Read: How The West Will Be Won (By The Chiefs!)

It must be sunny over by the Kansas City Star offices, because the Kent Babb is explaining how the Chiefs can win the AFC West in 2009.

No, it’s not likely that the Chiefs will win the division this year.  It is possible, though.  Miami won the AFC East last year after going 1-15 in 2007.  The Dolphins had a lot farther to climb than the Chiefs, and a new coach, GM and quarterback at least helped expedite their return to respectability.  Atlanta didn’t win the NFC South, but the Falcons made the playoffs.  Yep, new coach, GM and quarterback.  The Chiefs have made changes at all three of those critical spots.

What has to happen for Kansas City to win the AFC West?

Denver and San Diego have to struggle. This is probably the most important thing for the Chiefs to have a contending season.  As much as Kansas City can do on its own, it needs help from the two division mainstays the last few years.  Denver is probably geared for a tough season after the offseason drama involving first-year coach Josh McDaniels and former quarterback Jay Cutler.  But San Diego could contend for the Super Bowl.  For the Chiefs to have any chance, the Chargers have to underachieve and win no more than nine games.  Eight wins won the division last year, and although that number isn’t likely to get it done again, a nine-win San Diego team would mean that the Chiefs likely won at least one of the match-ups against the Chargers.

Larry Johnson has to do his part.  It seems like a long, long time ago that the Chiefs running back made consecutive Pro Bowls.  And, really, Johnson is a different player than he was then.  He’s no longer the durable, bruising back whose talent overshadows his issues.  Now, those issues are the No. 1 talking point regarding Johnson entering this season.  He has done well to keep quiet this offseason, trying to make it clear that he wants to be in Kansas City.  But he has to stay quiet all season and be productive in an offense that needs some help.  If Johnson proves himself again to be a distraction — and particularly an unproductive distraction, as he was last year — the Chiefs will forget him as quickly as possible.

Someone has to emerge as a leader on defense.  Linebacker Derrick Johnson wants to be the defensive captain, but Zach Thomas took home the honorary title after offseason workouts.  It’s not so much a matter of who will speak for the defense but who will be the player the Chiefs all strive to become.  That could be Thomas, although he is aging and has seen his skills decrease the last few years.  It could be Johnson or maybe someone like Tank Tyler.  It probably will not be Mike Vrabel, as the Chiefs hoped a few months ago.  They need someone to take it personally if the Chiefs defense struggles.  And other players have to notice and follow their leader.

There are two other important things that Babb thinks need to happen for the Chiefs to win the division, so click over to the article for the rest.  The three I’ve highlighted here are the biggest issues for me.  Even the most optimistic Chiefs fan right now probably has Kansas City Down for 8 wins at best.  That means San Diego will have to take a big time dive, and while that’s always possible with a Norv Turner team, to me they seem too talented to let that happen.  Then again, I thought they were too talented to do it last year and how’d that work out?

As for Larry Johnson, earlier I was talking about how I’m finally realizing how important he is to the Chiefs offense this year.  The only reason I’m late to the party is because I wanted LJ and his attitude to be expendable.  But right now with the way the offense is currently constructed, Matt Cassel is going to need a healthy and productive Larry Johnson in order to survive his first season in Kansas City.

The other big question is who will lead the new look defense?  I think Derrick Johnson will finally have the breakout season a lot of us have been expecting from him and if he does then the transition to the 3-4 will go much less of an issue.  Thomas is a great leader by example when it comes to work ethic, but Johnson will have to lead when it comes to making plays.  Thomas isn’t at a point in his career where you can expect him to be a game changer.  Great character guy, hard worker, good mentor but not a playmaker.  Derrick Johnson needs to be this team’s Superman for the defense to go.

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