2012 NFL Week 1: Why Every AFC West Team Could Win the Division
In an attempt to find a true favorite in the division, here is a complete 2012 AFC West preview...enjoy.
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Key Player: Carson Palmer
Not to make you feel old, but Oakland Raiders starting quarterback Carson Palmer won the coveted Heisman trophy 10 years ago. Since the stoic USC career, Palmer continued onto the NFL where he posted impressive numbers with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2005 to 2007, averaging over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns per season.
The key for the Oakland Raiders is to find out just how much Palmer has left in the tank.
Palmer has three legitimate wide-receiver targets in Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford while running back Darren McFadden is poised to have a breakout season in the backfield.
On the defensive side of the ball, the key players to step up will be Ron Bartell, Shawntae Spencer and the veteran lineman Richard Seymour.
If the Raiders take a look across the bay they will see that NFL games can be won by an underrated scheme of playing solid defense and relying on kicking field goals.
As a proud owner of All-Pro kicker Sebastian Janikowski, the Raiders will likely turn to the "Polish Cannon" to snipe some long-range field goals in case Palmer and McFadden find trouble on offense.
The Raiders have all of the weapons necessary to win the AFC West crown and attempt a playoff run, let's just hope The Black Hole stays calmer than their last Super Bowl run.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Key Player: Jamaal Charles
On paper, the Kansas City Chiefs have arguably the best backfield in the NFL. While it seems Jamaal Charles will be landing the majority of the carries outside of the red zone, the Chiefs signed a pure train in Peyton Hillis to handle goal-line carries.
Hillis is fresh off a shortened season due to injury—raising questions about how his health may affect the amount of time he sees on the field. Regardless of Hillis' health, Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs No. 1 running back and is primed and ready for a breakout year in 2012.
While the Chiefs possess an impressive running back duo, defensive coordinators league-wide will also keep a keen eye on quarterback Matt Cassel and his well-rounded nucleus of wide-receivers.
Matt Cassel's style of play is purely resourceful at the quarterback position, meaning he is excellent as stringing together productivity with the depth around him. With Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Dexter McCluster and Jon Baldwin at the wide-receiver position, Cassel should have no trouble moving the chains through the air.
The Tamba Hali-led defense will certainly surprise in 2012, hopefully keeping Cassel & Co. competitive all season long.
San Diego Chargers
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Key Player: Linebackers
After adding defensive talents like Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram, the San Diego Chargers could have one of the deepest defenses once 2012 is all said and done.
The 2011 Chargers built a strong foundation around Eric Weddle and Shaun Phillips, however the key in 2012 will be how productive former Pro Bowler Takeo Spikes can be with Johnson and Ingram.
On offense, the Bolts are built around the reliable Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates. However, scouts league-wide took notice that if defenses challenged Rivers, the Chargers offense was essentially stopped.
From weeks seven to 12 in 2011, the Chargers lost six straight games where Rivers was sacked 15 times and threw 10 interceptions.
If the Chargers can defend well against the clubs like Dallas, New Orleans and San Francisco while remaining consistent on offense, the Bolts will finally get a chance to make the much-needed Super Bowl run.
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Key Player: Peyton Manning
As a former Super Bowl Champion and Most Valuable Player, it's extremely clear as to what kind of talent Peyton Manning brings to the Rocky Mountains. With former Colts teammates Brandon Stokely and Jacob Tamme as targets when their No. 1 wide-receiver Eric Decker is not open, Manning's possibilites are endless for Denver.
Last season, the Broncos were grossly overanalyzed because of having NFL's most popular quarterback under center. After Tebow's incredible upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos were dominated by New England and sent home with a 1-1 playoff record.
The Broncos bring one of the worst defenses in the NFL into the pass-friendly AFC West despite having future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey and 2011's Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller.
Bailey's NFL days are numbered as it is, but the former No. 99 overall in Madden did not receive the coveted title from EA Sports for no reason. Bailey has been one of the best shut-down corners in NFL history and will need to step up as both a player and a mentor to the younger, less experienced members of the team.
If Manning can remain consistent in connecting with Decker, Stokley or Demaryus Thomas, less pressure will fall on the defense and ailing running backs Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno - giving the Denver Broncos a true shot at an AFC West crown.
The up-side of the Denver Broncos is so high that famed Sports Illustrated writer Peter King picked the Denver Broncos as your 2012 Super Bowl Champions.