The Denver Broncos have begun their long-awaited training camp, and so far the results are positive. Peyton Manning is throwing the ball well, connecting with Eric Decker on a regular basis. Derek Wolfe has been receiving first team snaps, and Ronnie Hillman has been showing his world-class speed on a regular basis.
The Broncos enter 2012 as favorites to win the AFC West. There are a few naysayers here and there who differ from the pack and have chosen the San Diego Chargers or the Kansas City Chiefs to unseat the defending AFC West Champions.
The Broncos are seen as having the most complete roster of the four AFC West teams, assuming Peyton Manning is healthy, of course. That's not to say that the Broncos don't have weaknesses and holes on their roster.
However, it appears the other three teams in the West do have more glaring weaknesses than the Broncos do before the preseason starts. Here is one advantage the Denver Broncos have over each divisional foe in 2012.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are a sleeper pick to win the AFC West this season.
With Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel all due to return in 2012 at full health, some people see the Chiefs just as strong of a contender as the Broncos themselves. All four of these players were key components of the 2010 Chiefs team that shocked the NFL and won the division en route to hosting the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card round of the 2010 playoffs.
The Broncos have a few advantages over the Chiefs. The question is, what is the one most glaring advantage?
The answer is pretty obvious—quarterback.
Quite simply put, Peyton Manning is a Hall of Famer. Matt Cassel is a below-average quarterback, not even an average quarterback.
Is it true, that if you put the proper system in place that limits exposing Cassel's weaknesses as a quarterback, that he can lead a team to a division title and a playoff spot? Sure, he did it in 2010. He also led the 2008 New England Patriots to a very solid 11-5 record in his first season as a starter.
Having said that, everything has to be in the proper place for Cassel to succeed—an excellent running game, a stout defense and shortcomings from fellow divisional foes.
Are we forgetting that the 2010 Chiefs won the division in large part due to the Chargers stumbling at the beginning of the season, in part due to holdouts from (at the time) franchise left tackle Marcus McNeill and franchise wide receiver Vincent Jackson? Not to mention one of the worst seasons in Broncos history?
Cassel was coached and managed excellently by 2010 offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. By heavily leaning upon the running game, and having the game controlled by clock management, lack of turnovers, while also leaning upon the strengths of the defense and special teams, he hid Cassel's weaknesses as a passer.
Simply put, Cassel can't throw the ball downfield. He doesn't have the strength, nor the zip to complete passes for more than a dozen or so yards. He ranked No. 18 in completions, No. 19 in passing yards and yards per attempt and was No. 26 in completion percentage in his Pro Bowl season of 2010.
The Chiefs ranked No. 1 in rushing in 2010. Cassel's 27 touchdowns were in large part due to the running game setting up Cassel in the red zone.
Barring injury setbacks to Manning and another early season struggle by the Chargers, it would be laughable to think that the Chiefs will win the division in 2012. Mark those words.
You know how the Broncos have a huge advantage over the Chiefs in the quarterback department? Well, the Broncos have a sizable advantage over the Raiders in the defensive back department.
The Raiders ranked 29th in points allowed. A large reason for that can be attributed to the pass defense. Without Nnamdi Asomugha for the first time since 2002, Oakland ranked 27th in passing yards and 31st in passing touchdowns given up. They were second-worst in the NFL in first downs allowed.
The Broncos aren't great by any means in the defensive backfield. They do have future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, and one of the better No. 2 cornerbacks in the league in Tracy Porter. The safety situation is a bit shoddy and unsettled with Mike Adams, Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore battling it out for the two safety spots in the wake of Brian Dawkins' retirement.
However, the Raiders' cornerback situation is a mess. As of right now, Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell are penciled in as the starters. The depth is full of inexperience, with DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa competing for playing time.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers should be the Broncos' most competitive foe in 2012. Hell, it's no mystery that the Chargers have won five of the past eight division titles. It's no wonder the Chargers have finished no worse than second place in the division since 2004.
If there is one advantage the Broncos have over the Chargers entering 2012, it's at the linebacker position.
Even with D.J. Williams' six-game suspension, the Broncos still have Von Miller, Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard as solid linebackers. With Williams in the mix, even though he's not the perfect linebacker, DJ has proven he can be a playmaker while playing alongside an even better linebacker than himself.
The Chargers' linebacker situation isn't necessarily bad. Takeo Spikes is still a tackling machine at his age, Shaun Phillips is solid, as is Donald Butler, and Jarrett Johnson is OK, but there is nobody on that unit that remotely comes close to the player that Miller is, and is capable of becoming.
When you compare both teams' rosters, they are pretty even. At the quarterback position, Philip Rivers is arguably an elite quarterback. At running back, the Chargers are pretty set with Ryan Mathews, even with the the departure of Mike Tolbert. At wide receiver, Malcolm Floyd and Robert Meachem set the tone. The Chargers' offensive line was one of the better units all of last season, preventing Rivers from being sacked very often.
So although the Chargers aren't exactly bad at the linebacker position, the Broncos have a potential defensive player of the year on their unit, while San Diego does not.
That makes all of the difference in the world when it comes to picking out advantages for teams.