The first quarter of the AFC West season is complete. Let’s look at some key developments:
Story of the quarter: Peyton Manning's health. It has been a story for more than a year, and the AFC West has revolved around Manning’s surgically-repaired neck since he signed with the Broncos in March. Through four games, Manning has looked good and is getting better. He had one bad quarter -- Week 2 at Atlanta, when he threw three interceptions in the first 15 minutes. But the picks were not arm- or injury-related; Manning just made some rare bad decisions. Manning, 36, might not be playing like he did when he was 30, but he is still good enough to win.
MVP of the quarter: Really, no player has stood head-and-shoulders above anyone else. I am tempted to go with Manning, but I think I will give it to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. His team is alone in first place in the division at 3-1 and he is the Chargers’ best player. Rivers' numbers aren’t as gaudy as Manning's, and the San Diego offense is still finding itself. But Rivers has been very good -- and he has been efficient. He is making way better decisions than he did a year ago. The Chargers are winning and their quarterback is guiding them.
Defensive player of the quarter: I’m going to give it to San Diego safety Eric Weddle. Watch the Chargers play and talk to scouts, and Weddle’s name comes up often. He has been all over the field in the season's first quarter. He is truly becoming an elite safety. San Diego’s defense is much improved (linebacker Donald Butler has been unreal as well) and the ball-hawking Weddle is a big reason why.
Rookie of the quarter: There are solid options here and I'm sure some of them will develop nicely through the season. For the first quarter, I’m giving the nod to Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe. The second-round pick has been a stalwart on an improved line. He is making an impact and the game does not appear to be too big for the Cincinnati product. I can see San Diego pass-rusher Melvin Ingram coming on strong, but Wolfe has been outstanding to start the season.
Coach of the quarter: Norv Turner. His team is in first place. The Chargers look improved in areas they needed to improve, and the team looks very well organized, united and focused. This is a big year for Turner. He will likely be fired if the Chargers don’t make the playoffs. He is showing he wants to fight for his job.
Disappointment of the quarter (team): Kansas City. The Chiefs added several impressive pieces in the offseason and looked primed to make strides on the field. They were a popular choice to win the division, including by yours truly. However, Kansas City is 1-3 and looked awful in all three of its defeats. This team is talented enough to turn around its season, but its start is alarming.
Disappointment of the quarter (player): Oakland running back Darren McFadden. The Raiders have not responded well to moving from a power rushing attack to a zone-blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. McFadden was in Knapp’s system as a rookie and was better the past two years in a power attack. I’m sure McFadden’s issues are not all his fault, but his statistics are not pretty for a back who many thought could approach 2,000 yards rushing this season. McFadden has 201 yards on 57 carries. Take away a 64-yard run and McFadden’s production has been terrible. Again, it’s not all on him, but something needs to change. McFadden is too talented for this lack of production to linger.
Biggest unanswered question of the quarter: Matt Cassel's future. After a 1-3 start and a three-interception performance against San Diego in Week 4, Chiefs fans are calling for Cassel to be replaced. I think the main reason the team is reluctant to make a change is there is not a reasonable in-house alternative. If the Chiefs don’t make the playoffs, Cassel likely will be replaced in the offseason, and probably by the team's first-round pick in the 2013 draft. But will he make it through the season without Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi taking his job?
Fearless prediction for the second quarter: Manning will continue to get better in a Denver uniform. He continues to say he's a work in progress physically, and in terms of meshing with the Denver offense. He has made strides and I think we will see an improved comfort level between Manning and his teammates by the end of the first half of the season.