AFC West capsules by Jay Skurski - The Buffalo News
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AFC West capsules by Jay Skurski

Denver Broncos

New faces: DE DeMarcus Ware, WR Emmanuel Sanders, S T.J. Ward, CB Aqib Talib.

Saying goodbye: CB Champ Bailey, WR Eric Decker, LB Wesley Woodyard, S Mike Adams, RB Knowshon Moreno.

Projected starting quarterback: Peyton Manning.

Manning’s second-year stats: 16 starts, 331 of 533, 62.1 completion percentage, 4,135 yards, 7.8 yards per attempt, 26 TDs, 15 interceptions, 90.7 passer rating.

What they need to learn: Can a rebuilt defense starring Von Miller – who’s back from a season lost to suspensions and a torn ACL – show significant improvement? The Broncos allowed 24.9 points per game last season, the 11th-highest total in the league.

Did you know? The Broncos in 2013 became the first team in NFL history to have five different offensive players with at least 10 touchdowns.

Highlighted game: Week Three at Seattle (4:25 p.m. Sept. 21): A rematch with the team that waxed them by 35 points in the Super Bowl is one of the more anticipated games of the season.

Intriguing draft pick: Cody Latimer (second round, 56th overall): Latimer initially didn’t look like he’d be in line for a lot of playing time as a rookie, but another concussion suffered by Wes Welker could open the door for some playing time for the Indiana product.

Breakout player candidate: RB Montee Ball. Denver felt comfortable letting Moreno walk in free agency because of the presence of Ball, a second-year veteran. Once he cut out the fumbles last season, Ball looked capable of carrying the load.

They’ll return to the Super Bowl if: They are healthier. In addition to Miller, the Broncos also lost left tackle Ryan Clady to a season-ending injury in 2013. Both Pro Bowlers are healthy this year and add to an already stacked roster.

They’ll fall short if: Something were to happen to Manning. After multiple neck surgeries, one hit could change his career. Everything good that happens in Denver happens because of their Hall of Fame quarterback.

Kansas City Chiefs

New faces: OL Jeff Linkenbach, LB Joe Mays; DT Vance Walker; CB Chris Owens.

Saying goodbye: OT Branden Albert, DT Tyson Jackson, G Jon Asamoah, WR Dexter McCluster, CB Brandon Flowers.

Projected starting quarterback: Alex Smith.

Smith’s second-year stats: 16 starts, 257 of 442, 58.1 completion percentage, 2,890 yards, 6.5 yards per attempt, 16 TDs, 16 interceptions, 74.8 passer rating.

What they need to learn: Is 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher ready to handle the left tackle job? The Chiefs think so by letting Albert, who made the Pro Bowl last season, go in free agency.

Did you know? The Chiefs had an NFL-high 10 Pro Bowlers in 2013. Eight of them are back this year.

Highlighted game: Week Five at San Francisco (4:25 p.m. Oct. 5): Smith faces the team which drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005 in a game that will go a long way toward showing if the Chiefs can again be a playoff team.

Intriguing draft pick: De’Anthony Thomas (fourth round, 124th overall): The speedster from Oregon will likely serve as the Chiefs’ third-down back and return specialist.

Breakout player candidate: TE Travis Kelce. He played in only one game as a rookie in 2013 because of a knee injury, but Kelce should be a much better pass-catching option at tight end than last year’s starter, Anthony Fasano.

They’ll return to the postseason if: The defense keeps the pressure on with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston rushing off the edges and Dontari Poe plugging up the middle.

They’ll be in a bind if: The much more difficult schedule (games against Denver, New England and San Francisco in the first five weeks) prevents the hot start that guided the Chiefs into the playoffs last year.

San Diego Chargers

New faces: RB Donald Brown, QB Kellen Clemens, LB Kavell Conner, CB Brandon Ghee.Saying goodbye: QB Charlie Whitehurst, RB Ronnie Brown, FB Le’Ron McClain, CB Derek Cox.

Projected starting quarterback: Philip Rivers.

Rivers’ second-year stats: Two appearances (zero starts), 12 of 22, 54.5 completion percentage, 115 yards, 5.2 yards per attempt, 0 TDs, 1 interception, 50.4 passer rating.

What they need to learn: Can a rebuilt secondary improve a pass defense that was the worst in the NFL last year, allowing 274.2 yards per game? The Chargers used their first-round pick on TCU cornerback Jason Verrett to help in that regard.

Did you know? In 2013, Keenan Allen became just the ninth rookie receiver to ever amass 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.Highlighted game: Week Two against Seattle (4:05 p.m. Sept. 14): The Chargers welcome in the defending Super Bowl champions for their home opener.

Intriguing draft pick: Jerry Attaochu (second round, 50th overall): Attaochu looks to be an ideal 3-4 edge rusher, something a team with only 35 sacks last season sorely lacked.Breakout player candidate: LB Manti Te’o. The linebacker’s rookie season was hampered by injuries, but Te’o has good football instincts and has a chance to develop into a solid contributor.

They’ll challenge for a wild card berth if: New offensive coordinator Frank Reich continues to work a quick passing game. The Chargers had 39 drives of 10 plays or more in 2013, most in the NFL.

They’ll slip under .500 if: Their strategy of remaining largely inactive in free agency backfires. It’s tough for three teams from the same division to make the postseason.

Oakland Raiders

New faces: QB Matt Schaub, WR James Jones, LB LaMarr Woodley, DE Justin Tuck, RB Maurice Jones-Drew.

Saying goodbye: LT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, CB Tracy Porter, RB Rashad Jennings, QB Terrelle Pryor.

Projected starting quarterback: Matt Schaub.

Schaub’s second-year stats: 16 appearances (one start), 33 of 64, 51.6 completion percentage, 495 yards, 7.7 yards per attempt, 4 TDs, 0 interceptions, 98.1 passer rating.

What they need to learn: How to find a quarterback. If Schaub does indeed get the call on opening day, he’ll be the fourth QB in four seasons to break camp with the job.

Did you know? The Raiders entered this offseason with an NFL record $65 million in salary-cap space.

Highlighted game: Week Two against Houston (4:25 p.m. Sept. 14). Schaub gets revenge against his former team. Not the most exciting story line in the world, is it? The Raiders have a brutal schedule, including two East Coast trips in the first three weeks (at New York Jets and at New England).

Intriguing draft pick: LB Khalil Mack (first round, fifth overall). The pride of the University at Buffalo will have everyone in Western New York watching his progress as a rookie.

Breakout player candidate: FB Marcel Reese. He’s got the speed out of the backfield to create match-up problems for opposing defenses. Now, he just needs more than the five touches per game he averaged last season.

They’ll better four wins if: Schaub resembles the quarterback he was in Houston before last year and their several veteran free-agent signings aren’t over the hill.

They’ll be picking first if: Schaub resembles the quarterback he was in Houston last year and second-round pick Derek Carr isn’t able to rescue an offense that looks to be short on playmakers.

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