Is San Diego the Best in the West?

The San Diego Chargers head into Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night as the reigning champs of the AFC West. With the Chargers dominating the division, winning 5 of the last 6 titles, it should be no surprise who is currently leading all predictions for the crown in 2010.

But assuming the Chargers are the class of the West may not be a wise choice when digging a bit deeper than surface stats. Sure, it's a safe bet to lay your money, or your reputation, on the team that has been a consistent playoff contributor. But this has been a tumultuous offseason for the Bolts, which starts right at the top of the organization with team president Dean Spanos and general manager A.J. Smith.

Since taking over for the late John Butler in April of ‘03, Smith has made some head-scratching moves that could rival those of Raiders owner Al Davis. Whether it was firing then head coach Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season, or letting eventual Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees walk to New Orleans instead of placing the franchise tag on the All-Pro QB and subsequently trading him, Smith has a history of poor team management.

But how could a perennial playoff team be poorly managed?

I would argue that the aforementioned Schottenheimer deserves a share of the praise. Brees, Antonio Gates, Michael Turner, Shawne Merriman, and Antonio Cromartie, the core of San Diego's playoff teams, were players added on Marty's watch. Although Smith had a heavy hand in compiling these players, one has to wonder what the Chargers would be now without the hardnosed approach to contract negotiations that Smith has made a name for.

Marty Schottenheimer had to battle a variety of issues when he was the Chargers head coach.
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It appears that Smith's high risk approach to management may have finally bit him where the sun doesn't shine after an offseason with some borderline ignorant moves that may have been influenced by the labor dispute. Regardless of the reasoning, however, San Diego will roll into Arrowhead on Monday night minus some key contributors.

Pro Bowlers, and arguably most important offensive weapons, left tackle Marcus McNeil and wide-out Vincent Jackson are two of the casualties of the fiscal approach to team management that San Diego brass has stubbornly taken. Neither Chargers player will make the trip to Kansas City on Monday and both appear to be a long way from joining the team in the near future.

Despite handicapping the team's offense, Smith has the backing of the team president. "They put themselves in this position, we didn't put them in this position" Spanos told the San Diego Union-Tribune of the two holdouts. "I was part of the process…I know exactly what our position was and why we made the decisions we made. I fully support our general manager on this".

Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli has made great strides in rebuilding his football team with a very strong offseason.
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Meanwhile here in Kansas City, management's emphasis seems to be more about building a formidable team as opposed to taking a stance on the impending NFL lockout.

Scott Pioli and staff have quietly been assembling weapons that many who have been breaking down the AFC West have overlooked. On offense, the Chiefs added players like Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones. On defense, they drafted Eric Berry to compliment a defensive staff bursting with emerging young talent. Add the big play ability of Javier Arenas on special teams and the Chiefs are looking like a Cinderella team that could challenge for an AFC West crown.

Out in Denver, head coach Josh McDaniels seems to have done everything he can to get progressively worse since arriving last season. After compiling a list of the team's best players, McDaniels quickly got to work trading quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall. To further the growing sentiment that the Donkey's have absolutely no plan whatsoever, the team made a series of bizarre draft moves that ended with them stretching to land Florida QB Tim Tebow. This move with the addition of Browns castaway Brady Quinn leaves the Mile High City with too many QB question marks heading into the season opener.

Chargers GM A.J. Smith ultimately could determine who wins the AFC West in 2010.
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This leaves the Oakland Raiders as the front runner on paper to be the team to beat in the west. But with Davis being notoriously apt at destroying a good thing, the AFC West should be wide open for the taking.

Ultimately, the national media's notion that San Diego is the class of the AFC West is a bit premature. With history serving as the catalyst for their assumptions, the first three letters of the word assume may prove to be the best way of describing some of the national media's top prognosticators as they approach solving the logjam that is the AFC West.

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