Scouting the division
Peyton Manning is more than just a 36-year-old lock for the Hall of Fame. He gave the Broncos an out in the whole Tim Tebow situation that no one could argue with.
Even if he's lost something after missing a season and is used to playing inside, Manning makes the defending division champions a factor, and the budding defense built by Dennis Allen and taken over by Jack Del Rio makes the Broncos the team to beat.
If Denver continues to get a good pass rush from Von Miller and Elvis Dumervill, then cornerback Champ Bailey can continue to flourish. He's the Charles Woodson of the AFC. It's a concern, however, that Del Rio is Denver 's seventh defensive coordinator in seven years.
If Manning goes down and the team is handed over to Caleb Hanie or rookie Brock Osweiler, it would go south in a hurry -- with no Tebow to bail them out.
The Chiefs added Peyton Hillis for a potential thunder-lightning combination with Jamal Charles in their running game. It's a great idea provided that Hillis is motivated and uninjured and Charles has made a quick recovery from an ACL tear.
If not, that puts a huge burden on quarterback Matt Cassel, who can be very effective as a ball-distributor and game manager so long as he's not asked to carry the offense with his passing. Second-year wide receiver Jon Baldwin has shown signs of making
Defensively, Tamba Hali has 35 sacks since the Chiefs went to a 3-4 defense in 2009 and has forced 12 fumbles. He is a potential game-changer at any moment.
The Chiefs seem unified in their love for Romeo Crennel, promoted to head coach after the demise of the unpopular Todd Haley. That sort of honeymoon usually lasts about as long as a good start -- so the Chiefs need to start fast.
The more the Chargers moved away from being a run-first team with LaDainian Tomlinson, the more their end result struggled.
Was it because of quarterback Philip Rivers, or because Rivers struggled with injuries? Rivers wasn't himself in 2011, but it's also true his offensive line was a revolving door.
The best solution would be to have running back Ryan Mathews be as close to a reasonable facsimile to Tomlinson as possible to take the pressure off Rivers. A shoulder injury may make that difficult to start the season.
The good news is tight end Antonio Gates looks to have shed a few pounds and may turn back the clock.
As for the San Diego defense, a strong corps linebackers highlighted by Shaun Phillips leads a unit which never seems to measure up to what the Chargers do on offense.