Denver expects the signing of quarterback Peyton Manning to pay big dividends. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)



It says something about the caliber of the Chiefs’ defense that it managed to finish 11th in the league without injured safety Eric Berry, who was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament cost Berry all but one game last season, but the No. 5 overall pick in 2010 is back in the lineup for a defense that includes linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

Also back from injuries are running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Matt Cassel. Charles missed almost the entire season with an ACL tear, and Cassel had surgery on his right (throwing) hand.

ROOKIE TO WATCH: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis, Rd. 1



A broken clavicle forced Pro Bowl running back Ryan Mathews to miss almost all of the preseason, and although he has been adamant about coming back for the Monday night opener, the worst-case scenario probably has him back in the lineup by Week 3. Ronnie Brown will get carries in the meantime.

It also remains to be seen who will fill the void at No. 1 wide receiver after the departure of Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay. The Chargers are hoping the speedy Robert Meachem is that guy.

The defense took a precipitous fall from being ranked No. 1 in 2010 to 16th last season, including finishing last in third-down defense.

ROOKIE TO WATCH: Melvin Ingram, LB, South Carolina, Rd. 1



The comeback of Peyton Manning is perhaps the most intriguing story line this season. The surefire Hall of Famer did not play a down last season after neck surgery, and at 36, it’s unclear if Manning will be able to last through another season.

General Manager John Elway is banking on it after issuing the four-time MVP a contract worth $96 million over five years, although only one year and $18 million are guaranteed.

The Broncos’ rush defense looked overmatched at times during the preseason, including allowing 228 yards to Seattle, after finishing 22nd last season. Denver did get help in the secondary in cornerback Tracy Porter.

ROOKIE TO WATCH: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati, Rd. 2



The injury saga of running back Darren McFadden continued last season when he missed all but seven games with an ailing foot. Since he was a rookie in 2008, McFadden has not played in more than 13 games in a season while teasing the Black Hole faithful with his breakaway speed.

The Raiders had been able to count on dependable backup Michael Bush, but he went to Chicago in the offseason, leaving the depth chart somewhat unsettled behind McFadden.

The defense was 29th in the NFL last season, and this season there’s a new defensive coordinator in Jason Tarver under new coach Dennis Allen.

ROOKIE TO WATCH: Tony Bergstrom, T, Utah, Rd. 3

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