Thursday, August 16, 2012

Water Cooler Briefings: AFC West

Here we go again.  More water cooler ammo for you, this time from the teams of the AFC West.


If you’ve been following NFL news in the offseason at all, you likely haven’t been able to avoid hearing Peyton Manning’s status updates.  Since that’s been the biggest news item for the Broncos in the last six months, you’re going to read about it again.  Needless to say, expectations are high for the future Hall of Famer.  Even though he was sidelined all of 2011 as he recovered from a third neck operation, everyone expects him to be in not only game shape, but championship form, come September. 

"Everything's A-OK!"
Though we won’t see a large body of work from Peyton before the season starts (and his only drive against the Chicago Bears last week ended in an interception), he has looked confident in targeting his receivers; excellent protection from his offensive line hasn’t hurt, either.  Most quarterbacks new to a game require a long period of adjustment:  adjusting to a new offense and new plays; adjusting to the level of play and pace of his teammates; adjusting timing with his receivers; and just plain adjusting to a new city, coaching staff and environment.  Most quarterbacks aren’t Peyton Manning, however.  Look for things to only get better in Denver as the preseason wears on.

NEXT GAME:  Seattle Seahawks, Saturday 9 PM ET


In KC this offseason, there have been two big stories:  the holdout of Pro Bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (click here for my discussion of the Bowe situation); and the race for the starting running back job between Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis.  The Dwayne Bowe story is a disappointing one for Chiefs fans; though he indicated earlier in the summer that he planned to attend training camp without a long-term deal, Bowe has yet to make an appearance.  The Chiefs hit Bowe with a franchise tag, but the team isn’t necessarily holding a spot for him in their minds--there are plenty of receivers to fill his shoes, and they’ve all been getting plenty of practice time with QB Matt Cassel.  Though Bowe is a fan favorite, he’s probably not doing himself any favors by sitting at home.

In contrast, the running back situation should be encouraging.  Jamaal Charles (above) suffered a torn ACL last year* but shined in the first preseason game against Arizona, indicating that he is game-ready and could even play at his pre-injury level.  With impressive numbers from Peyton Hillis (five carries for 52 yards and an 11-yard touchdown reception), KC may actually have an embarrassment of riches at the running back position this year.

NEXT GAME:  St. Louis Rams, Saturday 8 PM ET


The one word I would pick to describe the Raiders’ offseason is “coping.”  Aside from the passing of team patriarch Al Davis last year, the Raiders have had to cope with some big disadvantages in its team building strategy.  First, the team had to cut players it otherwise wouldn’t because it was way over the salary cap. Second, they only had two selections in this year’s draft before it began; they added more through trades and two compensatory picks.  So, look for Oakland to make some moves picking up free agents before the September 2nd deadline to finalize rosters. 

How has their shallow talent pool impacted the team?  Their first preseason game against the Cowboys was a mixed bag:  they got shut out by Dallas, but the defense held the ‘Boys to only three points (yep—the final was 3-0); Mr. Reliable Sebastian Janikowski missed a 47-yard field goal attempt, but running back Darren McFadden (left)—who suffered an injury to his foot last year and missed the last nine games of the season—relieved fans with a solid performance in his brief time on the field.  After this week’s contest, maybe the snapshot of where the team is this year—for better or for worse—will be clearer.

NEXT GAME:  Arizona Cardinals, Friday 10 PM ET


The story of the moment in San Diego is, unfortunately, a major injury to Ryan Mathews, their big hope at running back.  Mathews, in his third year in the league, missed six games in his first two seasons with injuries.  During training camp, head coach Norv Turner made it no secret that he planned to rely on Mathews as a workhorse for his offense.  Those plans were rendered moot on only the Chargers’ third play on offense against the Green Bay Packers last week; Ryan Mathews broke his right clavicle and is expected to be out four to six weeks—the entire preseason and into the first couple games of the regular season.  Turner will need to go back to the drawing board, at least initially, to develop an offensive strategy that doesn’t focus on Mathews.  Coming off a 2011 season that fell short of expectations (earning an average 8-8 record and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row), the team and its fans needed a bright spot; without Mathews, we’ll have to see who recovers quicker from this latest disappointment—the Chargers or their fans.

NEXT GAME:  Dallas Cowboys, Saturday 9 PM ET

*Oddly enough, two other Chiefs starters, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki, missed the 2011 season with torn ACLs; both are back this year and so far appear healthy.

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