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NFL 2000 Preview - AFC West

By: James Alder
Dateline: Sept 1, 2000

The race in the AFC West should be very interesting this year. Virtually every team in the division has a shot a finishing on top if everything falls into place for them. This is a division that will be tough to predict since injuries will probably be a key factor determining the outcome, but I will give it my best shot.

I believe that this will be the year that the Oakland Raiders finally put it all together and finish on top of the division. The Raiders have been my pick to win the last two seasons and they have let me down, but I think the addition of rookie kicker Sebastian Janikowski will make a huge difference. Janikowski possesses what is probably the strongest leg in the league and he will fill a slot that was a big weakness last year. If the Raiders would have had a quality kicker last year they probably would have won the division, so I am giving them the edge this season.

Coming in a close second will be the Denver Broncos. The Broncos still have a great nucleus left over from their back to back Super Bowl titles, and although Brian Griese may not remind the fans of John Elway he should continue to show improvement and should become a competent leader for the offense. The return of Terrell Davis will be a huge boost for the entire team and it appears that he has recovered nicely from last season's knee injury. He will take a lot of pressure off of Griese if he returns to the form he displayed before the injury.

Next in line will be the Seattle Seahawks. Mike Holmgren has not taken Seattle to the promised land quite as fast as Seahawk fans had hoped, but they are a team that is on the rise and that day could come soon. Last year the Seahawks struggled to get any kind of running game going and they had the lowest total of rushing touchdowns in the league with only five. In an attempt to turn that trend around, Holmgren chose running back Shaun Alexander in the first round of the draft. Brock Huard could challenge John Kitna for the starting quarterback job as well.

On defense, former Chief's safety Reggie Tounge was brought in through free agency and then running back Ahman Green was traded to Green Bay for 1999 second-round pick Fred Vinson. Although Vinson was lost for the season due to injury, Holmgren is finally starting to assemble "his" players which could make Seattle a serious contender in the next year or two.

The Kansas City Chiefs had some big losses of key players during the offseason. The biggest and most devastating being the tragic death of linebacker Derrick Thomas, the heart and soul of the team's defense. Also gone are safety Reggie Tounge, cornerback Chris Dishman, and wide receivers Joe Horn and Andre Rison. The Chiefs have lost too many good players, without bringing in replacements, to make a serious run at the division title.

Taking up space in the AFC West's rear view mirror most of the season will be the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers have a quality defense led by all-pro linebacker Junior Seau, but the offense will be counting on Ryan Leaf to be their savior. That's a scary thought for all the "Lightning Bolt" fans out there. Surprisingly, Leaf has looked good in the preseason after making a fool of himself in his rookie season, but what will happen the first time he has a bad game and gets ripped by the media? Don't be surprised if Leaf self-destructs before the season is over, solidifying the Chargers hold on the cellar in the west.

How do you think the AFC Western Division will pan out? Post your opinions on the Pro Football Forum, and cast you vote in the poll below.

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