Is the AFC West prematurely overlooking the Bolts in 2012-13? The recent performance in Preseason Week 2 by the San Diego Chargers and their reloaded defense would certainly say yes.
Maybe it’s because there’s now a Manning under center in the division, or maybe it’s because the division came down to the final regular season game last year when Peyton was getting multiple neck surgeries.
Another preseason means another round of trash-talking by Broncos, Chiefs and (especially) Raider fans who think that this is the year they win the west. Lately the division has been more wide open. It’s hard to argue that with three of the four teams in the AFC West finishing 8-8, but it’s easy to see why this year the division will get back to normal, with the Chargers at the top.
Everyone is talking about how the division goes through Peyton Manning. However, Peyton Manning has a lot less talent surrounding him than he has had in years, perhaps even since he was drafted and able to spend one year with Marshall Faulk to help soften the blow.
It remains to be seen if his offensive line can keep him, or themselves for that matter, healthy for the entire season. Corey Liuget is leaner and meaner, Kendall Reyes is promising, Antwan Barnes has emerged, Melvin Ingram is a beast and Shaun Phillips can still make blockers look silly. Just try and stop them all.
If you can, Shareece Wright will fly into the backfield from the secondary and get some very quick pressure. In third down and long, getting pressure out of your nickel package is crucial. Good thing the Chargers are built to bring it.
As San Diego’s receivers get faster and younger, Champ Bailey just gets older. Soon enough he won’t be able to anchor that secondary anymore. Champs don’t grow on trees, and the Chargers just keep piling up weapons.
Soon Manning and Bailey will both be gone, and the Broncos' window will be closed. In the meantime, the Broncos will have to assign Champ to cover Gates and pray the pass rush can get there before Rivers finds his man.
Though the core of the Kansas City Chiefs is healthy again, the Chargers are much improved in key areas that needed help last year. Even if the Chiefs get a full season out of Jamaal Charles, the Chargers run defense has noticeably improved over what it has been in recent years. They won’t make it easy to run the ball, much less run the ball for a huge gain or big score.
Huge plays, period, will be hard to come by against this defense for the foreseeable future. Even the Chargers' punt and kick coverage has improved, so the Chiefs will have to find another way to move the ball and score because it isn’t happening on the ground or in the return game.
Speaking of defense, watching Brandon Carr intercept two Philip Rivers passes during their Preseason Week 2 matchup sure made me glad he’s now a Dallas Cowboy and no longer in the division. I’m sure he will be missed in Kansas City.
Eric Berry is back, but he can’t be everywhere at once. Unless they can perfect cloning or defy physics, Rivers will have too many options for the Chiefs to handle. Good luck if Berry suffers another serious injury in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders gave up too many high draft picks to trade for Carson Palmer. Even if they get a few good years out of Palmer, they set themselves back a few years to do it. They got the quarterback they wanted, but they lost the ability to build around him effectively and they are going to have to live with that.
It's a good thing they have Darren McFadden, but now he (like Jamaal Charles in Kansas City) has to prove that he can stay healthy enough to carry his team for the season. He will be watched very closely after the Raiders lost Michael Bush to the Chicago Bears in free agency this past offseason. Depth is questionable behind a fragile McFadden, and everyone knows it.
This is going to be an exciting and hopefully refreshing year for Charger fans. I’m looking forward to watching them recapture the division and get back to the playoffs.
It’s been long enough. Do you agree?