The Broncos would have had a picture perfect off-season were it not for Von Miller’s six-game suspension that will leave the Broncos without their top defensive player for a few of their tougher games. The Broncos also lost Elvis Dumervil this off-season, which will only make the absence of Miller look worse in the coming weeks. On top of that, cornerback Champ Bailey won’t play tonight in the team’s season opener against the Ravens because of a foot injury. Last year the Broncos had tremendous luck with their defense in regards to injuries, with nearly all of their starters making it through the entire season without missing a game. They’re already missing a few key names this season, and while it’s not all because of injury, if their luck changes this season, it may do enough damage to knock the Broncos down a peg from being an elite defense to being merely a good one.
Of course, if your top issue is possible regression to a stout defense and your quarterback is Peyton Manning, I’m sure there are worst situations that you could be in. If the Broncos defense regresses any this season, it may be offset in the improvement of their offense. The Broncos already had one of the best receiver tandems in football with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and they killed two birds with one stone this off-season by signing Wes Welker away from the Patriots to act as the superstar version of Brandon Stokely in Manning’s offense while also stealing away Tom Brady’s top threat.
The Broncos ran the ball pretty well last season despite the lack of a dynamic back, but Manning’s offenses have always been able to run the ball at a decent clip because of how much attention the defense has to pay to the passing game. Denver could be an even better rushing team this season with the addition of Montee Ball to give the Broncos a trio of useful backs with Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman. This is far from an elite group, but it should be a productive one that complements Denver’s top-of-the-line passing game and effectively ices games that Manning and his receivers put away early.
When you play in a division as bad as the AFC West and you have Manning at quarterback, you essentially start the season with six wins. Given that, it’s virtually impossible to see the Broncos missing the post-season in 2013.
Best-case scenario: 13-3, If they win tonight and the senior Manning wins the Manning bowl in week two, it’s tough to see Denver losing any games except at Indy, at New England and at Houston
Worst-case scenario: 10-6, The only way they miss the playoffs is if Manning gets hurt
Prediction: 12-4 and a final post-season run for Peyton?
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are as good a candidate as any to have a Colt-like turn around, going from having the number one overall pick to competing for a playoff spot. Like the Colts, the Chiefs upgraded the two most important positions in the game this off-season, replacing Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn with Alex Smith and Romeo Crennel with Andy Reid. Now, the upgrade from Cassel to Smith isn’t as drastic as the upgrade from Curtis Painters to Andrew Luck, but it’s still significant. Smith had actually emerged into a very solid quarterback last season before he was benched for Colin Kaepernick, which is nothing to be ashamed about, and it will be interesting to see how he transitions from having a coach that had him on a bit of a leash to a coach like Reid that tends to let his quarterbacks run wild.
In addition to adding Smith, the Chiefs shored up their offensive line by drafting Eric Fisher with the number one overall pick in the line. So, at least for a season, the Chiefs will have a powerful tackle duo of Fisher and Brandon Albert, who the team tried to trade without finding a seeker. For an edge runner like Jamaal Charles, having two strong run blocking tackles is going to give him the full field to work with on stretch plays and once Charles is propelled into space he becomes one of the most dangerous players in the league. While Reid became notorious for ignoring his dynamic, shifty and explosive running back in Philly, Charles should get a substantial workload this season. Dwayne Bowe should be in for a monster season with a pass-heavy scheme installed and a solid quarterback at the helm. The weakness of the offense would definitely be the lack of a secondary playmaker outside the hashes, as Donnie Avery figures to be the #2 receiver this year.
Reid decided to keep the base 3-4 defensive scheme when he arrived in Kansas City. Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson is one of the best defensive players in the league at reading run and finding his way to the point of attack to plug the hole. Johnson and outside linebacker Tamba Hali are the anchors of this defense. While Johnson gives offenses fits by slowing their run game and contributing fairly well in pass coverage, Hali is a diruptive edgerusher that opponents are forced to scheme for. With the emergence of Justin Houston, a third round pick out of Georgia in 2011, as a tremendous pass rusher in his own right, the Chiefs have assembled a pretty solid linebacker corp.
The secondary will be the key to how much success the Chiefs will have this season. Last year their corners struggled to make any kind of an impact in the run game, and once offenses keyed on getting someone to the second level to deal with stud Eric Berry, they were able to gash Kansas City’s defense. With the exception of Berry, who is one of the best safeties in all of football, and lockdown corner Brandon Flowers, the Chiefs are relying on some new faces to make an impact this season. Sean Smith, formely of the Dolphins, was brought in to complement Flowers, and he has the talent to be productive. Kansas City also brought in Dunta Robinson, once a star corner for the Texans, who could get some looks in the slot or even as a safety at some point this season.
Best-case scenario: 9-7, Major strides for the offense and defense help the Chiefs contend for a playoff spot
Worst-case scenario: 5-11, Without Jim Harbaugh holding his leash, Alex Smith finds his way into traffic and becomes roadkill
Prediction: 8-8 and a step in the right direction for Andy Reid’s new franchise
Here’s all you need to know about the 2013 Raiders: On April 2nd they traded starting quarterback Carson Palmer to the Cardinals for a pair of late draft picks and then traded for Matt Flynn to replace him. On April 27th they took Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson in the fourth round of the draft. On September 1st, Oakland waived Wilson, who went unclaimed and is now on the Oakland practice squad. On September 2nd, the San Fransisco Chronicle reported that Terrelle Pryor, whom the Raiders drafted in the 2011 Supplemental Draft, had won the starting job over Flynn and would start this Sunday. And just moments before I started writing this preview, I saw this report on NFL.com that says that people inside the Raiders organization don’t have faith in Pryor and instead believe Matthew McGloin, an undrafted free agent that stole Wilson’s roster spot in training camp, gives the team the best chance to win.
Al Davis must be rolling over in his grave.
Best-case scenario: 0-16 and a shot at Bridgewater or Boyd
Worst-case scenario: 5-11, Pryor wins the job and read-options his way to a few wins, robbing Oakland of a much needed top selection
Prediction: 2-14 and a chance to ruin Teddy Ballgame’s NFL career before it even begins
San Diego Chargers
This is clearly a rebuilding year for the Chargers as they usher in a new coach in Mike McCoy and a new general manager in Tom Telesco, but that doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to be terrible. I still haven’t given up on the idea that Philip Rivers is a quality starting quarterback and I’m leaning more towards his team’s lack of success being the absolute lack of a run game, a poor offensive line and a porous defense.
That run game is still a question mark, but San Diego brought over Danny Woodhead to go with Ryan Matthews, giving the Chargers a dynamic backfield that may not be tremendous on the ground but will definitely make an impact in the passing game. The receiving corp was poised to be a threat this year, too, but a pre-season injury to Danario Alexander, perhaps the best deep threat in the league last year, leaves the Chargers without one of their top options. Even still, Rivers should have some quality targets to throw to with the underrated Malcom Floyd, rookie Keenan Allen and slot man Eddie Royal lining up next to the declining but still productive Antonio Gates.
San Diego’s front seven on defense actually looks good in theory, but who knows if they’ll actually show up on the field. The excitement level for the defense dropped when Melvin Ingram, a budding star that played allover the field as a joker last season, tore his ACL in camp. D.J. Smith should be a solid pick-up for this team as a blitzer from the linebacker spot but he too is looking to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The secondary lost their two top corners this off-season – Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer – but they both had underwhelming years and a change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Derek Cox, coming over from the Jaguars, and Shareece Wright, who hasn’t played much after being drafted by San Diego in the third round in 2011, will both start on the outside. If they don’t give the defense a boost, at least playmaking safety Eric Weddle will be able to bail out the defense a few times with an interception or a big play in the run game.
Best-case scenario: 8-8, McCoy, who once ran a successful offense with Tim Tebow as the quarterback, gets Rivers back on track and the Chargers enter the off-season with hope for the future
Worst-case scenario: 5-11, Rivers loses a step and it becomes clear that San Diego’s rebuilding job won’t be over until they find a new quarterback
Prediction: 6-10, Subtle improvements for a team that’s better off having a down year while Peyton Manning reigns over the division