NFL Predictions 2011: Will Chargers Return To Top Of AFC West?

The Chargers and the Chiefs will fight for division dominance while the Raiders and Broncos fight to stay out of last place in the AFC West.

Of all the divisions in the AFC, the AFC West is easily the weakest. The San Diego Chargers have been the dominant team over the last decade, winning the division five times. However, the Kansas City Chiefs' rebuilt team with quarterback Matt Cassel at the helm could push for division dominance in the future. They won the division last year and could again this year.

Last year, the Chiefs won the division with a 10-6 record but lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card game. The Chargers finished the season with a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The Oakland Raiders finished the season with an 8-8 record and the Denver Broncos came in last place at 4-12.

Thing will likely go a similar way this year.

1. San Diego Chargers (2010 Record: 9-7)

What Bolts From The Blue Thinks:

Knowing that the Chargers typically play below their talent level, I am picking them to finish 11-5 against a fairly weak schedule. I think they'll struggle to get wins against teams that do all the little things well, such as the Jets, Ravens, Patriots and Packers, and hopefully do well against the weaker teams like the Jaguars, Lions, Broncos and Bills.

What I Think:

I had a really hard time deciding who would win this division between the Chargers and the Chiefs. I ended up deciding by going through each team's schedule and picking the team with the least amount of tough games. That was the Chargers. If the Chargers and the Chiefs split on head-to-head games, I expect the Chargers to win the division because of an easier schedule. I don't expect them to go any farther in the playoffs than Wild Card weekend, though.

Record Prediction: 10-6 -- Division Winners

2. Kansas City Chiefs (2010 Record: 10-6)

What Arrowhead Pride Thinks:

This is a tough call on the Chiefs. They're probably going to be a better team because they have a lot of young players who are likely going to develop even more. Plus, they've added a few key talents in the offseason like FB Le'Ron McClain and WR Steve Breaston. However, they have a much more difficult schedule. That's not an excuse -- it's just reality. This is truly a test for the Chiefs on whether they're ready to make the leap as a perennial playoff contender.

That said, whenever you have a guy like RB Jamaal Charles on your team, it's hard to discount you. I'll say the Chiefs go 9-7 this year. The Vegas over/under is 7.5 wins so this is a slightly optimistic view on them.

What I Think:

The Chiefs have all the tools to have a successful season. They have a very talented offense and they had one of the better defenses in the preseason (which doesn't really mean anything). The best thing they have going for them is they play in the weakest division in the AFC. The worst thing they have going for them in 2011 is they play the Colts, the Patriots, the Steelers, the Bears, the Jets and the Packers this year. If it weren't for the tough schedule, I would have picked them to win the division. However, I do expect to see them come out on top more often than not in future seasons.

Record Prediction: 9-7

3. Oakland Raiders (2010 Record: 8-8)

What Silver And Black Pride Thinks:

The Raiders have a huge variance in their projected win total. A couple of injuries in the wrong spots on defense could really cripple this team. They have two solid starting cornerback in Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, but after that they have a group of first and second year players and the recently acquired Lito Sheppard -- who was a disaster last season for the Vikings.

Corner isn't the only depth concern on this squad. This team is thin at linebacker. Second year player Travis Goethel was lost to the season with a blown ACL. This has left the Raiders without a backup middle linebacker. The hope was also that Goethel could take over the weakside linebacking duties for the underwhelming Quentin Groves.

So, barring reasonable health in these positions....

Prediction: 9-7

What I Think:

The Raiders, like the Chiefs, have a fairly tough schedule. They play the Jets, Patriots, Texans, Bears and Packers this year as well as the Chiefs and Chargers twice. While I can see the Raiders slowly but surely improving from year to year, they haven't improved enough to go through this schedule with a winning record. If they lose all of these games, they would finish with 7-9 record. I'll say that they win one of those games, but I'll also say that I doubt they'll win every against teams they should beat. So.....

Record Prediction: 7-9

4. Denver Broncos (2010 Record: 4-12)

What Mile High Report Thinks:

At this stage of the preseason, I predict a 9-7 record for the 2011 Denver Broncos. The Broncos have finally addressed the woes that have plagued them over the past few years. Defensively, they struggled to get off the field on third downs. So, they went out and drafted Von Miller, coupling him with sack specialist Elvis Dumervil to create one of the most disruptive pass rushes in the league. The result? The first team defense has yet to allow a touchdown and is tied for seventh in preseason sacks (nine), with Von Miller tied for the league lead in preseason sacks (three).

What I Think:

The Broncos have definitely improved from last year's 4-12 team to this year. Having said that, they haven't improved enough to climb out of the bottom of the division yet. They aren't going to be good enough to get many division wins except for against the Raiders, and they play the Jets, Packers and Patriots this year. There are a handful of games, that I would expect them to win, though. This team just needs a few more pieces and they'll be solid once again.

Record Prediction: 7-9

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