Michael Kranzler: Fear the Spear
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The AFC West foe that poses the biggest threat to San Diego is the Denver Broncos. The reason is simple: talent. The Broncos have gifted skills players on both sides of the ball. Jay Cutler is quickly becoming a top-tier quarterback, and his emergence will only be hastened by the development of WR Brandon Marshall and TE Tony Scheffler.
Of course, offense has never been the issue in Denver, thanks in large part to a running game that's ranked in the top-10 every year since 2000. The issue is on defense, where the Broncos fielded the third-worst run defense in the NFL last season. The pass defense, which is supposed to the team's strength thanks to the presence of Champ Bailey and Dré Bly, also struggled, finishing in the bottom third of the League with 14 interceptions.
Those shortcomings allowed the Chargers to trounce Denver last season, winning both games by a cumulative score of 64-6. However, a look at Denver's off-season moves shows the Broncos did a good job of plugging holes.
Denver beefed up its defensive front seven by acquiring DT Dewayne Robertson and LB Boss Bailey. This should help keep opposing offenses honest, which will lead to more balls being thrown towards Bailey and Bly.
On offense, the Broncos added several pass-catching options for when the Cutler-Marshall connection isn't clicking. The team found strength in numbers, brining in veterans Darrell Jackson, Keary Colbert, Samie Parker and Taylor Jacobs. The Broncos also added receiver-kick returner Eddie Royal in the draft.
Are all of these improvements enough for the Broncos to leapfrog the Chargers in the AFC West? Unlikely. Will the Broncos improve enough to make the Chargers work for their third division title in as many seasons? Absolutely.
San Diego is the class of the AFC West; week to week, no one can challenge them. However, the bottom feeders are beginning to retool and improve, and it is not out of the question for one of them to catch the Bolts on an off day and surprise them with a victory.
The team with the most potential to do some damage this year is the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only have the Bolts historically struggled against them while manhandling the Broncos and Raiders over the last few years, but the Chiefs will be trotting out a much improved and much younger roster this year that has the potential to be very good in a few years.
With Glenn Dorsey anchoring the defensive line, LaDainian Tomlinson may struggle to find running lanes. With Brandon Flowers locking down on a cornerback spot, Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson may have trouble finding creases in which to get open. With Dwayne Bowe continuing to build on his standout rookie season, the Chargers secondary will need to focus on both him and stud running back Larry Johnson in order to keep the offense in check. With Branden Albert holding down the offensive line, the Chargers defense may struggle to get a pass rush at times.
The biggest question on the Chiefs' roster is at quarterback, as neither Brodie Croyle nor Damon Huard looks to be the long-term answer. However, if one of them can play a passable game and just protect the ball, the Chargers may receive a rude awakening if they take this team lightly.
The Chiefs are a few years (and a starting quarterback) away from consistently contending, but right now they have a potential to be a fly in the ointment for any team that may look past them this season.