AFC West preview: Is Peyton Manning still the man to beat?

PREVIEW

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The Independent Online

The NFL season is upon us! The Independent takes a look at all 32 teams, how they have spent their summer and what fans can expect this season. An ageing Peyton Manning has a new coach in Denver...

DENVER BRONCOS

Peyton Manning enters his 18th season in the NFL with many questioning whether the arm that yielded 55 touchdowns in 2013 has wavered too much in strength.

Fortunately for the 39-year-old, some of the burden will be taken away by the Broncos defence, which returns nine starters from last season. The Broncos ranked third in yards allowed and are boosted by the arrival of Shane Ray, the rookie pass-rusher who stood out in the pre-season.

Gary Kubiak is the new head coach after the team parted ways with John Fox in January.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

In 2014 not a single Kansas City Chief wide receiver caught a touchdown pass, but that’s set to change with the arrival of Jeremy Maclin. Maclin was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency and immediately becomes Alex Smith’s primary weapon.

Along with tight end Travis Kelce and running back Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs have talent at each of the offensive skill positions.

The defence, which ranked second in points conceded per game last season, is bolstered by the return of Eric Berry, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in November 2014, and the re-signing of Justin Houston to a six-year contract worth $101million. Houston led the league with 22 sacks last season.

The Chiefs have a great chance to topple the Broncos.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

After a season in which the Oakland Raiders had two head coaches - Dennis Allen was fired after leading the team to an 0-4 start, prompting Tony Sparano’s promotion to interim head coach - the Raiders appointed Jack Del Rio in January to steady the ship.

Rebuilding the franchise after last year’s three-win season is a long-term project and one that may even take place in Los Angeles. The Raiders are one of three teams linked with a move to LA in time for the 2016 season.

Del Rio is hoping for a second-year leap from quarterback Derek Carr, who now has Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as his primary pass-catchers. The Raiders also added Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith to the defence.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

The San Diego Chargers rewarded quarterback Phillip Rivers with a four-year, $84million contract extension in August with the purpose of returning the team to the play-offs.

However, their best hope of reaching the post-season comes the proficient defence. Much is expected from linebackers Manti Te’o and Melvin Ingram while Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett and Eric Weddle are part of a formidable secondary.

This season could be the Chargers last in San Diego. They, along with the Raiders, are linked with a move to Los Angeles for the 2016 season, having played the 1960 season in LA.

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