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Wednesday, January 6, 2010
AFC West Team Wrap-ups

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

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A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

San Diego Chargers

Final Power Ranking: 2

Biggest surprise: It has to be how dominant San Diego became after it dropped to 2-3 and 3.5 games behind Denver after the Broncos hammered the Chargers at home in Week 6. San Diego hasn’t lost since. This is the third straight season San Diego has come back after a slow start to win the division title. But this year, the Chargers went from a team in despair to an elite team in a matter of days. They just turned it on and haven’t looked back.

Biggest disappointment: The running game. The Chargers invested more than $12 million in running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Still, San Diego had one of the worst running attacks in the NFL. Tomlinson, 30, had the lowest rushing total of his nine-season career, and didn’t have a 100-yard rushing game all season. He is still good at the goal line, but the running attack is not the same in San Diego.

Biggest need: Expect San Diego to pursue a big running back in the draft. Tomlinson could be entering his final days with the team. San Diego also needs help on the defensive line. Expect the Chargers to pursue a big, run-stuffing interior defensive lineman. The team misses Jamal Williams, who was lost for the season in Week 1 with a triceps injury.

Team MVP: Quarterback Philip Rivers. He will get NFL MVP consideration. Rivers is an elite quarterback.

Magic moment: Tomlinson surpassed legend Jim Brown on the all-time rushing list -- in Cleveland. Brown was in attendance for the special event.


Denver Broncos

Final Power Ranking: 17

Biggest surprise: It has to be how much Denver fell apart after starting the season 6-0. The Broncos came out of their bye in Week 7 and were a totally different team. Denver finished the season with eight losses in its final 10 games. Denver became the third NFL team since the merger to start 6-0 and not make the playoffs. The Broncos became the first team in league history to have a 3.5-game division lead at any point in the season and not make the playoffs. It is shocking how fast this team fell off the cliff.

Biggest disappointment: The turmoil that met this team at the end of the season. Denver survived the Jay Cutler saga in the spring and then the Brandon Marshall saga in the summer. For Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler to end the season with more turmoil has to be a huge disappointment for first-year coach Josh McDaniels. Marshall and Scheffler were deactivated for the team’s crucial season finale against Kansas City because of accountability issues, McDaniels said. Distractions plagued this team nearly all year.

Biggest need: Watch for Denver to make tweaks throughout the roster. But the Broncos’ needs start in the trenches. The offensive line has to get better in the run game. A starter or two may be needed. Defensively, the team could use an anchor and leader on the defensive front.

Team MVP: Linebacker Elvis Dumervil. He led the NFL with 17 sacks. He thrived in Denver’s new 3-4 system.

Magic moment: It had to be McDaniels pumping his arms and celebrating with the Denver crowd after the Broncos beat his former team, the New England Patriots, in October. But that moment seems like a long time ago.


Oakland Raiders

Final Power Ranking: 26

Biggest surprise: The Raiders came alive against some of the better teams they played this season. In the end, the Raiders had another lackluster season at 5-11. But they had some real highlight-film moments. Oakland beat Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Denver when all of those teams had winning records. Most of those wins came with incredible theatrics at the end of the game. The Raiders provided fans with some good memories in 2009.

Biggest disappointment: The play of the team’s last three top draft picks: quarterback JaMarcus Russell, running back Darren McFadden and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Russell was the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, McFadden was the No. 4 overall pick in 2008 and Heyward-Bey was the No. 7 overall pick in 2009. Those skill-position players were supposed to reconstruct Oakland’s offense. Yet, they were all disappointments this season. Russell lost his job and his future with the team is unclear. McFadden failed to show his collegiate explosiveness for the second straight year. Heyward-Bey made virtually no impact despite starting until he was hurt late in the season.

Biggest need: The Raiders need to address their offensive line. The team has toyed with trying to improve the unit in recent years. It’s time Oakland adds some top talent. And then, of course, there’s the question of what the team will do at quarterback.

Team MVP: Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Oakland wasted another season with the game’s best corner.

Magic moment: Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski showed playing him over Russell was the right call when he beat the Steelers in his hometown in the final seconds. The memory may be strong enough in Oakland for Gradkowski, who finished the season injured, to get a chance to be the starter next season.


Kansas City Chiefs

Final Power Ranking: 28

Biggest surprise: Running back Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs had hopes that the second-year player would make some noise after Larry Johnson was cut in November. The speedster was considered a change-of-pace back. But he finished the season showing he can be the primary ball carrier in the future. Charles finished the season with 1,120 yards and had a franchise record 259 yards in the season finale at Denver.

Biggest disappointment: The play of young defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. The former LSU teammates were the No. 5 and No. 3 overall picks, respectively, the past two seasons. Neither player made a huge impact in 2009. The team still has high hopes for both players, but they are making a lot of money and neither played up to expectations.

Biggest need: The Chiefs have needs at many positions, but they need to repair their offensive line first. Quarterback Matt Cassel needs better protection as he tries to become the franchise player the Chiefs paid him to be. The team needs about three new starters. Kansas City needs to find a stud left tackle to begin the reconstruction of a once-proud unit.

Team MVP: Charles. His spectacular end to the season gives this team hope moving forward.

Magic moment: The win at Denver on Sunday was nice, but the overtime win over defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh at Arrowhead Stadium was a great gift for the loyal home fans.