SAN DIEGO: There are a lot of quarterbacks in this league who are overrated. Philip Rivers isn't one of them. The Chargers do not have great skill position talent, but Rivers consistently elevates the players dependent on him. He's done it even with a declining LaDanian Tomlinson these past two years and he'll do it with a new cast in the backfield this year. The offensive line is very good on the left side, and solid in the interior. Right tackle, with Jeromey Clay, is the only problem area.
Defensively, San Diego's 3-4 is triggered by superb production from the outside linebackers, where Shaun Phillips and Shawn Merriman are top-level talents in all phases. The inside is solid and stable, manned by Stephen Cooper who is solid against the run, and Kevin Burnett who is good in coverage. The secondary is led by top cover corner Quentin Jammer, but does have some question marks at the opposite corner. The safeties, Kevin Ellison and Eric Weddle aren't great, but they'll get the job done. The front three could use some improvement, with only end Luis Castillo being a difference-maker and having to break in Ogemdi Nwagbuo on the nose.
DENVER: Josh McDaniel's brashness caught a lot of people offguard last season, and after a 6-0 start it looked like he might be ready to back it up. Losing eight of the last ten reminded everyone of Denver's personnel flaws and this year looks no different. The Broncos have serious problems on the inside of their offensive line, which is in transition, and at receiver, where they lack playmakers. Kyle Orton can function as a game manager, but this offense requires more than that. The positives are the tackles, Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris who are both young and very good. And running back Knowshon Moreno is going to be a solid back for a long time.
The defensive line has the same problems as the offensive front. In the 3-4 setup, Denver does have one great pass rusher, Elvis Dumervil, one of the most valuable players in the NFL last year as he led the league in sacks. But they need more people who can pressure consistently, because the secondary is a problem, where only Champ Bailey is really reliable. Brian Dawkins remains a leader after all his years in the league, but the talent level is decline. And when it comes to getting pressure, there's no help coming from the front three.
KANSAS CITY: The Chiefs seem to be slowly getting their act together, although it's a long way back to where they were in the days when Marty Schottenheimer had them in the playoffs every year. The offensive line is halfway decent, though they could use some improvement at center. Running back Jamaal Charles showed a lot in the second half of his last season when the rookie got his shot. The problems are in the passing game, where Matt Cassel showed that maybe the New England system had more to do with his success of 2008 than anything else, and only Chris Chambers is any kind of target.
Defensively, I like the front seven here. Second-year man Glen Dorsey was a one-man wrecking crew at LSU, and made a nice transition from tackle to end last season. Ron Edwards is functionable at nose. The outside linebackers are a good combination of leadership and talent. Mike Vrabel is steady at one spot, while Tamba Hali benefited from the shift from the 4-3 and his own personal shift from defensive end. He was much more effective rushing the passer from the standup OLB spot. Demorrio Williams is solid on the inside. The secondary has problems on the corners, and will break in rookie free safety Eric Perry.
OAKLAND: There's problems galore in this organization and we can start at the skill positions. You have the complete instability at quarterback, the atrocious talent level at receiver and the concerns on the right side of the line. Then let's move to Darren McFadden's lack of durability at running back, and the lack of depth to cover for that. Robert Gallery, a very good guard, from a first-class college program in Iowa, deserved better in his pro career.
The problems continue on defense, where the Raiders employ a four-man front and the inside is soft and inexperienced. The linebacking corps is equally shaky and the secondary's got a big problem on one corner and at free safety. There are a few positives here. Veteran Richard Seymour and second-year man Matt Shaughnessy make a good combination at defensive end. And rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain was the leader of Alabama's national championship defense last season. But that's about it.
NOTEBOOK PICK: The real question is which team has the best chance to unseat San Diego. I think that's Kansas City. No, I do not think they will do it, or even come close. But the Chiefs win the only real race in this division, which is for second place. As to San Diego, it's not that their talent is as overwhelming as is often reported in the media. But they've been well-coached in this run, starting with Marty Schottenheimer, who established a good defensive foundation. Norv Turner is perfect for working with quarterbacks and brought Rivers into his own. Combine that with the weakness of the competition and you have the formula for a little mini-dynasty.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Notebook Sports Family, published through the Real Clear Sports blog network, offering daily commentary on baseball ,game analysis for college football and previews in the NFL.