Teams in predicted order of finish
1. DENVER BRONCOS: Peyton poised, but defense faces adversity
- How they did in 2012: 13-3 (6-0 vs. West); in playoffs, lost to Ravens 38-35 in 2OTs in Divisional round.
- 2012 top performer: QB Peyton Manning (Pro Bowl, 4,659 yards, 37 TDs, 11 INTs)
- Key losses: RB Willis McGahee, C Dan Koppen
- Key additions: WR Wes Welker, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
- Why we picked them here: With Manning possibly poised to have his greatest season, Denver should be a favorite for the Super Bowl. But will the absence of defensive stars Elvis Dumervil (fax error resulting in termination of contract) and Von Miller (six-game suspension, drugs) hurt the Broncos’ chances. Will new WR Wes Welker be less productive because he’s a complementary player in Denver, and no longer a go-to guy? No, Manning loves his slot guys.
2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: New QB Smith gives team better chance
- How they did in 2012: 2-14 (0-6 vs. West); missed playoffs.
- 2012 top performer: RB Jamaal Charles (1,509 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, 6 total TDs)
- Key losses: QB Matt Cassell, OT Eric Winston
- Key additions: QB Alex Smith, OT Eric Fisher
- Why we picked them here: New QB Alex Smith should make fewer mistakes than Matt Cassel, and Dwayne Bowe might become the star that was expected of the 2007 first-round pick. Bowe has topped 1,000 yards three times in his career, but never 1,200 yards. This should be the year. RB Jamaal Charles is one of the best, but he needs to stay healthy.
3. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Offensive line holds Rivers back
- How they did in 2012: 7-9 (4-2vs. West); missed playoffs.
- 2012 top performer: QB Philip Rivers (3,606 yards, 26 TDs, 15 INTs)
- Key losses: OT Jared Gaither, CB Antoine Cason
- Key additions: RB Danny Woodhead, DE/OLB Dwight Freeney
- Why we picked them here: San Diego always has a better perception than reality. Their Vegas over/under line is 7.5 games. Might they win eight? Maybe, but the guess here is that new coach Mike McCoy gets the Chargers to six wins. Philip Rivers could be great, but the offensive line needs to do a better job; Rivers was sacked 49 times last year. Injuries to WR Danario Alexander (torn ACL, out for season) and Malcom Floyd (knee sprain, might be ready Week 1) have already taken a toll.
4. OAKLAND RAIDERS: QB woes part of why Oakland should struggle
- How they did in 2012: 4-12 (2-4 vs. West); missed playoffs.
- 2012 top performer: QB Carson Palmer (4,018 yards, 22 TDs, 14 INTs)
- Key losses: QB Carson Palmer, DT Richard Seymour
- Key additions: CB D.J. Hayden, S Charles Woodson
- Why we picked them here: This is the beginning of the Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn era in Oakland. Contain your excitement, please. Don’t be surprised if rookie QB Tyler Wilson (who was cut and passed waivers) ends up back on the team and starting sometime this season. This could be the worst team in football. Even referring to star RB Darren McFadden, we can no longer say, “Yeah, but when he’s healthy ... ” Last season, McFadden played in 12 games and averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
FANTASY FRIENDLY AFC WEST SLEEPER: WR Vincent Brown, Chargers
- Why we like him: Third-year receiver Brown missed all of 2012 (broken ankle) but could be the team’s top WR after others have fallen to injuries this preseason. Also keep an eye on rookie RB Knile Davis of the Chiefs because starter Jamaal Charles is starting to look brittle.