Afc West

September 02, 1994|By Team capsules and division predictions by Vito Stellino

Division prediction

This may have replaced the NFC East as the league's strongest division. Three teams -- the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs -- figure to contend for the title, and the Chargers have an outside shot. Only the Seahawks appear out of it and destined for fifth place. The Raiders will win it if they develop a running game, and the Broncos and Chiefs should battle for second. The outcome will ** turn on how long Joe Montana stays healthy.

1. Los Angeles Raiders

1993 record: 10-6, second in division; beat Broncos in wild-card playoff; lost to Bills in divisional playoff.

Coach: Art Shell (45-31 career).

Key additions: OL Kevin Gogan, CB Albert Lewis, DT Jerry Ball, RB Harvey Williams and TE Jamie Williams.

Key losses: TE Ethan Horton and LB Joe Kelly.

Strengths: If the Raiders get tired of playing football, they can always enter the Olympics. They have a fleet corps of receivers in Tim Brown, James Jett, Alexander Wright and Raghib Ismail, and QB Jeff Hostetler can get them the ball. They can play the Raiders' traditional vertical game.

Weaknesses: One of the puzzling developments of the off-season was owner Al Davis' failure to get a big-time runner to complement the passing game. The Raiders were 26th in rushing last year, when Hostetler was their second-leading ground gainer with 202 yards.

Extra point: Davis doesn't want you to know this, but the Raiders have won only two playoff games in the past 10 years.

2. Denver Broncos

1993 record: 9-7, third in division; lost to Raiders in wild-card playoff.

Coach: Wade Phillips (10-10 career).

Key additions: WR Anthony Miller, WR Michael Pritchard, RB Leonard Russell and CB Ray Crockett.

Key losses: CB Tyrone Braxton and WR Vance Johnson.

Strengths: As long as John Elway is on the field, the Broncos are in every game. They also added Pritchard and Miller to give him two more targets so that opposing teams can't key on TE Shannon Sharpe, who led the team with 81 catches last year.

Weaknesses: The Broncos' games resembled track meets because opposing teams could match Elway touchdown pass for touchdown pass. He threw for 25, and the Denver defense gave up 21.

Extra point: Remember when the fans used to complain about the Broncos losing Super Bowls? Now they don't even get there.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

1993 record: 11-5, first in division; beat Steelers in wild-card playoff, beat Oilers in divisional playoff, lost to Bills in AFC title game.

Coach: Marty Schottenheimer (94-56-1 career).

Key additions: CB Mark Collins and QB Steve Bono.

Key losses: CB Albert Lewis, S Kevin Ross, RB Harvey Williams, WR Tim Barnett and K Nick Lowery.

Strengths: As long as Joe Montana stays healthy, the Chiefs are dangerous. Even at the age of 38, he has the touch, and the Chiefs acquired one of his former 49ers teammates, Bono, to back him up.

Weaknesses: The Chiefs' defense was hurt by free agency -- especially in the secondary -- and the team will have to keep its fingers crossed that Montana can stay healthy. It's unlikely he can last 16 games.

Extra point: When Bono beat out Matt Blundin for the backup spot, it wasn't good news for the team's future at quarterback. Bono is 32, not exactly a youngster.

4. San Diego Chargers

1993 record: 8-8, fourth in the division.

Coach: Bobby Ross (19-13 career).

Key additions: CB Dwayne Harper, LB David Griggs, DT Reuben Davis and LB Dennis Gibson.

Key losses: RB Marion Butts, WR Anthony Miller, LB Gary Plummer, S Gill Byrd and QB John Friesz.

Strengths: LB Junior Seau, one of the best players in the league, anchors the Chargers' defense, which was second against the rush last year, although he needs some help because the team was last against the pass.

Weaknesses: The Chargers lost their leading receiver when they decided they couldn't afford to match Denver's offer for Anthony Miller and their best rusher when they traded Marion Butts to New England. That means QB Stan Humphries is going to have %% to rebound from his shoulder injury and carry the offense.

Extra point: General manager Bobby Beathard hasn't had the same success in San Diego that he had in Washington. Like the Redskins, he misses Joe Gibbs.

5. Seattle Seahawks

1993 record: 6-10, fifth in the division.

Coach: Tom Flores (91-77 career).

Key additions: OT Howard Ballard, DE Brent Williams and LB Duane Bickett.

Key losses: FB John L. Williams, T Andy Heck, OL Darrick Brilz and CB Dwayne Harper.

Strengths: In Cortez Kennedy, they have one of the best defensive players in the league, and in Rick Mirer, they have one of the best young quarterbacks. They are the building blocks for the future.

Weaknesses: They have been hit hard by injuries, losing two of their top four cornerbacks (Nate Odomes and Kirby Jackson), their third receiver (Reggie Barnett) and a starting guard (Mitch Frerotte) for the season. Those losses will make the rebuilding process more difficult.

Extra point: Mirer probably had a better supporting cast around him at Notre Dame than he does with the Seahawks. %%

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