Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, left, and New England Patriots… (David Zalubowski / Associated…)
Sam Farmer’s team outlooks are listed in predicted order of finish.
2012 | 13-3, 1st in West
Last year in playoffs | 2012
They’re going all the way: The Broncos were 99% of the way to the AFC title game when they blew the coverage against Baltimore, gave up a pivotal touchdown and had their Super Bowl dreams evaporate. Peyton Manning had an MVP-caliber season, the Broncos were even better on defense, and the team is better this year. Slot receiver Wes Welker will be a tremendous help, in the middle of the field, and Denver should be able to revive its once-potent ground game.
They’re doomed: Losing linebacker Von Miller to a six-game suspension really hurts — he had 18 1/2 sacks last season — as does losing Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore and center Dan Koppen to a season-ending knee injury.
Now hear this: “Our expectations are we want to compete for a championship every year. But we temper those with the knowledge that you also have to have a little bit of luck and stay healthy.” —John Elway, executive vice president of football operations
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
2012 | 7-9, 2nd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2009
They’re going all the way: Philip Rivers remains a quality quarterback and the Chargers have slightly upgraded their line to protect him. If Ryan Mathews can stay healthy, he might be able to provide the punch the ground game has lacked. Norv Turner is gone, and Coach Mike McCoy brings a fresh outlook.
They’re doomed: How much better is that offensive line, with a rookie tackle on the right side and King Dunlap on the left? Even with blocking, can Rivers regain the mojo he had earlier in his career? Offensive playmakers are in short supply. The Chargers are vulnerable on defense and are investing a lot of hope in untested linebacker Manti T’eo, who has battled injury.
Now hear this: “I like this group of guys a lot because we see how hard they work and know they’ll go out and fight. That’s the big thing. This is a group of guys who look to prove people wrong.” — Tom Telesco, general manager, on offensive line
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
2012 | 2-14, 4th in West
Last year in playoffs | 2010
They’re going all the way: The Chiefs made a bit of strange history last season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, they were the first team to have six Pro Bowl players and fewer than six victories in a season. This team has promise, especially with Andy Reid as coach and Alex Smith at quarterback. Jamaal Charles is going to run for a lot of yards and catch a lot of passes. Their return teams were outstanding this summer.
They’re doomed: Which Smith will show up? The new or old one? The Chiefs are young and inexperienced along the offensive line, despite having No. 1 pick Eric Fisher at right tackle. Left tackle Brandon Albert is the only truly seasoned starting lineman. K.C. needs to develop a second receiver to complement Dwayne Bowe.
Now hear this: “We’d love to stick it to everybody who thought we couldn’t do it, he and I included.” — Smith, to the New York Times, about how he and Reid are approaching season
2012 | 4-12, 3rd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2002
They’re going all the way: When healthy, running back Darren McFadden can do some damage. Problem is, in five NFL seasons he has never played more than 13 games and is coming off a career-low 3.3 yards per carry. On defense, Charles Woodson can be a stabilizing force on the field and in the locker room. First-round pick D.J. Hayden has big potential if he can stay on the field. The team’s best weapon is kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
They’re doomed: Quarterback heads a laundry list of problems for this team. Matt Flynn has looked shaky this summer and, according to reports, erratic Terrelle Pryor will be the starter. A staggering $49 million of the Raiders’ salary-cap space is devoted to players no longer on the roster.
Now hear this: “I think they’re going in the right direction, but the road is a long one.” — Hall of Fame coach John Madden, to ProFootballSlam.com, on the direction of Raiders owner Mark Davis and General Manager Reggie McKenzie.
2012 | 12-4, 1st in South
Last year in playoffs | 2012
They’re going all the way: The Texans finally have what looks to be a capable complement to No. 1 receiver Andre Johnson in first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins, who caught 18 touchdown passes at Clemson last season and led the Atlantic Coast Conference in receiving. That’s good news for quarterback Matt Schaub and should help get Johnson open more.