AFC West: Midseason 09 AFC West

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ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton gives you his midseason grades for each team in the AFC West.

Midseason Report: Raiders

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Power Rankings: Preseason: 30. This week: 27.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: The Raiders are 2-6 and are in the midst of another disappointing season. The Raiders opened the season with some hope. They played three-time defending AFC West champion San Diego tough on opening night before losing in the final seconds. The Raiders have been a disaster since. They have not played hard in the majority of their games and have been beaten by 20-plus points in four of their six losses. Fans are staying away from home games and the Raiders have struggled on both sides of the ball. They are playing mostly uncompetitive football for the seventh straight season.

Kirby Lee/US Presswire
Louis Murphy has been a pleasant surprise for the Raiders.
Disappointments: It has to start with quarterback JaMarcus Russell. He has been one of the worst players in the NFL this season. He has been inaccurate and has no command of the offense. He was benched for more than a half in Oakland’s seventh game, but he has regained his starting job. Still, Russell is not Oakland’s only problem. The team’s receivers are dropping too many balls and the offensive line has struggled and hurt the run game. Defensively, Oakland has been blown out often and has been bad against the run.

Surprises: The Raiders have some decent young players. Rookie Louis Murphy has dropped several passes, but he looks like he has a good future. He was a good value pick for a fourth-round pick. Two other draft picks -- tight end Brandon Myers and defensive lineman Matt Shaughnessy -- have played decently. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is 12-for-12 on field goals attempts. Janikowski has been a solid kicker, but his accuracy has been special.

Outlook: If Oakland can find away to play with passion on a consistent bias, it could show improvement. The Raiders should be getting back receiver Chaz Schilens, running back Darren McFadden and guard Robert Gallery soon. They’ve all missed extensive time with injuries. Finding consistency is Oakland’s biggest challenge as it tries to avoid becoming the first team in NFL history to lose at least 11 games in seven straight seasons.

Midseason Report: Chiefs

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Power Rankings: Preseason: 29. This week: 28.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: The Chiefs are, once again, an overall uncompetitive team. This is a team that won a total of six games in the final two years of the former regime. Under new general manager Scott Pioli and new head coach Todd Haley, there has been no tangible improvement. The Chiefs are 1-7 and have not competed in most games. The team has been lackluster on offense and overmatched on defense. There are many holes on this roster. Kansas City, which cut ties with troubled veteran running back Larry Johnson this week, looks like it is a long way from being competitive.

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
Todd Haley’s Chiefs have struggled to generate any consistency this season.
Disappointments: The biggest disappointment for Kansas City is probably the lack of improvement. There was a lot of excitement when Pioli came in and there have not been any results yet. It’s early and the program seems like it is headed in the right direction. But it’s been slower than expected. This team looks to be no better than last year’s 2-14 outfit. The Chiefs have been particularly bland on offense. Haley had great success as an offensive coordinator in Arizona. But he has been unable to generate any explosiveness from a less talented group in Kansas City.

Surprises: The Chiefs have a few players shining unexpectedly. Receiver Lance Long had eight catches last Sunday at Jacksonville. He was promoted from the practice squad two weeks ago. He could be an interesting player to watch in the second half of the season. At linebacker, Corey Mays has played well and looks like he can be a potential standout. The story of the second half could be receiver Chris Chambers. He had three catches for 70 yards, including two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, against the Jaguars in his first game as a Chief. Chambers was claimed off waivers from San Diego last week. Chambers could spark an unproductive offense in the second half.

Outlook: The Chiefs actually showed some signs of life, offensively at least, at Jacksonville. They scored 15 points in the fourth quarter. It was the best the unit looked all season. The quarter output was better than the Chiefs’ point output for four of their previous six games. The Chiefs are building toward the future. If this team can build upon the late success in Jacksonville and win some games in the second half of the season, it could be a good building block for Kansas City down the road.

Midseason Report: Chargers

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Power Rankings: Preseason: 5. This week: 12.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: The 5-3 Chargers are in decent shape to make a run at the playoffs. They may not be in great shape for a top seed, which was expected, but the Chargers are looking solid, especially after three straight wins. The Chargers look better than they did at the midseason point the past couple of seasons. They are within range of surprise AFC West leader Denver. The Chargers ended the first half with a huge, last-second win at the New York Giants. It was San Diego’s first win this season against a team with a winning record.

AP Photo/Denis Poroy
Malcolm Floyd has stepped up his game to give Philip Rivers another option in the passing game.
Disappointments: It has to be the running game. The Chargers have been at the bottom of the league in rushing all season. Halfway through the season, San Diego is ranked dead last in the NFL, averaging 69.6 yards per game. LaDainian Tomlinson, 30, has not been productive. He has only 289 yards rushing. The blocking hasn’t been great, but he has lost a step. The Chargers' offense is all the passing game, led by quarterback Philip Rivers. Unless the running game gets going, the pressure is going to be on Rivers to continue to carry the offense.

Surprises: Malcolm Floyd has emerged as the No. 2 receiver opposite Vincent Jackson, who has developed into a top-flight receiver this season. Floyd’s emergence allowed the Chargers to cut struggling veteran Chris Chambers, who was claimed by Kansas City. Defensively, safety Steve Gregory has become a solid nickelback and has been effective as a blitzer.

Outlook: The Chargers should stay in the playoff hunt in the second half. They have four games remaining against teams with a winning record in the first half. If the Chargers can run the ball better, be more productive in the red zone on offense and continue their recent surge on defense, they should at least be a wild-card contender. The Chargers are not an elite team heading into the second half, but they are a dangerous team that will have to be reckoned with late in the season.

Midseason Report: Broncos

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Power Rankings: Preseason: 27. This week: 7.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: The last two games certainly take some of the shine away, but it has been a very successful first half of the season for Josh McDaniels’ team. The Broncos lead the AFC West by a game over heavy favorite San Diego, and the Broncos have been one of the stories of the league. However, the Broncos have not played well in their past two games, as they have been outscored by a combined 58-17 against top AFC competition in the form of Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Overall, the Broncos have been a success story, but there is reason for concern moving into the second half.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Elvis Dumervil is tied for the NFL lead with 10.5 sacks.
Disappointments: It has to be the last two weeks. In the first six games, Denver did little wrong in every phase. But since the bye, Denver has fallen apart, especially on offense. You would think the unit would continue to improve under McDaniels, but it has started to sputter. Quarterback Kyle Orton resembles the player he was in Chicago and not the MVP candidate of the early season. The running game is also struggling. The defense has not been as good as it was early in the season, but it hasn’t been as bad as the offense over the past two games.

Surprises: We have to start with the defense. Not much was expected from this unit going into the season. Denver’s defense had been bad for the past two-plus seasons and the front three (Denver has transitioned to a 3-4 defense under coordinator Mike Nolan) was very inexperienced. Yet, the unit has been very good for most of the season, setting the tone for the team. Orton deserves credit for his strong play during the first six games. He made people forget about the man he replaced, Jay Cutler, with his timely and careful game managing before his recent swoon.

Outlook: Not all is lost for this team, although the Broncos are staggering into the second half. Denver still is in control of the AFC West and has a terrific chance of making the playoffs for the first time in four years. The Broncos have games remaining against Washington, Kansas City (twice) and Oakland. If the Broncos can sweep those four games and split games against Indianapolis and Philadelphia on the road and the Giants and Chargers at home, they will go 12-4. San Diego would have to go 7-1 down the stretch to tie the Broncos. Denver has to focus on dispatching the Redskins this weekend and then sweeping the Chargers in Denver on Nov. 22. If that happens, the Broncos will be in fine shape again. Yes, there is reason for concern, but the season is far from lost.

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