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AFC West Roundup: Season preview

The AFC West is just days away from opening the 2015 season. Flip through photos of their preseason contests.

It could be argued that the AFC West is one of the best divisions in the NFL after back-to-back winning seasons - and each team is poised to improve in 2015.

This Sunday marks the start of the regular season for the AFC West, and while Denver clinched the title last year, critics and fans alike agree this year will be even tougher.

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DENVER BRONCOS

Preseason recap: The preseason was able to provide some answers to the Broncos' burning questions before week 1. Can this young offensive line rise to occasion? Is the defense really as good as people think?

The preseason provided flashes of brilliance for some of the Broncos' newest additions. Second-round pick Ty Sambrailo secured his starting spot at left tackle as he and the offensive line matured over the offseason. The addition of veteran left guard Evan Mathis should also help put fans' minds at ease. The defense was a force in all four preseason contests and in 11 series that featured Broncos starters, the defense allowed just six points (two field goals) while forcing seven punts, one fumble and one safety.

Week 1 matchup: Denver welcomes the Baltimore Ravens to Sports Authority Field at Mile High for the season opener, which is fitting considering Head Coach Gary Kubiak was the Ravens' offensive coordinator in 2014, and will make his Broncos head-coaching debut Sunday.

Aside from the reunion of sorts, this game won't be a walk in the park for the Broncos. While many can debate the eliteness of quarterback Joe Flacco, there's no doubt that the Ravens will bring physicality to the field through running back Justin Forsett. In 2014, Forsett racked up 1,266 rushing yards and eight touchdowns with 263 receiving yards. 

On defense, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will lead the mayhem in the backfield for the Ravens after 12 and 17 sacks apiece last year, respectively. With the Broncos' DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, Sunday's game will feature two of the three top sack duos last season with Ware and Miller's 24 combined sacks and Dumervil and Suggs' 29 sacks.

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Preseason recap:The Chargers selected Melvin Gordon with their first pick of the 2015 draft and will look to improve their ground game this season. Quarterback Phillip Rivers has said there will be a running back 'committee' between Gordon and veteran running back Danny Woodhead. Gordon saw the most action in game No. 3 of the preseason against Seattle when he rushed 14 times for 34 yards (2.4 avg.)

Rookie outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel might prove to be a steal in the 2015 draft after recording an impressive rookie debut in the preseason and will back up Melvin Ingram. Veteran safety Eric Weddle remains a Charger for one more season (his impeccable beard remains, as well) and is no doubt the voice of San Diego's secondary after leading the team in tackles last season with 104 total tackles.

Week 1 matchup: The Detroit Lions will arrive in San Diego for their season opener in Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 13. The Chargers' secondary will have their hands full with Pro Bowl quarterback Matthew Stafford and his pair of Pro Bowl receivers, Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson. In the second round, the Lions bolstered their running game with running back Ameer Abdullah to assist veteran running back Joique Bell.

The Lions secondary is solid, but in the 2015 draft, Detroit picked up defensive tackle Gabe Wright out of Auburn to help bulk up its defensive line after the departure of Ndamukong Suh. Those are some big shoes to fill.

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OAKLAND RAIDERS

Preseason recap:The Raiders welcome a new coaching staff to Oakland for the 2015 season, with former Broncos Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio as the newly appointed head coach. Quarterback Derek Carr remains at the helm of the offense for the Raiders after passing for 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns in his rookie season. To aid Carr and Oakland's offense, the Raiders selected Heisman Trophy candidate Amari Cooper with the fourth pick of the 2015 NFL Draft – and so far he's showing great promise for Oakland after catching eight passes for 124 yards (15.5 avg.) in the preseason.

The season opener is just a week away, and the Broncos got down to business with their first practice of the regular season to prepare for it.

On defense, defensive end Khalil Mack continues to shine for Oakland. In the Raiders' preseason game against the Cardinals, the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year notched two sacks and a forced fumble. He had an outstanding rookie season and looks prepared to build off it.

Week 1 matchup: Efficient veteran passer Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals to the O.Co Coliseum descend upon Oakland for their season opener. Four-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green should be a popular target for Dalton after Green totaled 69 receptions for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns last season.

The Bengals defense will face a new challenge with the Raiders' newly bolstered offense. Last season, Cincinnati ranked 22nd overall in total defense, led by linebacker Vincent Ray's 121 tackles.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Preseason recap: While it doesn't mean anything now, the Chiefs were the lone AFC West team to make it through the preseason undefeated. Now Kansas City will look to build on that confidence booster. In the offseason the Chiefs added Jeremy Maclin to aid quarterback Alex Smith. In 2014, not a single Kansas City wide receiver notched a touchdown catch. This preseason, Smith broke the streak and found Maclin in the end zone against Seattle. Running back Jamaal Charles also averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season as one of the league's top running backs, scoring 14 total touchdowns rushing and receiving.

And then there's Justin Houston, who collected 22.0 sacks in 2014. He's back with a new contract. As expected, he didn't see much action in the preseason, but against Tennessee, he totaled three tackles and a sack.

Week 1 matchup: To open the season, the Chiefs head to Houston to take on the Texans. Even with a player like defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans defense will have their hands full.

Houston announced their starting quarterback will be Brian Hoyer, who beat out Ryan Mallett in competition for the spot.  Running back Arian Foster remains a question mark for Houston after tearing a groin muscle. Alfred Blue will step up in his place after rushing for 17 carries this preseason.

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