he shoved quarterback Jay Cutler out the door (although both sides are to blame for that one). The Broncos endured a historic collapse last season, blowing a three-game division lead with three to go. Their porous defense played a big role in that, and is switching to a 3-4 scheme.

Big moves: Out goes Cutler and in comes Kyle Orton, who didn't bowl anyone over in Chicago but isn't that bad -- and he'll be playing behind an excellent line. Orton has a dislocated right index finger, though. Rookie running back Knowshon Moreno has impressed a lot of people, and he's just the type Denver has turned into a 1,000-yard rusher before.

Bottom line: The Broncos should be competitive in this watered-down division.They need strong seasons from cornerback Champ Bailey and receiver Brandon Marshall.

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Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)

Big questions: Can new Coach Todd Haley bring some of the success he had last season as Arizona's offensive coordinator? Is quarterback Matt Cassel the real deal, or simply the product of a terrific system when he stepped in for Tom Brady in New England last season? How will the Chiefs cope without tight end Tony Gonzalez, a fixture in their offense for so many years and maybe the best pass-catching big man in the game?

Big moves: GM Scott Pioli, formerly Bill Belichick's personnel man in New England, brought along some of his old team, trading for Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel. He also added linebackers Monty Beisel and Zach Thomas, and receiver Bobby Engram. The Chiefs are excited about top pick Tyson Jackson, who will play end in the new 3-4 scheme.

Bottom line: Haley will have to lean much more heavily on the run than he did in Arizona, where the Cardinals had the 32nd-ranked running game coupled with their air show.

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Oakland Raiders (5-11)

Big questions: Seeing as it's his pivotal third season, is this the year JaMarcus Russell steps up and proves he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in 2007? He will need some receivers around him, and first-rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey, who's very speedy but has somewhat questionable hands, had an up-and-down camp. According to various reports, Coach Tom Cable allegedly slugged defensive assistant Randy Hanson in the face, breaking his jaw. If true, the league could step in and take some disciplinary action. Not the kind of distraction a shaky team needs.

Big moves: The Raiders doled out huge money to keep cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and punter Shane Lechler, and got backup quarterback Jeff Garcia on the cheap.

Bottom line: There's always a chance the Raiders could break out of their malaise and realize some of their potential. But the franchise has averaged a league-low four wins per season over the last six years.

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