We’re finally here! NFL regular season games start tonight with the Broncos and the Ravens, a matchup of last year’s Super Bowl champions and one of the leading favorites to be this year’s Super Bowl champions. We’ll close out our NFL preview with the home of the Broncos, the AFC West.
1. Denver – After falling a little short last season, in large part due to a major fail by safety Rahim Moore, the Broncos are back and eyeing a Super Bowl run in 2013. Peyton Manning looks as good as ever now that he’s a year more removed from his neck surgeries and he has an even better collection of receiving targets at his disposal with the addition of Wes Welker. However, Denver’s offensive line has been hit hard by injuries, and so keeping Manning protected in the pocket and on his feet could become a concern for them.
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On the defensive side of the ball, getting after the quarterback could be a concern as well; the team lost Elvis Dumervil in free agency and will have to get by without the suspended Von Miller for the first six games of the season. The Broncos are also quite old in the secondary, despite having plenty of talent, and that unit could have some problems if Denver isn’t able to find some viable pass rushers. Even with Miller missing six games, it’s hard to imagine the Broncos not winning the AFC West, but there are still plenty of potential roadblocks that could prevent them from reaching the Super Bowl.
2. Kansas City – The Chiefs were the worst team in the NFL last season, but they had a great offseason and right now they look like the second best team in the AFC West, albeit a distance second. Kansas City has a defense that’s littered with Pro Bowlers, as they have perhaps the best group of linebackers in the league, as well as a deep and talented secondary. If they can get consistent play from their defensive line, they should have a top-10 defense. Offensively, the addition of quarterback Alex Smith and head coach Andy Reid will help immensely. They may be a little short on playmakers outside of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles, but they should not be nearly as inept as they were last season, especially since they helped their offensive line by retaining Branden Albert and drafting Eric Fisher. Kansas City has a long way to go after last season, and while a playoff spot is only a remote possibility, an 8-8 record is quite possible, and a huge step in the right direction after last year’s two-win disaster.
3. San Diego – The Chargers think they have a bright future under new coach Mike McCoy, but their present isn’t looking so good. Philip Rivers has started to decline over the past couple seasons, their running game is questionable, and there are serious questions about who the playmakers in their passing game are going to be. Even with McCoy being a bright offensive coach that’s able to adapt to the personnel around him, the Chargers may not be able to score points on a consistent basis. There is some talent on the defense, but probably not enough to make up for an offense that’s so inconsistent. While San Diego should have no trouble staying out of the AFC West basement, they look like a sub-.500 team heading into the season.
4. Oakland – The Raider’s outlook for the 2013 season is quite bleak. They parted ways with quarterback Carson Palmer during the offseason, even though he was one of their few bright spots last year, and after Matt Flynn failed to hold onto a job that was handed to him for the second straight year, Oakland is now going with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. Pryor is great at using his legs, which should come in handy with a weak offensive line in front of him, but he has to prove that he can move the ball with his arm, which will be tough to do after losing Brandon Myers and Darrius Heyward-Bey, two of their top three receivers from last season. Defensively, Oakland has a solid back-7, but they don’t have a lot of talent or depth up front. Being a defensive specialist, head coach Dennis Allen needs to make sure the Raiders are competent on that side of the ball, as it may be the only way to keep the Raiders competitive this season and the only way for Allen to keep his job, because Oakland probably won’t get much help from its offense this season.