First in an eight-part series as Times NFL writer Sam Farmer analyzes the league by division. Today, the AFC West:
1 The Chargers are starting this season the way they ended the last one -- holding ice packs. The latest victim is Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has two torn knee ligaments. Quarterback Philip Rivers and running back LaDainian Tomlinson have knee problems too and tight end Antonio Gates has a bum toe. A bad start.
2 Is Darren McFadden this season’s Adrian Peterson? The Raiders sure hope so. In training camp, McFadden was the most complete Raiders rookie since Marcus Allen. But teams will be able to stack up against the run unless JaMarcus Russell can get the passing game going. That’s where Javon Walker needs to excel.
3 Is this Jay Cutler’s year? A lot of personnel executives around the league think this could be a breakout season for the Denver quarterback. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said recently that there’s a new energy in the building. But a good quarterback needs a good defense, and the Broncos need to step it up. They gave up 409 points last season, second-most in the AFC to 1-15 Miami.
How they’ll finish
1. San Diego: Hold the Mar-ty chants. Norv Turner won’t start as slow in his second season as coach.
2. Denver: Mike Shanahan will be out the door if the Broncos miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
3. Oakland: The Raiders might have the best cornerback tandem in football -- or at least they look that good against Russell.
4. Kansas City: Chan Gailey’s offense might be a better fit for Brodie Croyle, but a couple of more receivers would be nice.
-- Sam Farmer