AFC West: 2012 pressure point

Pressure point: Raiders

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Raiders and why.

Oakland’s brass isn’t facing much pressure. General manager Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Dennis Allen are starting a new regime, and they will be given time to build their program.

However, that doesn’t mean no one in Oakland faces pressure in 2012. The heat is on quarterback Carson Palmer. He is one of the keys to quick success in Oakland. If Palmer fails to deliver in 2012, the Raiders may have to think of the future, whether that means trying to draft a franchise quarterback in 2013 or turning to 2011 supplemental draft pick Terrelle Pryor.

Remember, the previous regime was the one that brought Palmer in last October. McKenzie and Allen believe in Palmer and will give him a chance to succeed, but he’s not their guy. They will not feel emotionally attached to him if he fails.

Oakland gave up its first-round pick this year and a first- or second-round pick next year. (It’s a first-rounder if Oakland goes to the AFC title game.)

He was so-so last year. Palmer threw 16 interceptions and 13 touchdowns in 10 games with Oakland. Now, Palmer, who will turn 33 in December, must adjust to the West Coast offense in Oakland. The Raiders need Palmer to succeed.

Hopes are high for him, but if Palmer fails in 2012, so may the Raiders.

Pressure point: Chiefs

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Chiefs and why.

I wish I could be creative here and point the finger at someone other than Matt Cassel in Kansas City.

I just can’t.

No one is facing more of a pressure situation in Kansas City than Cassel heading into the 2012 season. Sure, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli (who traded for Cassel three years ago) will feel the heat if Cassel fails in 2012. But Pioli probably will not be fired if Cassel fails in 2012. Pioli probably will be given an opportunity to replace Cassel.

However, if Cassel fails this season, he probably will lose his job. Hence, the immense pressure.

The Chiefs showed confidence in Cassel this offseason when they built around him in free agency and the draft instead of replacing him. Kansas City has put together a strong team, one that appears to have few holes. It is set up to make a playoff run.

But Cassel has to lead it there. Again, it’s all on him. The pieces are there. If Cassel doesn’t seize the moment, he’ll pay for it by losing his job.

Pressure point: Chargers

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Chargers and why.

San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner have been and always will be linked.

They will succeed together in San Diego or probably will be fired together in 2012. Smith and Turner were expected to be fired after the Chargers failed to make the playoffs for a second straight time in 2011. If the Chargers miss the postseason again, both probably will be fired, barring a stunning chain of events.

Smith has done his job for 2012, and he had a strong free agency before the draft.

Now, it’s all up to Turner.

Arguably, no one in the AFC West faces more pressure than Turner this season. Every time the Chargers lose a game, Turner will be reminded of his tenuous job security. Every time one of his players makes a mistake, folks will wonder what Turner could have done to prevent it.

Turner knows the deal. He’s fine if he wins. If he loses, the pressure could lead to his departure from San Diego.

Pressure point: Broncos

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Broncos and why.

John Elway’s second tenure with the Denver Broncos has gone well so far.

The legendary Denver quarterback has earned rave reviews around the league for his work as Denver’s primary football decision-maker since he took over in January 2011. On the surface, things are looking good in Denver, and there really isn’t a lot of pressure on anyone as the Peyton Manning era begins.

However, if Manning doesn't bounce back from the neck injury that sidelined him for the 2011 season, the heat will be on Elway. By all indications, Manning, 36, should be fine and plenty of teams would have taken the same risk as Elway did.

But if the 2012 season somehow starts without Manning behind center in Denver, Elway is going to hear it from fans. He will be asked every day how he could trade away Tim Tebow and sign damaged goods like Manning.

It will not be a pretty scene if that happens. The odds are Manning will be fine, but Elway needs to hope the odds play out as expected because he is all-in with Manning.

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