I am way behind on my irrelevant sports predictions, so here they are for the AFC West., one of the most unusual divisions every year. Why? Well, because they feature two truly horrible teams (the Raiders and the Chiefs) who then spot the other two (Broncos and Chargers) a ridiculous number of victories which then make them rather...unpredictable. That is, no one is sure if they are any good until the playoffs when the Chargers take advantage of the fact that someone has to represent these people in the race to the Super Bowl.
In fact, at this point the division defies a conventional breakdown, so I will do it in two parts...
"The Battle For Last"
The Raiders have traditionally won this battle with the Chiefs. They are that bad. However, a few things have happened that might allow the Chiefs to secure last place for some time. The Raiders have kept the same coach they had last year (he is nuts...and a bit violent, but that's just like John Madden before he became the cuddly video-game icon he is today). Also, they had a normal draft and hired a real quarterback by the name of Jason Campbell. They will be better this year.
The Chiefs have the same coach as well. But years of neglect have made it a bit saggy around the middle. Matt Cassel is fine, by the way. So there is hope of a third place finish. In fact...after a second or two of thought...I am going to give it to them. I think the Raiders will show improvement at the beginning of the year but, ultimately, the Chiefs will find a way to hold on.
"Backing into the the Playoffs"
First of all, a question; do you know who is completely irrelevant to the outcome of the AFC West standings? Tim Tebow. This is not his fault, but...really? A large number of Denver fans along with a large number of NFL Network reporters (er...league apologists?) are very excited about Tebow. He sells a lot of T-shirts. There is just one problem. Jesus doesn't care who the QB of the Broncos is and Kyle Orton is just plain better. Is Tebow a Character Guy? Yes. So is Orton. So is embattled No. 2 Brady Quinn for that matter. No. Neither Orton nor Quinn painted Bible verses on their eye-black in college and Orton is a confessed Democrat and the team's union rep. In fact, he is (sorry again Tebow fans) the one most likely to serve in congress some day. Tebow did OK in his first pre-season game against players auditioning for the position of Assistant Strength Coach at their local High School. So, kudos to him for that.
A few weeks ago I had the Broncos picked to "win" the division this year. Orton will be better than last year (his best year to date) and will play the sort of run-based game that Denver has excelled at for many, many, years. Orton, in fact, has excelled at this (non-stats-based) game with both the Bears and the Broncos. The problem is, since then the RB corps has had a string of tragic losses, including the feature-backs Knowshon Moreno and Correl Buckhalter. The defense, too, has had its share of injuries. Now many players have been told not to practice as much or as hard just in case disaster strikes again!
The Chargers, on the other hand, seem quieter than usual. This is a good sign for their season. When there is nothing to report, then all is (mostly) well. However, this team has a history of being mercurial and sensitive. They get hurt and depressed when they win! So--my theory went--if the Broncos can get off to a good start (like they did last year) and managed to beat the Chargers at least once, San Diego will grow faint and uncommunicative and sullen, and drop enough games in the middle for Denver to squeak through at 10-6 or even 9-7.
OK, so the Weird Division requires more attention as things unfold. How many players will Denver get back? How strange will the dynamic in San Diego be? Which loser team will get excited enough to win on gumption alone? My research is inconclusive.
First and Second: Chargers (with slight edge) and Broncos
Third and Fourth: Raiders and Chiefs (dead heat)