Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 9/7/12

The start of a new season is when fans, media, and players boost their teams up and create as much hype as possible when it comes to why "they" are going to come out on top.

Of course, some of the back-and-forth talk is legitimate, but most of it is related to teams with question marks who are trying to have fun and intimidate their opponents.

You do not hear the Packers or Patriots, for example, talking about how they are yet again going to advance in the playoffs.

On the other hand, in a division with plenty of uncertainty such as the AFC West, there has been a lot of back and forth chit chat about which team will come out on top.

The Kansas City Chiefs have been the bandwagon favorite for months, the Denver Broncos have had their horn tooted due to Peyton Manning being the difference, the Oakland Raiders have heard analysts saying they wouldn't be surprised if this team was in it until the end, and the San Diego Chargers have been the franchise for years that has enough talent to reach the Super Bowl but can never get there.

While Denver has become the new front-runner to win this unpredictable division, the Chargers are right behind them and could also easily be competing for a wild card berth. San Diego gets the nod over Kansas City because this is a quarterback driven league, and last time I checked Philip Rivers is much better than Matt Cassel. Also, the Chiefs looked very poor in the preseason.

There was so much talk last year about Rivers' game regressing, which was understandable given the 20 interceptions and his 88.7 passer rating (Brett Favre's career passer rating is 86.0), but it is time to move on.

Not to mention, after starting poorly by throwing 14 interceptions through San Diego's first eight games, Rivers bounced back by tossing only six pics in the last eight. Once he settled down and got back to his roots, the Chargers' gunslinger threw 170 consecutive passes without an interception, breaking his previous career record of 143.

With that said, however, 2011 was still a bad outing for his standards, but this is not the first time that we have seen this from a great NFL quarterback.

Drew Brees had a down year in 2010, the year after he won the Super Bowl when he threw 22 interceptions, but you didn't hear people worrying about him. Instead, you heard experts praising him for trying to carry the team on his shoulders with no running game.

Another example is Eli Manning, who had a season worth forgetting in 2007, the year that he won his first Super Bowl, but not before throwing 20 interceptions in the regular season. Then, he had an even worse showing in 2010, when he tossed a pathetic 25 interceptions.

The point is that these guys are currently all unanimous top-eight quarterback's in the league, which says a lot because the only quarterback ranking people can agree on today is Aaron Rodgers at No. 1.

It is easy to forget that just two seasons ago, in 2010, Rivers had the second highest passer rating in the league, behind only Tom Brady. Then, in 2009, he was third on the list, behind only Brees and Favre. And the year before that, in 2008, he had the best passer rating in the NFL.

If that didn't make an impact, the North Carolina State product is at his best when his team needs him most, hence his 26-3 career record in December and January.

Unfortunately for Rivers, he was shafted by his peers when they voted him as the eighth best quarterback on NFL Networks' Top 100: Players of 2012, and the previous year he was seen throughout the league as the sixth best signal-caller.

Both of these rankings are inaccurate and not logical. The man had a higher passer rating than Aaron Rodgers three years in a row, from 2008-2010, and we are supposed to believe that he is the sixth or eighth best quarterback in the league?

Aside from their four-time Pro Bowl quarterback, the Chargers have several other reasons to feel that they can be a competitive playoff team. It may be hard to understand this, given the fact that they lost their No. 1 receiver in Vincent Jackson during the offseason, but the reality is that Norv Turner's team has improved since last year.

Lose one guy, bring in two guys— that was the Chargers' plan and a brilliant one at that. Jackson left, but in came another potent deep threat with the acquisition of Robert Meachem from New Orleans, who has averaged an incredible 17.5 yards per catch over his five-year career.

In addition, San Diego landed one of the speediest slot receivers in football when they brought in Eddie Royal from Denver, who thrives at getting open and will inevitably create havoc as a return specialist. The latter is especially important because special teams have been an ongoing problem for the Chargers, but look for Royal's presence to create a spark that the Bolts have been looking for.

Rivers should be very excited about playing with his new toys, but he will also be using his old ones frequently. This is the first season in a long time, and possibly ever, that Antonio Gates has been one hundred percent healthy in the offseason. Scary, isn't it?

Over the last several years, the former college basketball player and Chargers' tight end has been playing hurt. More specifically, in 2010 and 2011, the game tape repeatedly shows Gates running at half speed due to his ailing foot injury (unlike Randy Moss who chooses to).

This did not stop him, however, from staying productive during that tenure and maintaining his rank as one of the best tight ends in football. Defenses are still game planning for the eight-time Pro Bowler and coverage is often shifted to his side of the field.

After Calvin Johnson, Gates is arguably the most difficult player in the league to cover. His combination of size, athleticism, strength, and speed make him nearly unstoppable, and he rarely, if ever, drops the ball.

While Gates is a future first ballot Hall of Famer, it is still important for Rivers to spread the ball around in order to keep defenses on their feet. Luckily for him, Malcom Floyd is returning and looking to have a breakout year in his first season as the team's No. 1 receiver.

At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Floyd is one of the biggest receivers in all of football. This kind of size causes trouble for cornerbacks, who are usually around 6', because Rivers is one of the most accurate passers in the game and has mastered placing the ball at heights where only his big target can get it.

Now that Jackson is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, expect Floyd's numbers to increase by a fair amount from last year, where he caught 43 passes for 856 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers are well above-average for a team's No. 2 wideout, but this guy has all of the tools to jump into that No. 1 spot, given the fact that he has off-the-charts big-play potential.

In 2011, the Wyoming product led all receivers across the league with a remarkable 19.9 yards per catch. To be able to move the chains with this kind of productivity is detrimental to San Diego's success, and expect Floyd to carry this on despite the fact that he will often be lined up against the opposing team's No. 1 cornerback.

With the number of weapons that Rivers has in his arsenal, the Chargers are primed for an explosive year on offense.

But the coaching staff will also ask the defense to step up and play like they did in 2010, when they were first in yards allowed. Though this may be unrealistic, San Diego must show improvement on the defensive side of the ball if they want to win the division.

The results are in, and the Denver Broncos are still the favorites to win the AFC West, but Philip Rivers and company are an incredibly close second and possess all of the tools to make a deep run in January.



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