Up next for Denver: Based on the wild card games the Broncos would likely prefer to face anyone but the Colts who beat them behind in Indianapolis two months ago. The Broncos swept the Chiefs this season, and split with the Chargers. If the Bengals win the Broncos cannot face Cincinnati since they are the third seed in the playoffs. The interesting matchup for Denver could be San Diego. The Broncos lost at home to the Chargers two weeks ago behind a big defensive performance for the Chargers. San Diego did the best job of slowing down the Broncos offense of any team Denver faced this season. If San Diego can manage to defeat the Bengals they’ll travel to Denver. If Cincinnati beats the Chargers the Broncos are guaranteed to play either the Colts or Chiefs. By: Chris Cabrera
The Chargers pull the upset behind a solid performance by Rivers. The Chargers quarterback and running back Ryan Mathews lead a ball control offense that keeps the ball out of the hands of Bengals star receiver AJ Green. 24-23 Bengals. By:Chris Michaels.
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The Oakland Raiders will be a different organization beginning with the 2012 NFL season. With the passing of legendary Raider icon Al Davis, the unwavering face of the Oakland franchise since 1963, the 2012 Raiders must now fashion a new identity beyond what Al Davis had formed. The first step of that new identity began when the Raiders traded for quarterback Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals during the middle of the season last year. The Raiders ended up with a record of 8-8, resulting in a three way tie for first place among the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers, barely missing the playoffs due to tie breakers. With a tragic and tumultuous season behind them, what will the brand new Raiders look like in 2012 and beyond?
With a new beginning supporting them, the Oakland Raiders hired new general manager Reggie McKenzie during this past offseason and in return, McKenzie hired on Dennis Allen to fill the head coaching void left over by Hue Jackson. Also, new offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp has begun to implement a new offense to help supplement both Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden.
Carson Palmer was in an intense deadlock between himself and the Cincinnati Bengals around this same time last year with Palmer demanding to be traded or else he was going to “retire” from football. About half way through the season, Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a season ending injury and the Raiders made the trade for Palmer. With an entire offseason and a new offensive coordinator, Palmer looks to regain his prolific passing and playmaking ability. Palmer will have some promising young wide outs in Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. Both these wide receivers will look to take over the passing game in the wake of departed Louis Murphy and Kevin Boss. Darren McFadden was on pace to lead the league in rushing until he was injured and sidelined for the remainder of the season. Both McFadden and Palmer essentially have not played a regular NFL game together. With the mix of both McFadden and Palmer healthy and on the same page, the 2012 Raiders offense should be leaps and bounds better than last year.
Oakland’s defense on the other hand is something that needs to be improved. The Raiders lost defensive players Kamerion Wimbley, Lito Sheppard, Stanford Routt, Jarvis Moss, Trevor Scott, John Henderson, Quentin Groves, and Darryl Blackstock this offseason. In response to this mass exodus of defensive players, the Raiders used four of its six draft picks selecting defensive players, none of them looking like an immediate impact player. Oakland did lock up All Pro safety Tyvon Branch to a multi-year deal securing the safety position for awhile. However, the remaining secondary looks to be a prime target for opposing offensive air attacks. Linebacker, Rolando McClain looks to take over the defense but off the field issues could ruin that notion. The one bright spot on the Raiders defense is its defensive line, anchored by defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly.
The Raiders have gone through a transformation moving from a solid organization knowing exactly who they are and where they come from however a new chapter has begun with the passing of legendary icon Al Davis. With so many changes to the franchise and roster, it is hard to tell where the Raiders will end up when the 2012 season concludes. They play in the AFC’s weakest division but the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos have also made significant improvements this offseason however they have done it with fewer turnovers within their respective organizations. The Kansas City Chiefs have a solid team but were plagued with injuries last season. With so many variables and changes to the Raiders, the outlook for this season may not be as bright as the other three teams in its division when all is said and done.
Last year the San Diego Chargers finished in a three way tie for first place in its division with a record of 8-8, losing out on the playoffs due to a tie breaker over the Denver Broncos. Ryan Mathews was ready to take on the lead running back role and was injured for the majority of the mid season while Philip Rivers threw 20 interceptions and noticeably choking under pressure during the fourth quarter of close games in one of his worst seasons as a starter. With the departures of big time pro-bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson and goal line running back Mike Tolbert, what does the 2012 season hold for the San Diego Chargers?
The Chargers have taken the necessary steps to try and replace both Jackson and Tolbert. Personnel brought in wide receivers Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem, Michael Spurlock, and Roscoe Parrish from free agency. Obviously not all the receivers can start at the same time and all are light years away from being the talent of Vincent Jackson however the Chargers would not have let Jackson go via free agency as easily as they did if they did not have the confidence in Malcolm Floyd. Floyd has the same physique as Jackson and flourished last season with most of his catches going for first downs and leading the league in average yards per catch. The Chargers now have a deep threat opposite of Floyd in Meachem and an excellent slot receiver in Royal to go along with last year’s rookie wide out Vincent Brown. The addition of Roscoe Parrish for kick return duties should help the special teams get back to where they once were with Darren Sproles.
The Charger’s front office also brought in veterans Ronnie Brown and Le’Ron McClain to help fill the void left over from Mike Tolbert. Ronnie Brown is a proven pro-bowl player in the league and should be a solid back up for Ryan Mathews. Le’Ron McClain comes in as the immediate starting fullback, primarily brought in for blocking assignments. Look to see the Chargers regain its offensive firepower from years past as Philip Rivers now has a dynamic offensive attack. With the addition of Meachem and Royal, look for Rivers to find Antonio Gates a lot more in the redzone rather than the middle of the field. With McClain blocking and Brown a viable backup, Mathews also looks poised for solid season, if he can stay healthy.
The Chargers also addressed its defense through the draft by using its first three selections on defensive players. With the 18th overall pick the Chargers selected diverse and flexible linebacker Melvin Ingram. Ingram is said to be undersized but he has great hands and excellent footwork. Don’t be surprised if Ingram is in the running for defensive rookie of the year toward the end of the season. Still the Chargers have some holes on defense especially at nose tackle and corner depth. Marcus Gilchrist, second year player, looks to start opposite of Quenton Jammer at corner and expect a battle between Antonio Garay, Corey Liegut, Louis Castillo, and rookies Eddie Brown and Garrett Brown to fight for the starting positions on the defensive line.
Although the Chargers are not nationally recognized as one of the top teams in the AFC, San Diego plays in one of the weaker divisions in the NFL and therefore still has an excellent shot at making the playoffs in the 2012 season. The Chargers have favorable schedule, only having to play the Steelers, Saints, Ravens, and Falconsd as teams that had 10 or more wins last season. Watch for Week 10 when the Chargers travel to Vincent Jackson’s new team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The road to the playoffs won’t be easy as Peyton Manning will be calling the audibles in Denver, and the Kansas City Chiefs look to bounce back from an awful 2011 season as well. The Chargers have a good enough team on paper at this point to contend for the division title but the pressure will be on Philip Rivers and Norv Turner to produce a winning playoff team especially when Rivers’ two cohort draft day quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have both won a pair of Super Bowl rings.