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AFC West: Raiders, Chiefs battle for throne

In the 1960s and early ’70s, the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders waged the best rivalry in football. Each was a Super Bowl contender on an annual basis, boasting a host of Hall of Famers including George Blanda, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Ken Stabler, John Madden, Hank Stram, Jan Stenerud, Len Dawson, Emmitt Thomas, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier and others. You get the point. They were damn good teams.

However, the rivalry has fallen off since, sans a brief period in the ’90s. Both teams took a decided turn for the worst, but things are looking up for both. Kansas City has reached the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, while the Raiders qualified for the postseason last year for the first time since 2002.

Now, the foes are the two main characters in the AFC West drama this year. The two teams couldn’t be more different from each other, with the Raiders featuring a high-powered offense while the Chiefs are defined by their bruising defense. Oakland has long been seen as the renegade outpost of the NFL, while Kansas City puts forth an idea of prim and proper, even in a game of brutes.

The two are clear favorites to win the West and get back into the playoffs, but they will have company. The Chargers are finally settled in Los Angeles — albeit in a 27,000-seat barn known as the StubHub Center — instead of having to worry about looming relocation from San Diego. The Chargers have ample talent on both sides of the ball, with budding superstars in Hunter Henry, Melvin Gordon and Joey Bosa. If Los Angeles could find good health this season, there is real hope to enjoy a winning campaign.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos might be the  biggest wild card of the group. Denver is the only team in the West with an unsettled quarterback situation, as it enters training camp with a battle between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Lynch, a 2016 first-round pick, is the favorite to get the job, especially after Siemian completed less than 60 percent of this passes last season. Still, questions remain as to whether either are good enough to get the Broncos back into serious contention, after they missed the playoffs in 2016 for the first time in the John Elway era.

For many moons, the West was ruled by the Broncos and Chargers, while the Chiefs and Raiders languished far in the distance. Today, all four have hope and dreams of playing deep into January, but it is Kansas City and Oakland who remain most likely to realize those ambitions.

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