It is much harder for teams on the west coast to break out because the east coast is much more fanatic in regards to sports, but these guys will sure as heck try. The West on paper looks like a weak division, but when they didn't have to travel across the country they could play with the big boys. The Chargers beat the Ravens by 20 at home. The Chiefs gave the Packers their only loss while playing at Arrowhead Stadium. The Raiders took down the Jets and Bears when they came to the Black Hole. The Broncos took down Cincinatti before Tebowmania even occurred. If the teams are on an even playing field, the West isn't as bad as they look.
Last year, players like Demarius Thomas and Ryan Mathews broke out and made names for themselves. This year there is a pool of young talent that can go in a number of directions. There may be plenty of question marks coming into the 2012 season for this division one thing is certain, a few small names will become big names this year.
Denver Broncos- Elvis Dumervil
All the headlines coming out of Denver have everything to do with Peyton Manning and the offense. What people forget is Denver rode its defense and special teams to keep them in games until Tebow could take over. Imagine how good this team will be once Peyton gives them time to rest. With stars like Champ Bailey, Von Miller, and DJ Williams it is easy to get overlooked. See Dumervil, Elvis. This guy has been one of the best defensive ends in the league for as long as he has been in it. Dumervil missed all of 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle. Dumervil became something of an afterthought even though 2009 he had a career best 17 sacks. He came back with a vengence in 2011 getting nine and a half sacks while recording 42 tackles. Dumervil is a nightmare for opposing offenses and is the reason that Von Miller had such an amazing rookie campaign. Without offensive lines worrying about him getting through with ease, Miller doesn't have that open hole to run through. Dumervil will top his 2011 campaign and get back into double digit sack stats. He will put himself in that upper echelon of defensive lineman. Expect Dumervil to show his mettle and battle for the league lead in sacks.
San Diego Chargers- Jackie Battle
Battle is currently slated as the third string running back. That will not last long. Last year, Battle wasn't even a thought to see the field, let alone start. Battle took the reigns and ran with it, no pun intended. When he was given significant carries after Jamaal Charles injury he was a monster playmaker. He was brought in as a change of pace back when Mathews and Ronnie Brown are tired. Well unfortunately Ryan Mathews has a broken clavicle and will miss four to six weeks. Does anyone else remember how good Ronnie Brown was last year in Philadelphia? Ask any Eagles fan how they feel about Brown and you should get a sense of how long it will take San Diego to get sick of him. Brown rushed for a whopping 136 yards (yes he played every game) and as many fumbles as touchdowns (no, the touchdown wasn't significant and yes, the fumble was). Battle showed he is a more than serviceable back when called upon, Brown has not. Battle will break out this year and take some heat off as Mathews tries to come back. Don't be surprised if Brown ends up getting cut because of how impressive Battle is in the preseason.
Oakland Raiders- Carson Palmer
I'm crazy, right? Palmer was terrible last year. Actually, after the first game back, in which he was thrown into an offense without knowing anything, he was great. In the last eight games of the season, Palmer averaged 344 yards a game and had even TD/INT splits. If he does that over the whole season, he breaks Drew Brees record for passing yards in a season. Palmer is doing this with Darius Heyward-Bey as a number one receiver. The Raiders receiving core is green, but Palmer is a great QB to have under center to put the ball exactly where it needs to be. He puts the ball in spots where only his guys can catch it. He is one of the few players in the league who can throw you back into a game if you let him. Give him a full year in the system and take out the few months he wasn't in training camp and you got an elite quarterback. The Raiders were told they gave up way too much for Palmer last year. Palmer is feeding off those doubters and is going to put together a season worth watching. He may overshadow Peyton, which is something I never thought I'd say.
Kansas City Chiefs- Eric Berry
Everyone is looking to see how fireball Jamaal Charles comes back from his knee injury, but people are forgetting about someone more important who missed most of 2011. In Berry's rookie campaign he totaled ninety-two tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and two sacks from the safety position. Those numbers are the football version of a five tool player. Berry barely got out of the gate losing his season in the first quarter of the first game in his sophmore season. Berry never got to have the sophmore slump that riddles all of the breakout rookies over the years. He was humbled quickly seeing how fast it can all be over. Berry is already back on the field in playing shape going in the first game of the preseason. This is a great sign for a guy coming off ACL surgery. Berry now has the skills, the smarts, and the respect for the game to become Rodney Harrison 2.0. We haven't seen a guy this good since Polamalu and Reed in their primes. He will usher in the new guard at the safety position. The Chiefs must feel pretty darn good having him patrol the field from day one. Look out AFC, this guy is looking to hit you, hard. If you don't watch out he can pick the football and take it to the house as well.