By Dave Thomas

There was a time in the not too distant past when the AFC West was considered one of the more competitive and hard-hitting divisions.

Yes, while only a game separated the four teams a year ago (Denver winning the division at 9-7, the other three ending at 8-8), the foursome were not exactly leaving opponents outside the division quaking in their boots. After scoring an upset victory at home in the playoffs over Pittsburgh, the Broncos went on the road and were annihilated by New England.

So, coming into the 2012 campaign, there were certainly some questions as to whether or not the Broncos, Chargers, Raiders or Chiefs would be a credible threat to the rest of the AFC.

With one-third of the 16-game season essentially in the books, it appears as of now that fans are down to a two-team race in the AFC West, that is barring a miracle turnaround by either Kansas City or Oakland.

To put it kindly, the Chiefs and Raiders could probably combine their teams and that single team would still be bad. There was a day when Oakland and Kansas City were the top dogs in the division, but those days seem as distant as Elvis Presley and bell bottoms.

To date in 2012, the Chiefs and their fans probably wish they could talk Hall-of-Famer Len Dawson out of retirement, given how badly quarterback Matt Cassel has performed. Meantime, things are not much better in the Bay Area, as the Raiders have managed only 67 points in four games (only Dallas and Jacksonville are worse at 65 each).

cassel Remember When The AFC West Mattered?

(Credit, Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Division Bragging Rights On The Line Monday Night

So, when the Chargers and Broncos collide this coming Monday evening in the first of their two regular season encounters (meet up Nov. 18 in Denver), it is safe to say that it is an early season preview of the battle for the AFC West title.

Sure, San Diego and/or Denver could stub its toes over the next two-plus months and falter, but there are no signs as of now that even should that happen; either Kansas City and/or Oakland would take advantage of it.

For the Chargers, putting behind last Sunday’s disappointing 31-24 loss in New Orleans is critical if they are to stand a solid chance of defeating the Broncos Monday evening.

While Denver has dropped three of its last four games after a season-opening victory over Pittsburgh, it still poses a threat to San Diego. The Chargers’ secondary was exploited on a number of occasions in the loss to New Orleans and Drew Brees– something no doubt Peyton Manning and Co. witnessed on film the last few days.

If the Chargers come out of Monday evening with a victory, they would hold a two-game lead on the Broncos, which is essentially a three-game lead having then beaten them in the first head-to-head battle of the season. Flip the results around, and Denver is right back in the division driver’s seat.

Despite the fact much can, and likely will happen over the remaining two-plus months of football, the AFC West as of now is shaping up like a party only the Chargers and Raiders are invited to.

The question is, will either the Chiefs or Raiders end up crashing it when all is said and done?

For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Chargers news, see CBS Sports Los Angeles.

Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on


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