Around the AFC West: Week One

Football season is here. It’s here to stay until February. The landscape of the AFC West, though, seems to be changing rapidly, especially following several bad seasons for all four teams.

Perhaps no off-season personnel moves were more notable than the Broncos’ acquisition of Wes Welker.

Denver signed the veteran wide-out for two years and $6 million, one of the larger contracts drawn up this March. Whichever team you’re rooting for, the notion of the division’s emergence — similar to the NFC West — is moving more  from perception to reality. But until gameday, nobody will really know.

Oakland Raiders

One dramatic difference from last season is the Raiders’ offensive line.

The Raiders actually finished their 2012 campaign with some of the best pass protection numbers in the NFL. But without Jared Veldheer and Menelik Watson to start the season, Terrelle Pryor will need to use his legs quite often.

The young quarterback’s mobility could be a huge plus, but Pryor will still need help from receivers. That help hasn’t been  available very often, or so it seems.

Oakland will face the Indianapolis Colts in Week One, and the offensive line should have a much easier time fending off hungry pass rushers than they did in their preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

A litmus test of sorts, the receiving corps should also have an easier time and this game should help break in the younger and less developed players on the roster.

Defensively, we all may finally get to see what sort of schemes the Raiders will run this season. A predominantly vanilla defense during the preseason should become full of stunts, cover-two reads and blitzes.

Indy possesses a high-powered wide receiver corps in T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne and former Raider Darrius Heyward-Bey. If the Oakland pass rush can succeed, the game may be much closer than pundits believe it will be.

San Diego Chargers

Phillip Rivers will open the season without two of his favorite targets in Danario Alexander — who tore his ACL during training camp — and Robert Meachem, who was released just a week ago.

Rookie WR and former Cal Bears superstar Keenan Allen will try to fill Alexander’s role; my bet is that he’ll do it admirably. However, the Bolts open against the Houston Texans and their top-tier defense on Monday night.

The Texans are a tall order for any team, much less a team that has suffered from injuries to crucial skill players. San DIego also restructured the contract of Rivers to sign outside linebacker Donald Butler.

Supporting Manti Te’o, Butler will try to continue to pad his stat sheet following a more than decent 2012 season. This will more than likely become a run-away win for Houston, but Te’o will see what he can do at the NFL level, and the rest of the world will be watching closely.

Kansas City Chiefs

New quarterback Alex Smith looked pretty darn good in the preseason. He hardly missed a target – though the same cannot be said for his receivers – during the past few weeks, and he will have an easy matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe and former 49ers wide receiver AJ Jenkins will take the field with Smith at 10 a.m.

When Blaine Gabbert is in control of the ball, nothing tends to go right, not for the Jags anyway. Last season, Gabbert threw only nine touchdowns, while throwing six picks and fumbling five times. Kansas City’s upgraded defense should have fun with him. Either fun or pity. Whatever works, really.

Denver Broncos

During Thursday’s 49-27 season-opening victory against the Baltimore Ravens, Peyton Manning played an average first half.

That is, until the Denver defense stifled an injured Ravens offensive line, forcing three-and-outs like Somali pirates strong-arm hapless tourists.

Manning finished the game with seven touchdown passes, in large part due to terrible coverage by the Baltimore front seven and secondary. Former Raiders safety Michael Huff gave up several plays and the rest of the defensive backs weren’t very sharp either.

You can pay Manning his much earned due, but the numerous miscalculations by Baltimore may have been the larger factor at play.

Joe Flacco certainly didn’t do his team many favors as he seemed to miss half the field during his progressions, possibly because his starting right tackle (and ‘The Blind Side’ real life character) Michael Oher left the game during the second quarter with an ankle injury caused by his own teammate. Number two WR Jacoby Jones also left the game early with a knee sprain, also caused by a Ravens player.

Manning would have struggled mightily had Baltimore been playing at the level they were in February.


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