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Preseason Watch List: AFC West

A detailed look at the key questions facing each team in the preseason

Denver Broncos

The Broncos head to training camp at Dove Valley on July 25th ready to build of last year's 13-3 finish. Although the Broncos fell short of the ultimate prize, the team was elite on both sides of the ball, finishing 2nd in points scored and 4th in points allowed. When your team performs at that level, the following season's training camp is more about working on the little things than trying to institute major scheme changes. Offensively the key pieces all return and are joined by Wes Welker and rookie RB Montee Ball. It's an embarrassment of riches for Peyton Manning and Adam Gase, his new offensive coordinator. Defensively the team has several position battles worth watching, and must work hard to replace Elvis Dumervil

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/8 -- @San Francisco (9:00 ET)
  • 8/17 -- @Seattle (10:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- St. Louis (8:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- Arizona (9:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Will we notice Adam Gase? -- Mike McCoy took the San Diego job and Adam Gase takes over as OC, promising to bring a faster pace to an already potent offense. Will Gase' influence be noticeable or is this essentially Peyton Manning's offense lock, stock and barrel? 
  • Are there enough targets to support Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker? -- The Broncos already had two impact receivers and added Welker to the fold. Fantasy owners have been quick to discount Decker as the loser in this equation, but Welker could easily catch 80+ passes at the expense of the tight ends and backs instead. 
  • WIll John Fox really hand over the reins to Montee Ball? -- Montee Ball has been touted as the Broncos work horse, particularly after the release of Willis McGahee. Yet John Fox has been notoriously tough on rookie RBs, and any RB that steps onto the field has to be an exemplary pass blocker to protect Manning. Is Ball capable of the RB2 ranking his ADP suggests? Don't forget about Ronnie Hillman on draft day, particularly if he gets 1st team reps in training camp. 
  • Integrating the new defensive pieces -- The Broncos were a top 5 defense last year but felt they needed to improve their defensive line, signing Terrance Knighton and using a 1st round draft choice on Sylvester Williams. Pass rusher Shaun Phillips was brought in to help stem the loss of Elvis Dumervil.  And in the secondary the Broncos added veteran Quentin Jammer to play safety. They're also taking a chance on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- an aggressive, athletic corner who has struggled with consistency as a starter in Philadelphia and Arizona. 

Kansas City Chiefs

On July 26th the Chiefs will return to the familiar confines of Missouri Western State University for training camp, ready to excitedly get the Andy Reid Era underway. After 14 seasons in Philadelphia, Reid comes to Kansas City ready to turn around a franchise that finished 2-14 and scored a league-worst 211 points. The defense wasn't much better (25th in points allowed), which is why Chiefs fans shouldn't shy away from the wholesale scheme changes we'll see this year on both sides of the ball. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/9 -- @New Orleans (8:00 ET)
  • 8/16 -- San Francisco (8:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- @Pittsburgh (7:30 ET)
  • 8/29 -- Green Bay (8:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • West Coast meets the Pistol? -- Andy Reid is considered one of the league's heirs to the classic West Coast offense, but has hinted at changing things up in his new city. Brad Childress (a long-time Reid associate) was hired as a "spread offense analyst" and the team also added Chris Ault -- considered the progenitor of the pistol offense. Conceptually integrating those concepts together should yield great results given new QB Alex Smith's pedigree. He ran a spread attack in college, and has the discipline and accuracy to run a WCO. 
  • Can Jamaal Charles be even better? -- Charles finished as the #8 fantasy RB last year and some have wondered whether Andy Reid's hiring is problematic since Reid is so pass happy. Yet history argues to the contrary, as both Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy were elite fantasy backs in Reid's system. Charles is skilled receiver, and has averaged an astounding 5.8 yards per rush throughout his career -- a perfect blueprint for a career year under Reid. 
  • How big of an upgrade is Alex Smith over Matt Cassel? -- Cassel was a disaster, yet Alex Smith isn't beloved in fantasy circles either. But remember, Andy Reid has gotten the best out of every quarterback he's coached, ranging from Michael Vick to Koy Detmer, and Reid hand picked Smith early in the preseason to be his new signal caller. 
  • Who lines up opposite Dwayne Bowe? -- Bowe is the clear #1 (and fantasy commodity) but it's unclear whether Jonathan Baldwin, Donnie Avery or (longer shot) Dexter McCluster are the best fit to start on the other side. 
  • Kelce vs. Fasano -- The Chiefs signed Anthony Fasano in free agency and drafted Travis Kelce in the 3rd round, setting them up for an intense battle for the starting tight end position. Incumbent Tony Moeaki can't be ruled out but he's missed the entirety of the preseason recovering from a knee injury. 
  • Can Bob Sutton fix the defense? -- Bob Sutton is maintaining much of the structure and terminology implemented by Romeo Crennel, but wants the defense to attack and bring pressure from all directions, running counter to Crennel's bend-but-don't-break approach. 

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders failed to reverse a decade of losing under new head coach Dennis Allen, finishing 4-12 and ranking near the bottom of the league in offense (26th in points) and defense (28th in point allowed). As a result, Allen jettisoned Greg Knapp and hired Greg Olson to revamp the offense, while also parting ways with veteran QB Carson Palmer. On defense the team underwent a seismic personnel shift with as many as nine new starters depending on how training camp unfolds. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/9 -- Dallas (10:00 ET)
  • 8/16 -- @New Orleans (8:00 ET)
  • 8/23 -- Chicago (10:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @Seattle (10:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Is Greg Olson the cure for what ails the offense? -- The Raiders didn't succeed last year executing a traditional West Coast passing attack and RB Darren McFadden struggled with the team's zone-blocking scheme. Olson will call a more vertical (Air Coryell) style of offense and use a power (man) blocking scheme. But is Olson the right guy for the job? In six prior seasons as an NFL coordinator, Olson's teams ranked 27th or worse four times. 
  • Can Matt Flynn hold onto the job? -- Matt Flynn thought he found a home in Seattle, only to be outplayed by a rookie in training camp. Can the same fate occur in Oakland? For now it looks like Flynn will be the guy, but Tyler Wilson has impressed in early preseason work and may get an opportunity if Flynn struggles. 
  • Will Darren McFadden ever live up to the hype? -- McFadden managed to exceed the 200 carry mark for just the second time in five seasons, but that's about the only positive take away from his 2012 box score. Is McFadden capable of reprising his 2010 numbers (1,664 yards and 10 touchdowns) -- the one year he delivered fantasy upside? 
  • Deciphering the WR corps -- Who, if anyone, steps up and provides consistent value at the WR position? Denarius Moore? Jacoby Ford? Rod Streater? Juron Criner? Every preseason fantasy owners fall in love with a Raiders receiver and every year that player falls flat. Might the streak of ineptitude end in 2013? 
  • Integrating the deluge of new defensive players -- Free safety Tyvon Branch and defensive end Lamarr Houston are possibly the only returning starters on defense. In the secondary free agents Charles Woodson, Mike Jenkins and rookie 1st rounder D.J. Hayden are favorites to start. Three free agents (Kevin Burnett, Kaluka Maiava and Nick Roach) are poised to start at linebacker. And the front four could see a trio of veteran free agents (Vance Walker, Jason Hunter and Pat Sims) land jobs. 

San Diego Chargers

A 7-9 season that saw the Chargers offense finish 20th in points scored and 31st in yards was enough to send Norv Turner and his offensive staff packing. New head coach Mike McCoy comes over from division rival Denver, joined by former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt. McCoy opted to keep defensive coordinator John Pagano, a testament to the work Pagano did in improving the team's rush defense (5th in yards per attempt) and creating turnovers (11th). Expectations are muted in what some believe is a rebuilding year, but the Chargers are not without talent and could surprise. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/8 -- Seattle (10:00 ET)
  • 8/15 -- @Chicago (8:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- @Arizona (10:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- San Francisco (10:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Will Philip Rivers rebound? -- Rivers was on most NFL analysts short list of elite quarterbacks just two seasons ago, but 35 interceptions in the last two seasons has seen his reputation wane. McCoy was able to create an effective offense with Tim Tebow under center, and helped Peyton Manning to the league's best passing attack last year. Meanwhile Ken Whisenhunt took both Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner to Super Bowls. These two coaches, both of the Perkins/Erhardt school, have the ability to get Rivers back to form. 
  • Is Ryan Mathews a feature back? -- With a new general manager and head coach, Ryan Mathews is on a short leash; but he has an opportunity to earn the new coaches' respect this year as the clear starter. Three seasons into his career, Mathews has labeled himself an "average back" at best, but fantasy owners seem willing to bet he'll finally deliver on his undeniable promise. 
  • Who starts at wide receiver? -- Danario Alexander was a revelation for the Chargers after his mid-season acquisition, but the Chargers didn't put a priority on retaining his services; perhaps due to his injury history. Malcom Floyd -- last year's leading receiver -- remains. But Vincent Brown has been the star of the preseason thus far, after missing his rookie season with a broken ankle. Brown will be hard to keep off the field, and a strong preseason will vault him up the fantasy draft ranks. Meanwhile rookie Keenan Allen has the talent and polish to be an NFL starter sooner rather than later. It's an embarrassment of riches. 
  • Fixing the offensive line -- The offensive line was abysmal last year, and new GM Tom Telesco made it his offseason priority. Max Starks, a tough capable veteran, was added at left tackle. Chad Rinehart will compete at left guard. And mauler D.J. Fluker was drafted in the first round to start at right tackle. While these moves might not be enough to turn the line into a top 10 unit, it's hard to imagine they won't be a meaningful improvement from the 2012 unit. 
  • Is Dwight Freeney a good fit? -- Dwight Freeney was signed to replace the injured Melvin Ingram, but Freeney struggled last year in a 3-4 defense which begs the question of whether he was the right fit. 

More from Jason Wood:

Player Spotlight: Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener - August 12
What If Robert Griffin III Were to Be Lost for the Season - August 12
Player Spotlight: Colin Kaepernick - August 10
Player Spotlight: Denver Running Backs - August 10
Player Spotlight: Dez Bryant - August 10
Player Spotlight: Calvin Johnson - August 10
Player Spotlight: Philip Rivers - August 9
Player Spotlight: San Diego Wide Receiver Corps - August 9
Player Spotlight: Matt Forte - August 9
Player Spotlight: Alfred Morris - August 9