NFL Wire News

NFL Preview: AFC West

on

The Sports Xchange

One week before the 2015 regular season begins, here is a snapshot of the AFC West teams through the eyes of Sports Xchange correspondents covering each team.

Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division

Teams here are listed in alphabetical order:

DENVER BRONCOS

2014 RECORD: 12-5

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 6-0

COACH: Gary Kubiak

1st season with Broncos

8th season as NFL head coach

63-66 overall; 2-2 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Pass rush. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware each played only nine snaps against San Francisco last Saturday, but in their brief time on the field, they would prove enough, with a sack for each. Malik Jackson supplements the Pro Bowlers’ edge rush with some punch from the three-technique, and first-round pick Shane Ray has enjoyed some flashes of brilliance. If the Broncos can play from ahead and turn their pass rush loose, the defense could be in line for some explosive plays.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Offensive line. Even after the trade for Evan Mathis gave the Broncos two recent All-Pro guards, the starting line will still feature two players with no regular-season snaps to their name — rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo and center Matt Paradis, a 2014 practice-squad player. Look for the Broncos to use their tight ends to stay home and block until their line solidifies.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Peyton Manning. Backups — Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — C.J. Anderson. Backups — Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters — Owen Daniels, James Casey. Backups — Virgil Green, Dominique Jones, Marcel Jensen.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders. Backups — Cody Latimer, Jordan Norwood, Andre Caldwell, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Taylor, Isaiah Burse, Corbin Louks.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Ty Sambrailo, LG Evan Mathis, C Matt Paradis, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Ryan Harris. Backups — T Michael Schofield, G/C Max Garcia, C Gino Gradkowski, G/C Shelley Smith, G Ben Garland, T Charles Sweeton, T Kyle Roberts, C Dillon Day.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DE Malik Jackson, NT Sylvester Williams, DE Antonio Smith. Backups — DE Walker, DE Kenny Anunike, NT Darius Kilgo, DE Chuka Nudule, NT Sione Fua, DE Josh Watson. Others: DE Derek Wolfe (starter, suspended 4 games).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — OLB Von Miller, OLB DeMarcus Ware, ILB Brandon Marshall, ILB Danny Trevathan. Backups — OLB Shaquil Barrett, OLB Shane Ray, OLB Lerentee McCray, ILB Todd Davis, ILB Steven Johnson, ILB Corey Nelson, ILB Zaire Anderson, ILB Lamin Barrow, OLB Gerald Rivers.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Chris Harris Jr., SS T.J. Ward, FS Darian Stewart. Backups — CB Bradley Roby, CB Kayvon Webster, S David Bruton Jr., S Omar Bolden, S Josh Bush, S Josh Furman, CB Curtis Marsh, CB Lorenzo Doss, CB Tony Carter, CB Taurean Nixon.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Brandon McManus, P Britton Colquitt, LS Aaron Brewer, KOR Omar Bolden, PR Omar Bolden.

2015 SCHEDULE

All times Eastern

Strength of schedule

Overall .541; Division .438; Non-Division .603.

Sept. 13, BALTIMORE, 4:25

Sept. 17, at Kansas City (Thu.), 8:25

Sept. 27, at Detroit, 8:30

Oct. 4, MINNESOTA, 12:25

Oct. 11, at Oakland, 4:25

Oct. 18, at Cleveland, 1:00

Oct. 25, OPEN DATE

Nov. 1, GREEN BAY, 8:30

Nov. 8, at Indianapolis, 4:25

Nov. 15, KANSAS CITY, 4:25

Nov. 22, at Chicago, 1:00

Nov. 29, NEW ENGLAND, 8:30

Dec. 6, at San Diego, 4:05

Dec. 13, OAKLAND, 4:05

Dec. 20, at Pittsburgh, 3:25

Dec. 28, CINCINNATI (Mon.), 8:30

Jan. 3, SAN DIEGO, 4:25

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

2014 RECORD: 9-7

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 3-3

COACH: Andy Reid

3rd season with Chiefs

20-13 overall; 0-1 postseason

17th season as NFL head coach

160-115-1 overall; 10-10 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Linebackers. Coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon that kept him sidelined for 15 games last season, inside linebacker Derrick Johnson has shown he’s retained his speed and quickness. His addition, along with Pro Bowl outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, gives the Chiefs one of the best groups in the league. The Chiefs’ 2014 first-round draft choice Dee Ford has shown development from his rookie season and will be a much bigger factor this season. Rookie draft choices Ramik Wilson and D. J. Alexander will scuffle for playing time. Coordinator Bob Sutton has tweaked his scheme to take advantage of the different talents of his linebackers.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Offensive line. The biggest question mark that followed the Chiefs from the offseason into training camp was the big blockers upfront. It appeared there would be only one starter back in his position from the 2014 season — left tackle Eric Fisher. The Chiefs acquired left guard Ben Grubbs in a trade with New Orleans and the remaining three starting jobs were open. After training camp and three preseason games, nothing is settled on the right side of the line and Fisher has missed the last two weeks because of a high ankle sprain. Jeff Allen has worked at guard and tackle, but he went down because of a sprained MCL in the first preseason game and hasn’t returned to practice. It appears rookie Mitch Morse has moved into the starting center spot ahead of Eric Kush, but the injuries have left the group without much cohesion.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Alex Smith. Backups — Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Jamaal Charles, FB Anthony Sherman. Backups — Knile Davis, Darrin Reaves, FB Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Travis Kelce. Backups — Richard Gordon, Demetrius Harris, James O’Shaughnessy, Ryan Taylor.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson. Backups — Jason Avant, Da’Ron Brown, Chris Conley, Frankie Hammond, Tello Luckett, De’Anthony Thomas, Fred Williams.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Donald Stephenson, LG Ben Grubbs, C Mitch Morse, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Paul Fanaika. Backups — G/T Jeff Allen, LT Eric Fisher, T Garrett Frye, C/G Zach Fulton, C Eric Kush, C/G Daniel Munyer, T Jarrod Pughsley, T Derek Sherrod.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Mike DeVito, NT Jaye Howard, DRE Allen Bailey. Backups — DE Mike Catapano, NT Hebron Fangupo, DE David Irving, DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DE Nick Williams. Others: NT Dontari Poe (starter, PUP).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Tamba Hali, MLB Josh Mauga, ILB Derrick Johnson, SLB Justin Houston. Backups — ILB D.J. Alexander, ILB Ja’Gared Davis, OLB Dee Ford, ILB James-Michael Johnson, OLB Josh Martin, OLB Dezman Moses, MLB Ramik Wilson, ILB Frank Zombo.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Phillip Gaines, RCB Marcus Peters, FS Husain Abdullah, SS Ron Parker. Backups — S Eric Berry, S Tyvon Branch, S Sanders Commings, CB Marcus Cooper, CB Jamell Fleming, S Kelcie McCray, CB Steven Nelson, CB Deji Olatoye, CB Kevin Short, S Daniel Sorensen. Others: CB Sean Smith (starter, suspended 3 games).

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cairo Santos, P Dustin Colquitt, LS James Winchester, KOR Chris Conley, KOR Knile Davis, PR Frankie Hammond, PR De’Anthony Thomas.

2015 SCHEDULE

All times Eastern

Overall .545; Division .500; Non-Division .572.

Sept. 13, at Houston, 1:00

Sept. 17, DENVER (Thu.), 8:25

Sept. 28, at Green Bay (Mon.), 8:30

Oct. 4, at Cincinnati, 1:00

Oct. 11, CHICAGO, 1:00

Oct. 18, at Minnesota, 1:00

Oct. 25, PITTSBURGH, 1:00

Nov. 1, DETROIT (London), 8:30

Nov. 8, OPEN DATE

Nov. 15, at Denver, 4:25

Nov. 22, at San Diego, 8:30

Nov. 29, BUFFALO, 1:00

Dec. 6, at Oakland, 4:05

Dec. 13, SAN DIEGO, 1:00

Dec. 20, at Baltimore, 1:00

Dec. 27, CLEVELAND, 1:00

Jan. 3, OAKLAND, 1:00

OAKLAND RAIDERS

2014 RECORD: 3-13

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 1-5

COACH: Jack Del Rio

1st season with Raiders

10th season as NFL head coach

69-73 overall; 1-2 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Defensive line. With Khalil Mack seeing more time as a defensive end than strong-side linebacker, it bolsters a unit that is already brimming with size end explosiveness. Tackles Dan Williams and Justin Ellis are formidable and quicker than you would expect at a combined 665 pounds. Rookie Mario Edwards Jr. looks like an instant contributor both inside and outside, with young linemen Denico Autry and Shelby Harris thriving during training camp and the preseason. That doesn’t even include Justin Tuck, a veteran whose snaps have been limited to keep him fresh.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Cornerback. The Raiders looked toward experienced free-agent corners the last three years (Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer in 2012, Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins in 2013, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown last season) and regretted it. In 2015, they will start with their own young talent — DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie slated as starters, with Keith McGill in reserve. There is woefully little experience and Hayden is learning the hard way, although he is at least staying away from injuries.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Derek Carr. Backups — Christian Ponder, Matt McGloin.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Latavius Murray, FB Marcel Reece. Backups — Roy Helu Jr., Michael Dyer, Taiwan Jones, George Atkinson III, FB Jamize Olawale.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Lee Smith. Backups — Mychal Rivera, Clive Walford, Gabe Holmes, Brian Leonhardt.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper. Backups — Brice Butler, Kris Durham, Andre Holmes, Seth Roberts, Rod Streater, Devon Wylie.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Donald Penn, LG Gabe Jackson, C Rodney Hudson, RG J’Marcus Webb, RT Austin Howard. Backups — G-T Khalif Barnes, C-G Tony Bergstrom, G Jon Feliciano, G-T Matt McCants, T Dan Kistler, T Anthony Morris.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DE Justin Tuck, DT Dan Williams, DT Justin Ellis, DE Khalil Mack. Backups — DE Denico Autry, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DE Benson Mayowa, DE Shelby Harris, DE Max Valles, DE Gary Wilkins, DT Ricky Lumpkin, DT Stacy McGee, DT C.J. Wilson, DT Leon Orr.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Malcolm Smith, MLB Curtis Lofton, SLB Ray-Ray Armstrong. Backups — OLB Neiron Ball, MLB Ben Heeney, MLB Spencer Hadley, OLB Josh Shirley, OLB Sio Moore, OLB Lorenzo Alexander.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB DJ Hayden, RCB TJ Carrie, SS Nate Allen, FS Charles Woodson. Backups — CB Keith McGill, CB Chimdi Chekwa, CB Neiko Thorpe, CB Dexter McDonald, S SaQuan Edwards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Sebastian Janikowski, K Georgio Tavecchio, P Marquette King, LS Jon Condo, KOR Taiwan Jones, PR TJ Carrie.

2015 SCHEDULE

All times Eastern

Overall .545; Division .625; Non-Division .497.

Sept. 13, CINCINNATI, 4:25

Sept. 20, BALTIMORE, 4:05

Sept. 27, at Cleveland, 1:00

Oct. 4, at Chicago, 1:00

Oct. 11, DENVER, 4:25

Oct. 18, OPEN DATE

Oct. 25, at San Diego, 4:05

Nov. 1, N.Y. JETS, 4:05

Nov. 8, at Pittsburgh, 1:00

Nov. 15, MINNESOTA, 4:05

Nov. 22, at Detroit, 1:00

Nov. 29, at Tennessee, 1:00

Dec. 6, KANSAS CITY, 4:05

Dec. 13, at Denver, 4:05

Dec. 20, GREEN BAY, 4:05

Dec. 24, SAN DIEGO (Thu.), 8:25

Jan. 3, at Kansas City, 1:00

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

2014 RECORD: 9-7

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 2-4

COACH: Mike McCoy

3rd season as Chargers

3rd season as NFL head coach

19-15 overall; 1-1 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: The passing game figures to be what the Chargers lean on, and why not with an elite quarterback such as Philip Rivers. The 12-year pro has had an excellent camp, one which included him obtaining an $84-million contract extension. He is also in year three of coach Mike McCoy’s up-tempo offense, which trusts Rivers’ moxie changing in and out of plays. Wide receiver Keenan Allen seems to have a renewed focus this year and Malcom Floyd, in what he says is his last year, is playing with urgency. Stevie Johnson has been dynamite, in addition to connecting with Rivers on non-verbal signs regarding routes and adjustments that came quicker than both thought. The one hiccup is that suspended tight end Antonio Gates will miss the first four games. But LaDarius Green could minimize the absence of Gates. Plus, running back Danny Woodhead is back from last year’s broken leg to give Rivers a steady safety value out of the backfield.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: King Dunlap is at his left tackle spot, but he is the only Chargers lineman to return to where he blocked last year on opening day. It remains a mystery as to whether the Chargers’ revamped offensive line — the results have been mixed — will provide consistent protection for Philip Rivers and be able to open lanes for what last year was a tepid running attack. Orlando Franklin was brought in from Denver to play left guard. Chris Watt has started five career games — college included — at center. Right guard is manned by D.J. Fluker, after he spent his first two seasons at right tackle. Joe Barksdale comes over from the Rams and he takes over for Fluker at right tackle. How quickly this unit comes together will be a big piece of the Chargers’ offensive puzzle.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Philip Rivers. Backups — Kellen Clemens, Brad Sorensen.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Melvin Gordon. Backups — Branden Oliver, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, Dreamius Smith.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters — Ladarius Green, David Johnson. Backups — John Phillips, Kyle Miller, Brian Parker. Others: Antonio Gates (starter, suspended 4 games)

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd. Backups –Stevie Johnson, Jacoby Jones, Dontrelle Inman, Tyrell Williams, Austin Pettis, Javontee Herndon.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT King Dunlap, LG Orlando Franklin, C Chris Watt, RG D.J. Fluker, RT Joe Barksdale. Backups — T/G Chris Hairston, G Craig Watts, C Trevor Robinson, G Jeremiah Sirles, T Tyree Burwell, G Kenny Wiggins, C Michael Huey.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Corey Liuget, NT Sean Lissemore, DRE Kendall Reyes. Backups — DE Ricardo Mathews, NT Ryan Carrethers, DE Mitch Unrein, DE Darius Philon, DT Damion Square.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — OLB Melvin Ingram, ILB Manti Te’o, ILB Donald Butler, OLB Jerry Attaochu. Backups — OLB Kyle Emanuel, ILB Kavell Conner, ILB Denzel Perryman, OLB Tourek Williams, OLB Cordarro Law, OLB Cotton Underwood, ILB Chi Chi Ariguzo, ILB Nick Dzubnar, OLB Ryan Mueller.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Brandon Flowers, RCB Jason Verrett, FS Eric Weddle, SS Jahleel Addae. Backups — CB Steve Williams, CB Patrick Robinson, FS Darrell Stuckey, SS Jimmy Wilson, CB Greg Ducre, CB Richard Crawford, CB Lowell Rose, CB Craig Mager, CB Jordan Mabin, FS Adrian Phillips, SS Johnny Lowdermilk.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nick Novak, K Josh Lambo, P Mike Scifres, LS Mike Windt, KOR Jacoby Jones, PR Jacoby Jones.

2015 SCHEDULE

Overall .518; Division .500; Non-Division .528.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, DETROIT, 4:05

Sept. 20, at Cincinnati, 1:00

Sept. 27, at Minnesota, 1:00

Oct. 4, CLEVELAND, 4:05

Oct. 12, PITTSBURGH (Mon.), 8:30

Oct. 18, at Green Bay, 4:25

Oct. 25, OAKLAND, 4:05

Nov. 1, at Baltimore, 1:00

Nov. 9, CHICAGO (Mon.), 8:30

Nov. 15, OPEN DATE

Nov. 22, KANSAS CITY, 8:30

Nov. 29, at Jacksonville, 1:00

Dec. 6, DENVER, 4:05

Dec. 13, at Kansas City, 1:00

Dec. 20, MIAMI, 4:25

Dec. 24, at Oakland (Thu.), 8:25

Jan. 3, at Denver, 4:25

–Correspondents covering each team for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this report. Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business