Afc West

September 05, 2002|By KEN MURRAY

Denver Broncos

Last season: 8-8, third place.

Coach: Mike Shanahan (80-52), eighth year with Broncos, 10th in NFL.

Story line: Can Brian Griese reclaim his place as one of the league's better young quarterbacks?

Power game: Defense made a big push last season, and with the defection of LB Bill Romanowski to Oakland, the Broncos will juggle the lineup. John Mobley moves into Romanowski's strong side spot and Ian Gold moves in on the weak side. Even though the Broncos' free-agent signing of former Raven Keith Washington a year ago was a bust, the Broncos added another ex-Raven, DT Lional Dalton, this year.

Achilles' heel: The Broncos' once-vaunted passing game ranked only 25th last year as Griese threw 19 interceptions. WR Rod Smith (113 catches) was the only threat once Ed McCaffrey went down. That's why the Broncos brought back TE Shannon Sharpe and drafted WR Ashley Lelie.

Pressure's on: Griese. He threw 19 interceptions last year after throwing only four the year before. A private person, he's had to open up more to his teammates this summer.

Ticket to San Diego: A lot would have to fall in place, starting with Griese.

Kansas City Chiefs

Last season: 6-10, fourth place.

Coach: Dick Vermeil (82-83), second year with Chiefs, 12th in NFL.

Story line: Can Vermeil's Chiefs achieve a St. Louis-like turnaround and make the playoffs?

Power game: The offense is patterned after Vermeil's old Rams. Even if the weapons aren't the same, the results are impressive. RB Priest Holmes led the league in rushing last season. If QB Trent Green hadn't led the league in interceptions (24), the Chiefs would've won more often.

Achilles' heel: The Chiefs ranked 27th in run defense last season and 23rd in total defense. That's why they drafted defensive linemen in the first two rounds, starting with DT Ryan Sims at the sixth pick. Not getting Sims signed until last week was a major drawback.

Pressure's on: Green. He cost the Chiefs a first-round pick a year ago, and his performance didn't merit it. The Chiefs added LT Willie Roaf to the line and WR Johnnie Morton to the passing game, but Green still has to make it work.

Ticket to San Diego: The Chiefs had the fifth-ranked offense in the NFL last year. If Green and the defense come around, it will be a tough team to beat.

Oakland Raiders

Last season: 10-6, first place. Lost divisional game to New England, 16-13, in OT.

Coach: Bill Callahan (0-0), first year with Raiders.

Story line: Can Callahan win it all in his first year with an aging roster that faded down the stretch a year ago?

Power game: The Raiders' passing game was prolific last year. QB Rich Gannon threw for 27 TDs and only nine interceptions. Tim Brown (91) and Jerry Rice (83) caught 18 touchdown passes between them. And diminutive Charlie Garner rushed for 839 yards. But the big loss is coach Jon Gruden, who left for Tampa Bay.

Achilles' heel: Run defense undermined the Raiders a year ago, when they allowed nearly 2,000 rushing yards and a 4.6 average carry. They imported DTs John Parrella and Sam Adams, and drafted LB Napoleon Harris in an effort to correct the problem.

Pressure's on: Callahan. He was Gruden's offensive coordinator, and he will draw a lot of scrutiny from managing partner Al Davis.

Ticket to San Diego: It's the last dance for a lot of these players. A shot at the Super Bowl is why FS Rod Woodson, a former Raven, moved across country.

San Diego Chargers

Last season: 5-11, fifth place.

Coach: Marty Schottenheimer (153-93-1), first year with Chargers, 17th in NFL.

Story line: Are the Chargers headed for Los Angeles?

Power game: Team owner Alex Spanos and president Dean Spanos are working the ultimate power play. They want a new stadium for the Chargers, and if that means relocating to Los Angeles, they're willing to do it.

Achilles' heel: Despite the presence of RB LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers were last in the AFC in red-zone offense. What's more, they got diminishing returns from QB Doug Flutie, who guided the team to a 5-2 start but lost the last nine games. Schottenheimer has opted to go with the younger quarterback in Drew Brees.

Pressure's on: The Chargers' defense. Isn't it always? It's been that way since the Ryan Leaf fiasco and even with Flutie a year ago, the team's fortunes ultimately fell to the defensive side. Schottenheimer's job will be to generate enough offense to rest his defense.

Ticket to San Diego: At least the Super Bowl will be in their stadium.

-- Team previews by Ken Murray

MVP candidate -- QB Rich Gannon

Impact rookie -- RB Clinton Portis, Broncos

Best Pickup -- DT Sam Adams, Raiders

Biggest loss -- Coach Jon Gruden, Raiders

Most Vulnerable -- QB Brian Griese, Broncos

Best comeback -- QB Trent Green, Chiefs

STAFF PREDICTIONS

Jamison Hensley

Raiders

Broncos

Chargers

Chiefs

Ed Lee

Broncos

Raiders*

Chiefs

Chargers

Brent Jones

Broncos

Raiders*

Chiefs

Chargers

Ken Murray

Raiders

Chiefs

Chargers

Broncos

Mike Preston

Raiders

Broncos*

Chiefs

Chargers

* -- Wild Card, ALL CAPS -- AFC CHAMP

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