1. Kansas City Chiefs
The reigning AFC West champions face a tough road to repeat as division winners. Three of the Chiefs' first five games are on the road, including at San Diego in Week 3 and at Indianapolis in Week 5.
In a run-style offense, quarterback Matt Cassel seemed to come into his own last season, passing for a career-high 27 touchdowns and finishing the season with 3,116 passing yards, the second-most in his career. Kansas City ran the ball 51 more times than any other NFL team and finished the season with a league-best 2,627 yards. Don't expect anything to change this season with Jamaal Charles, the NFL's second-leading rusher last season (1,467 yards), coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance and signing a hefty five-year contract.
2. San Diego Chargers
The real question marks for the Chargers this year are on defense. The unit was one of the best in the NFL last season, but coordinator Ron Rivera has left to take over as head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Former 49ers coach Greg Manusky, who runs the 3-4 defense, takes Rivera's place. San Diego will need to shore up its special teams, which proved to be the team's Achilles' heel last season.
The Chargers turned in the league's No. 1 offense last season, led by quarterback Philip Rivers, averaging 27.6 points per game and totaling a league-best 6,329 total yards. Despite the loss of Darren Sproles, the San Diego offense is still dangerous.
3. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders will miss the contributions of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who went to the Philadelphia Eagles as perhaps the top free agent of the offseason. Oakland also will also try to adjust to new Coach Hue Jackson's scheme and new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan for the first time. While the teams hits the learning curve this season, Terrelle Pryor, taken in the supplemental draft, hopes to brighten the outlook. In the meantime, Jason Campbell will try to survive behind a vulnerable offensive line.
Darren McFadden can help alleviate some of the pressure on Campbell, if he can stay healthy enough to string together another 1,000-yard rushing campaign. Last season, McFadden helped the Raiders build the second-best rushing attack, (averaging 155.9 yards per game) while rushing for career-best 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns during a breakout third season. The Raiders re-signed running back Michael Bush, who turned in eight touchdowns and 655 yards in 2010, and helped spell McFadden.
Denver already is behind the curve thanks to a year of tumult. Former coach Josh McDaniels was caught videotaping an opponent last season and was later fired. The Broncos endured wide receiver Kenny McKinnley's suicide last December and media scrutiny swirled around Tim Tebow's rookie season. This season should be less dramatic under new Coach John Fox, who sped up the installation of his 3-4 defense during training camp.
The Broncos also welcome back key players who sat out last season with injuries, including linebacker Elvis Dumervil*n Moreno--played in 16 games. Although veteran quarterback Kyle Orton is expected to be the starter in Week 1, Tebow should receive some playing time before the season is over.
By Shemar Woods - The Washington Post. Published Aug. 30, 2011.