|ESPN.com: NFL Nation||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The AFC West has become the Great Unknown.
After a turbulent offseason, the only team in the division that doesn't belong in the mystery section is the San Diego Chargers.
"The rest of them have all changed big time," said ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, who was part of the turmoil when he was fired by Kansas City earlier this year. "It's a whole new division in a lot of ways."
In Denver, there is a new head coach for the first time in 14 years and a new quarterback. In Kansas City, there is a new general manager, a new head coach and a new quarterback. In Oakland, there is a new permanent head coach and a new defensive staff.
For every team in the AFC West, this offseason has been about trying to figure out their division opponents. There is no built-in familiarity in the division that was arguably the weakest in the NFL in 2008. It's as if there are four teams from different divisions converging together.
It's a cause for consternation, even for those directly involved in the change.
"I don't think it's a good thing," new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "It's a pain in the butt to get ready for them in the offseason ... this makes it a little more challenged because you've had too much turnover.
"So your preparation in the spring is a little difficult because you can't just turn on the tape from last season and go 'OK, that's what we have to beat next year' because it's going to change."
The kinetic offseason was a popular topic at San Diego's recent minicamp. The Chargers marveled at all the change. San Diego remained nearly intact from the team that won its final four games of the regular season to salvage a third straight division crown. And the Chargers are relieved it is the other teams that are dealing with facelifts instead of them.
"It's been really wild to watch," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. "In Denver, we're not going to be dealing with Mike Shanahan anymore. In Kansas City, the New England way of doing things will be in play, like in Denver, and Oakland has a new defensive staff. You have to prepare for the changes."
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith admits his uneasiness about the adjustments that are afoot in the AFC West in 2009.
"I'm not comfortable with it because there is so much change," Smith said. "All of these changes are designed to improve these teams, so you always have to be concerned about that as a competitor."
There's no doubt change was needed in most instances. The Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs combined for 15 wins last season.
The majority of the change will occur in Denver and Kansas City. The Raiders -- led by Tom Cable, who coached the team in the final 12 games last season -- will implement a new defensive scheme under new coordinator John Marshall. Still, the Raiders will still stick to the philosophy the team has had for the past five decades of the Al Davis era.
"The Raiders are going to be the same in a lot of ways," Edwards said. "They're going to be a power running team on offense and they will attack on defense. We know that there will be some changes. But in Denver and Kansas City, there are more questions."
The biggest change both the Broncos and Chiefs are making is on defense. Both teams are transitioning to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Having both teams switching to a similar scheme could help the Raiders and Chargers prepare for them.
McDaniels will run the show in Denver. He came from New England, where he was the offensive coordinator. Kansas City's new leader is general manager Scott Pioli, who was an executive with the Patriots. The Patriots Way will be alive and well in half of the AFC West.
"The New England way of doing things have been very successful," Smith said. "There is good leadership there and with the influx of the New England influence, you have to account for it ... Things are changing in this division. We all have to be ready for it."