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The AFC West Stands Ready And Waiting For The Chiefs To Take Over

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The NFL is not a vacuum. No team exists entirely to itself, and there are no islands in the final standings. The winners and losers year to year in the National Football League get to where they are based on what happened to the teams surrounding them and how they fared when clashing with one another.

This might seem obvious, but with all of the in-depth analysis on the Chiefs, what might be lost in the process is the status of other teams. Specifically, one team from the AFC West is going to be labeled a Playoff Team when all is said and done. (Maybe more, but not likely given the level of competition in other divisions.) It will either be the Raiders, Broncos, Chargers or Chiefs. And while the Chiefs coaches will tell their players that they cannot worry about anyone but their own selves, as fans we have the luxury of looking all over the map and soaking in what's going on.

Those fervently in the Chiefs camp should be pleased, then, that the rest of the AFC West is making way like the Red Sea in front of Moses for Kansas City. A few months ago, most unbiased experts (is that even possible) would place the Chiefs and Raiders at the bottom, the Chargers at the top and the Broncos in some weird middle that you didn't quite know what to do with. Since that time, everything has been haywire. Allow me to explain.

The Raiders seem like Al Davis has secretly passed away and Common Sense took over in his place. They jettisoned JaMarcus Russell. They've maintained coaching continuity. They drafted guys who actually deserved their draft slots -- at least on paper. Things are looking up in Oakland. At the same time, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Jason Campbell couldn't get it done in Washington and there's no reason to believe he can do it across three time zones. The worst, however, is an offensive line that ranks as the worst in the division. Draftees like Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell might become answers down the road, but neither should bring much in 2010.

You have to feel bad for the Broncos, nemesis or not. Losing your top pass rusher is a crushing blow to any team, but when that player is a young cornerstone and one of the best in the NFL, it's even worse. Elvis Dumervil's injury takes away one of the few pass rushers in the NFL that you had to absolutely plan for on each and every down. It's a huge loss. (Look at the Chiefs and Vikings with and without Jared Allen and you get the idea). And now Jarvis Moss broke his hand.

Not only that, but the Tim Tebow circus is in town (which means constant distractions after they traded players they labeled the same). Ryan Clady already was lost for the season, another playmaker on a team with precious few (again, after trading players with that label). In fact, it's hard to see this being a good year for the Broncos at all. They traded their playmakers (in a playmaking league) and drafted guys that might become just that, but these things take time. And if you think the NFL isn't about the playmaker, then wonder why the Chiefs drafted Eric Berry, Dexter McCluster, et al, instead of more "foundational" guys.

The Chargers will continue to be a solid team. They might even be a very good one. Their offensive core is in place. The reviews on new halfback Ryan Matthews are strong. And Philip Rivers might be the next great quarterback to take the leap to elite status -- he's got the tools. Defensively, there are holes, but the overall talent level here is still too great to overlook. Still contract issues with Marcus McNeill, Shawne Merriman and Vincent Jackson threaten the chemistry, and the loss of Antonio Cromartie and Jamal Williams creates holes in key places on defense.

When it's all added up, the Chiefs sit well against the foes that matter most -- their colleagues in the AFC West. It should be an interesting season that combines well with an easier schedule to create a lot of momentum for the Chiefs to fare well in 2010.