DENVER BRONCOS (9-9)
New faces: QB Peyton Manning, WR Brandon Stokley, TE Joel Dreessen, TE Jacob Tamme, CB Tracy Porter, S Mike Adams, DE Derek Wolfe, FB Chris Gronkowski, WR Bubba Caldwell, RB Ronnie Hillman, CB Drayton Florence.
Key losses: S Brian Dawkins, QB Tim Tebow, CB Andre’ Goodman, CB Cassius Vaughn, LB Mario Haggan, WR/KR Eddie Royal.
Strengths: Broncos have hybrid offense with Manning, mixing some power formations it used in leading league last year with Tebow and some of spread formations Manning ran in Indianapolis. Counting on Manning to give them a lead once in awhile so they can unleash potent pass-rush of Pro Bowlers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil along with draft pick Wolfe, who can play DE and DT. They also have one of the best special teams duos in Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt.
Weaknesses: Offensive line. Their best and most experienced is right guard Chris Kuper, who will miss the first few games with a broken left forearm. Have put journeyman Manny Ramirez at right guard but also experimented with him at center in place of J.D. Walton, with right tackle Orlando Franklin moving inside and Chris Clark at right tackle. Weakside linebacker D.J. Williams will serve a six-game suspension for drug violation. Wesley Woodyard is replacement, but Broncos need better play from middle linebacker Joe Mays and looking for Miller to make leap in second season after winning NFL Defensive Rookie of Year honors in 2011.
Expectations: Manning didn’t come to Denver to preside over long-term rebuilding project. He wants another shot at a ring and felt Broncos were in prime position to make run. Denver won AFC West at 8-8 after scrapping traditional offense to fit Tebow’s unique skill set. With Manning, feeling is team can return to power passing attack to go with a solid running game, resulting in a deeper playoff run this season.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (8-8)
New faces: WR Robert Meachem, WR-PR Eddie Royal, LB Jarret Johnson, FB Le’Ron McClain, LB Melvin Ingram (first-round pick).
Key losses: LG Kris Dielman, WR Vincent Jackson, LT Marcus McNeill, RB Mike Tolbert.
Strengths: Chargers loaded up on defense in free agency and draft and are expected to be better on that side of the ball. Used first three draft picks on Ingram of South Carolina, DE Kendall Reyes of Connecticut and LSU strong safety Brandon Taylor, who are expected to add impact to defense that was NFL’s worst on third down.
Weaknesses: Offense. Chargers let Jackson leave for Jacksonville, lost Dielman to retirement due to a concussion and then watched as RB Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone on first carry of preseason. And LT Jared Gaither was sidelined by a mystery injury. QB Philip Rivers will try to bounce back from season in which he committed an NFL-high 25 turnovers, including 20 interceptions.
Expectations: For Norv Turner’s sake, they better make the playoffs. Turner is back for a sixth season as Bolts boss despite missing playoffs two straight seasons and having one playoff win in last four seasons. Fans angered and mystified when team president Dean Spanos brought back Turner and polarizing GM A.J. Smith after last year’s flop, when Chargers’ 4-1 start — best under Turner — was undone by six-game losing streak in middle of season. If they miss playoffs again, Turner almost certainly will get heave-ho.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (7-9)
New faces: RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, T Eric Winston, CB Stanford Routt, NT Dontari Poe (first-round pick).
Key losses: CB Brandon Carr, C Casey Wiegemann.
Strengths: Built depth on offense with signing of Hillis and Boss, then upgraded offensive line by signing Winston. If RB Jamaal Charles and TE Tony Moeaki come back from torn ACL’s last season, Chiefs offense could be one of league’s best. Brian Daboll will be calling plays as new coordinator, and he’s credited with getting most out of Hillis in Cleveland, and finally helping RB Reggie Bush turn corner in Miami.
Weaknesses: Depth on defense, across board. Injuries have already become problem during training camp with CB Brandon Flowers (heel) and safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) questionable for start of season. LB Tamba Hali suspended for opener against Atlanta for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Lack of depth exposed last season, and with high-powered Falcons waiting in Week 1 that could be case again.
Expectations: If everyone stays healthy, Chiefs believe they have what it takes to win AFC West and end playoff winless streak that stretches to 1993.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (8-8)
New faces: GM Reggie McKenzie, coach Dennis Allen, CB Ron Bartell, CB Shawntae Spencer, G Mike Brisiel, LB Philip Wheeler, LB Miles Burris, RB Mike Goodson, QB Matt Leinart.
Key losses: RB Michael Bush, CB Stanford Routt, LB Kamerion Wimbley, QB Jason Campbell, TE Kevin Boss, C Samson Satele, CB Lito Sheppard, DT John Henderson.
Strengths: RB Darren McFadden has proven to be one of league’s most dangerous backs past two seasons when healthy, and makes this offense go. QB Carson Palmer came off couch in middle of last season and showed signs of being prolific passer he was a few years ago in Cincinnati. A full offseason to learn offense and work his speedy receivers should lead to more improvement. Defensive line, anchored by Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and underrated Matt Shaughnessy, has potential to be one of NFL’s best but hasn’t played to that level yet.
Weaknesses: Poor salary cap management under old regime and having no high draft picks have dealt blow to team’s depth, giving Raiders few options if they have to deal with injuries at key spots. Biggest problem could be at linebacker, where third-year MLB Rolando McClain has failed to live up to his No. 8 overall draft selection, and weakside ‘backers Aaron Curry (injured knees) and rookie Miles Burris enter season with major questions. Also, both starting cornerbacks, Bartell and Spencer, looking to rebound after combining for one start last season as Bartell had season-ending neck injury in opener and Spencer played sparingly in San Francisco.
Expectations: Even though there’s long-range plan to restore Raiders’ winning tradition after nine straight years without a playoff berth, Oakland has chance to contend in AFC West if team stays healthy and Allen’s new system upgrades an underachieving defense and helps eliminate some of record-setting penalties that doomed team last season.