AFC West: Aaron Rodgers

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The conundrum, for lack of a better word, facing the Oakland Raiders as they considered their second-round pick, the fourth choice of the day, went something like this:

Take a player who, if all actually goes well, does not play a down next season, even if he is the presumptive franchise quarterback of the future.

Or ...

[+] EnlargeDerek Carr
AP Photo/Eugene TannerIf everything goes according to plan, Derek Carr will play little if at all for the Raiders this season.
Select a player who can presumably make an instant impact for the Raiders as they enter Year 1 of their reconstruction.

Oakland went with the former and it makes all the sense in the world, unless it doesn't.

Confused? Don't be, because while tabbing of Fresno State's Derek Carr was met with confusion in some corners at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway, he is part of a long-term plan by the Raiders. It's one that Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie witnessed firsthand in Green Bay.

Think Aaron Rodgers biding his time behind Brett Favre for three years with the Packers. Now, I'm not suggesting Matt Schaub is Favre, but you get the gist. The Raiders want Carr, who ran a high-octane spread offense his last two years almost exclusively out of the shotgun, to learn the intricacies of an NFL offense at the knee of Schaub.

And with the Raiders going all-in with Schaub as their starter for at least two years -- then again, they also seemed sold on Matt Flynn last year -- it gives Carr time to marinate in the NFL game.

“Right, we stayed true to our board,” Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales said. “We think Matt Schaub is our starter. We're confident with that and Derek will come in and he'll learn, and wherever he fits in he'll fit in. We're comfortable with the pick and knowing that he will come in and develop the way we would like to see him develop.

“He's a very mature kid. He's had a lot of life experiences that the regular 22-year-old hasn't had. He has a family, he's married, he has a child also. We're excited to get a guy like that in the program.”

The question, then, is this: Is Carr prepared to sit, or does he anticipate competing for the starting gig?

"That's for the coaches to decide," Carr said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters Friday afternoon. “The coaches know who they're getting, and I told them, I appreciate your calling, you know what you're getting. I'm going to come in and work, I'm going to come in and compete and I'm going to try and make the team better. I'm not a selfish guy, that's for sure, and I can't wait to get coached by those coaches.”

At Fresno State last season, Carr passed for 5,082 yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions in completing 68.7 percent of his passes. And while his 74 completions of at least 20 yards led the FBS, 237 of his 659 passes were either at or behind the line of scrimmage, with an FBS-high 143 screen passes, per ESPN Stats & Info. “As a result, Carr's average pass attempt traveled 7 yards past the line of scrimmage, the fewest air yards per attempt of any top QB prospect,” per ESPN Stats & Info.

Plus, his completion percentage of 30.9 percent while under duress was the lowest of any top QB prospect, per ESPN Stats & Info. It all adds to the notion that Carr could stand to have a redshirt year, so to speak, in the NFL.

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Carr is the sixth quarterback taken in the first two rounds of the draft by the Raiders, following Jeb Blount (second round, 1976), Marc Wilson (first round, 1980), Todd Marinovich (first, 1991), Marques Tuiasosopo (second, 2001) and JaMarcus Russell (first, 2007).

Carr, meanwhile, said the Raiders have always been in his family's blood. His uncle Lon Boyett was a training camp tight end with Oakland in 1978.

And watching the trials and tribulations of his brother David, the No. 1 pick of the 2002 NFL draft by the Houston Texans, should only help him.

“Oh, my goodness, it's such a blessing,” the younger Carr said. “I learned everything that he did right and everything that he did wrong. He's told me. He told me that if he could do anything, he hopes he made the path smoother for me as I transition into the NFL.”

Watching from the sideline is probably the best path, at least early in his career.
Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston checks in at No. 87 and San Diego pass-rusher Dwight Freeney comes in at No. 90 on ESPN.com’s top 100 defensive players list.

These are two players at different ends of their careers. Houston is establishing himself as one of the better young pass-rushers and Freeney, in his first season in San Diego, is hoping to show his patented pass-rush burst for another year or two.

In other AFC West notes:

U-T San Diego reports Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te'o is back in a walking boot. Te'o, who was hurt Aug. 8 against Seattle, reportedly was out of the boot Monday. He was supposed to be out for a week. Now, it looks like he will have a difficult time playing Saturday at Arizona. That is a blow since Te’o is set to start in the regular season and he needs the preseason work.

Oakland safety Charles Woodson stuck up for former teammate Aaron Rodgers. Former Green Bay receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have been critical of Rodgers recently. Woodson said Rodgers was the catalyst of the Packers.

Oakland’s starting defensive line practiced together Tuesday for the first time this camp after defensive tackle Pat Sims returned after missing extensive time and fellow defensive tackle Vance Walker returned to practice Monday.

Oakland has signed tackle Tony Hills. He was cut by Buffalo on Sunday. The Raiders need bodies at the position. Still, it is unlikely Hills can be a factor in the regular season. The Raiders waived injured kicker Eddy Carmona. With Sebastian Janikowski present, Carmona was always on borrowed time in Oakland.

Former Oakland business leader Amy Trask has joined CBSSports.com. She left the Raiders in May.
Ron Jaworski’s quarterback rankings are completeInsider in an Insider piece.

Before I went on vacation, Jaws ranked new Oakland starter Matt Flynn last at No. 32. He ranked new Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith at No. 20.

He put San Diego’s Philip Rivers at No. 17. I think it may be just a tad low, but I understand. Rivers hasn’t been great the past two seasons and a lot of quarterbacks have been productive. Still, I think Rivers will benefit with improved play around him.

Here is what Jaworski had to say about Rivers’ ranking:
If you ever listen to audio of Rivers on the field, you can hear how impressive he is. He understands everything that's happening on both sides of the football. That said, after a season of struggles in which he could not overcome the glaring deficiencies of the Chargers' offense, he falls on the board. Rivers is a pocket quarterback and the Chargers' line -– particularly at left tackle -– was not up to par. Rivers was sacked 49 times, his career high in San Diego by a big margin (before, it was 38). His inner drive caused him to overcompensate, leading to an NFL-high eight third-down interceptions. As San Diego's line remains a work in progress, Rivers must play with more discipline.

The highest rated AFC West quarterback is no surprise, of course. Denver’s Peyton Manning is ranked No. 2. The only quarterback ranked higher by Jaworski is Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. It’s difficult to argue. Manning was brilliant last season. At 37, he’s still top notch.

Here are Jaworski’s thoughts on Manning:
Manning had an outstanding season in 2012, truly remarkable given that he missed the entire 2011 season with a serious neck injury and had to adapt to a new team. I don't think I've ever seen a quarterback more aware and in total command than No. 18.

I've praised him for this before, but Manning's best attributes are total recall and application. He just banks information and then draws from it during games. What really stands out on film, though, is his ball location. He reads one-on-one coverage and delivers precision throws that result in completions. And he anticipates better than anyone because he knows what his receivers will do better than anyone ... even going to a new team.

Manning makes it look easy, but this is all the culmination of hard work and repetition. That's why Manning can face as daunting a challenge as he did in 2012 and still perform as one of the league's best.
Here are some highlights from our AFC West chat, held earlier Thursday:

Denver

David from Mile High City: Hey Bill, How much do you think Ayers can really step in for the loss of Dumervil? Because I'm worried that if Ayers can't be a force to be worried about, Von could see a lot more double-teams..

Bill Williamson: The Broncos don't need Ayers to be Dumervil. They just need him to continue to do well against the run and be a solid player.

Kansas City

Nollskie from Oklahoma: If KC wins 8-8 games they lose a second round draft pick in 2014? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

BW: It really depends on how well Smith plays. Effective quarterback play is worth it.

Oakland

Robert from Cali: Why is everyone so worried about making Tyler Wilson the starter for the Raiders? he needs time to sit and learn (ex. Aaron Rodgers)

BW: I don't think anyone is worried. It's just an opportunity. Big differnce -- Rodgers was sitting behind Brett Favre. Wilson is behind a 28-year-old who has two NFL starts. So, if Flynn fails to show he is an NFL starter, the opportunity for Wilcon could arise.

San Diego

Nick W. from Indianapolis: When you were in SD how did the secondary look to you? Derek Cox and Shareece Wright especially.

BW: The secondary begins with Weddle and Cox. Questions after that. Wright can be good, but he is raw.
Judging from the context of Dennis Allen’s conference call with media members, it appears new quarterback Matt Flynn will, as expected, likely get first crack at the starting quarterback job rather than Terrelle Pryor.

Allen said nothing changes and there will be competition. Well, that was the plan had Carson Palmer stayed, as the Raiders hoped. Allen said earlier this offseason that Palmer would head into camp as the starter. He had talked about specific packages for Pryor. On Monday, Allen continued to say that was the plan for Pryor.

“I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot. Obviously, we feel confident about Matt Flynn as a quarterback and giving him the opportunity to potentially win the starting job,” Allen said. “I think we still feel positive about giving Terrelle Pryor an opportunity to compete and specifically having a package of things that he can do really well and giving him an opportunity. So I don’t know that there’s a whole lot that’s changed as far as the mindset of what we feel like we can do offensively.”

Allen also talked about Flynn -- who has started two games in five NFL seasons -- in the same category as Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers as players who had to wait before getting their turn. It is clear the Raiders are expecting Flynn to be the starter. Sure, Pryor can always beat him out (Flynn lost his job in Seattle last summer to Russell Wilson), but it seems the Raiders still think Pryor has to prove he can handle the job before getting it.

Meanwhile, Tracy Porter may decide where he is going to play in the next couple of days. He has visited Oakland and New Orleans. There is little chance Porter will return to Denver. The Raiders are also interested in Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins.

The Cardinals cut quarterback John Skelton. It is another sign that the Palmer trade will go through with Arizona.
Flynn/PryorGetty ImagesGet to know these faces, as they are the Raiders' quarterbacks: Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor.

The Oakland Raiders’ reconstruction of their roster has hit the most important position on the field: quarterback.

The Raiders acquired Matt Flynn from Seattle for two draft picks Monday.

Like many of the changes this year, the move was fueled by finances, and it is difficult to argue whether Oakland has improved at the position. The Raiders are going to give Flynn, a quarterback who has spent five NFL seasons as a backup and started just two games, a chance to play.

Flynn -- who was in Green Bay for four years with Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie -- was Oakland’s backup plan to restructuring Carson Palmer’s contract. However, Palmer, 33, was reluctant to chop down his contract, so Oakland was forced to go elsewhere. He is reportedly in the process of being traded to Arizona for a low draft pick.

Yes, the deal does give Oakland some financial relief, although Palmer does count for more than $9 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. But the move to acquire Flynn also cost the team some draft compensation, as Oakland will give Seattle a fifth-round draft pick in 2014 and a conditional pick in 2015. The Raiders have had a dearth of draft picks, and they didn’t want to lose any more choices. This is a franchise totally rebuilding, and it needs every pick it can get.

This move is a bitter one because Oakland gave up a first-round pick last year for Palmer, and it already owes the No. 35 overall pick in this month’s draft for him. These are all moves stemming from a desperation 2011 trade made by the previous Raiders regime.

The reality is the Raiders are now handing their quarterback position to a 27-year old player who is totally unproven. He will be learning on the job, and it also means the Raiders don’t believe in third-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor yet.

Oakland is very much in the rebuilding process. If Flynn -- who didn’t get any interest elsewhere -- doesn’t pan out, Oakland will be starting all over again next year.

This trade is defining for four quarterbacks, including top prospect Geno Smith. Let’s look at how:

Flynn

Let’s make this clear: Flynn isn’t a huge get. He is a backup plan. But who knows, now that he's finally getting a chance to play, he could be good.

I’ve heard people compare him to Rich Gannon, who of course became a star for the Raiders.

Flynn has skills. But what we know is that he will be a first-time starter at age 28 (his birthday is in June) by the time the season begins.

He's in Oakland only because Palmer didn’t want to be. But this is his chance. I know Flynn was terribly disappointed to see Russell Wilson come in and beat him out last year. He thought Seattle was his chance to start after sitting behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay for so long. But once again, Flynn sat behind a better player.

The Seattle experience made Flynn a forgotten man around the league this year. No one else made a play for him once free agency began. Former Green Bay executive John Dorsey is now the general manager in Kansas City, and even the Chiefs ignored Flynn. Kansas City targeted Alex Smith all the way. Also, many in the league thought it was telling last year when Flynn’s offensive coordinator in Green Bay, Joe Philbin, never made a huge play for Flynn even though the Dolphins needed a quarterback.

To his credit, Flynn put up good numbers in a limited role with the Packers. Perhaps he will flourish in Oakland. ESPN's Matt Williamson thinks Flynn is a worthwhile endeavor for Oakland, but with limitations.

“I certainly understand the move,” Williamson said. “McKenzie & Co. are obviously very familiar with Flynn from their time together in Green Bay, but I hope they don’t think of him as the answer at quarterback.”

Pryor

This trade is not a good sign for Pryor. This is a team that is in total rebuild mode. If the Raiders felt it was necessary to trade for an unproven quarterback instead of giving the ball to the third-year player who was already on the roster, it means the Raiders don’t think Pryor is ready for the job in any way.

That is a bit scary. When the Raiders thought Palmer would be in Oakland, McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen said Palmer was the starter, but Pryor would compete for the job.

I’m sure they'll say the same thing with Flynn in place. But this trade means the Raiders don’t believe in Pryor yet. He started the season finale last year, and though he was green, he showed some promise.

But the 2011 supplemental pick is still very much a work in progress. With Flynn coming in, the Raiders’ coaching staff will spend its time getting Flynn up to speed and Pryor will take a back seat.

If I were running the show in Oakland, I’d give the ball to Pryor and let him play. If he played well, the Raiders should have their answer at quarterback for the long term. If he played poorly, Oakland would know where it stands with Pryor in a season that likely didn’t have much promise anyway. Then Oakland could perhaps be in position to take a quarterback from what is expected to be a strong NFL draft crop next year.

Instead, the Raiders are rolling the dice on the veteran Flynn.

Palmer

Let’s face it; Palmer doesn’t look very good as he leaves Oakland.

He reportedly refused to take his contract from $13 million down to $10 million because he didn’t believe in the Raiders’ chances. Oakland wanted him, but he didn’t want Oakland. Now it is being reported Palmer is slated to make $8 million from the Cardinals.

So he is OK with making less money with another team whose playoff hopes are small?

This is the second time Palmer has deserted a team. He basically retired from the Bengals in 2011. The only reason the Bengals relented and traded Palmer is because the Raiders offered so much for him in a desperation move when Jason Campbell was hurt.

At the time, Oakland head coach Hue Jackson, who triggered the trade and who is now an assistant in Cincinnati, called it the best trade in NFL history.

He might have been right. The Bengals got a steal.

This is an all-time bad trade by Oakland, and it has to go down as one of the worst in league history. For Oakland to be forced to get rid of Palmer weeks before the Bengals get to use a second-round pick for him is crippling.

Palmer put up some nice numbers in Oakland, but he never helped the team become a winner. He was 8-16 as the Raiders’ starter. Consider this: All-time draft bust JaMarcus Russell was 7-18 as the Raiders’ starter.

In the end, the Palmer experience was almost as disastrous as the Russell era.

Smith

One thing I like about this turn of events is that Oakland very likely will not be taking Smith, the quarterback prospect out of West Virginia, with the No. 3 pick in this month's draft. With so many other needs, the Raiders can’t afford to bring both Flynn and Smith onto the roster this season.

The Raiders have major needs on defense. That is where the pick should be spent, not on Smith, who is no sure thing.

There is a negative to this reality, though. The Raiders would like to trade down to get more picks. With the threat of Smith no longer being there, it could be more difficult trading the pick.

In the end, getting Flynn is a move Oakland didn’t want to make that has major repercussions. The team can only hope it works out.

Andy Reid said he will do his due diligence before deciding on the No. 1 pick in the draft and he is doing it.

NFL Network reports the team will bring West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in for visits. They went to the campuses of several other top prospects. None of this is a surprise. Reid said he would look at right to 10 prospects and Smith would be one of them.

The Smith visit will spark speculation that he is a favorite to be the No. 1 pick. The NFL Network report states Kansas City scouts are fascinated by him and think he can be a bigger Donovan McNabb. He, of course, was the No. 2 overall draft choice in Philadelphia in 1999. It was Reid’s first season there.

I don’t think the Chiefs are close to figuring out what they want to do. If Smith blows them away, he could be the pick. But right now I wouldn’t say he is the favorite. I still think it is Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel.

If Geno Smith was the choice, I wouldn’t have a big problem with it because the Chiefs don’t have huge pressing needs. So if they think they can get a great player, they should take it. Alex Smith was traded for to be the immediate starter and I think he will still be even if Geno Smith is taken. But Geno Smith could be stashed away. Remember, Kansas City general manager John Dorsey comes from Green Bay where that approach worked with Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre.

Still, I think Geno Smith would have to completely blow away the Chiefs for him to be the choice. Also, the team is interested in trading the pick. Talking up Geno Smith could be a way of drumming up interest.

In other AFC West news:

Former Oakland defensive back Michael Huff has agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Ravens. He replaces star safety Ed Reed. Huff is the second AFC West player the Ravens signed to rebuild their defense. Elvis Dumervil was signed earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, the Denver Post explains that Dumervil took less guaranteed money from the Ravens than what the Broncos were offering.
There is no doubt: The Pro Bowl -- the annual all-star game of the NFL -- is not a shining light of the game.

But it can be fixed. It does not need to go away. It is salvageable.

The Pro Bowl, which will be played Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, has lost steam for various reasons in recent years. There is a chance the league will end the traditional game between the AFC’s and NFC's best.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay's Aaron Rodgers
USA TODAY SportsIn the past, Aaron Rodgers has complained about the effort level by some players at the Pro Bowl.
A big part of the reason the game has lost its luster is a couple of changes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made.

For years, the game was always played in Hawaii the weekend after the Super Bowl. It would send the NFL into the offseason. Now it is played the Sunday before the Super Bowl and Hawaii is no longer the exclusive site of the game.

I think the league has to come to an agreement with Hawaii to be the permanent host. I’ve covered a few Pro Bowls there and they are always a raving success. Yes, it’s a long way away from the mainland and, yes, Aloha Stadium is an epic dump.

But so what? It’s an once-a-year affair. Many fans travel to the game, and local fans love it. Players also enjoy the Hawaii experience. Hawaii treats players and their families like royalty all week.

I also think the league needs to put the game at the end of the season again. I know the game has gotten some good television ratings in this current format, and that is vital to the league. But the product will be better if players from the Super Bowl get a chance to play.

It was always a cool tradition when the players from the winning team showed up every Wednesday to a ton of island fanfare. Without the Super Bowl players available, it dilutes the talent base even more. Every year, players bail out because of injuries, whether they are big or small. Why build in another way to lose talent?

Of course, one of the biggest issues for why the Pro Bowl has lost interest is the quality of play. The action isn't exactly fierce. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has complained about the effort level of some players in the game.

This week, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning gave a speech to the Pro Bowl players to play hard during the game to ensure they all get the opportunity to go to future Pro Bowls.

Regardless of any pleas to perform, this will never be a regular-season quality game. But it doesn’t have to be. Fans want to get one last look at their favorite players for the season and they want to see points scored.

It is attainable.

At the end of the day, I’m not passionate about the Pro Bowl. If it goes away, I’ll thank the Pro Bowl for the memories and move forward.

But I do think it can be salvaged with some easy fixes. The NFL is the greatest product in all of sports and it is the most popular and most financially successful of American sports.

If baseball and basketball can have all-star events that are put on well and that are anticipated parts of the schedule, why can’t the NFL do the same?
It has been a special season in Denver. Could it also be historic?

The Broncos, which clinched the AFC West on Dec. 2, are 11-3, have won nine consecutive games and are on pace for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are widely considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Denver has been dominant on both sides of the ball. Although its season has been a team effort, the work of two players stands out: quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Von Miller.

Manning and Miller have arguably been the best offensive and best defensive players in the NFL this season. Both are leading candidates for major hardware; Manning is in the mix for the NFL MVP award, and Miller is a top candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

If both players win, it will, according to ESPN Stats & Information, be just the second time in league history that teammates have won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. San Francisco’s Steve Young won the NFL MVP and cornerback Deion Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994. The 49ers went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.

Let’s look at Manning’s and Miller’s candidacies:

Manning: This is shaping up as a close, intriguing race. There is no runaway MVP choice. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and New England quarterback Tom Brady are competing hard with Manning. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers could make a case.

Still, there is reason to think Manning -- in his first season with the Broncos -- has a chance to win his fifth MVP award.

Brady is having a strong season, but the Broncos are 11-3 and the Patriots are 10-4. If the Broncos finish with a better record, Manning could have the edge. Coming back at age 36 from a neck injury that kept him out last season, he has had an immense impact on his new team.

Like Manning, Peterson is coming off a major injury, so the two will fight it out for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as well. Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady, Peyton Manning
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady, left, and Peyton Manning are in another tight competition for MVP honors.
Dickerson was not the MVP that year. Miami quarterback Dan Marino won the award. Marino had a monster year, breaking six NFL season pass records, including most touchdowns and most passing yards.

Manning is not having quite that type of season, but his team is having a much better season than Peterson's and Manning’s stats are strong.

Consider these numbers supplied by ESPN Stats & Information: This is Manning's 12th season with 4,000 yards; he leads NFL in Total QBR, which measures the all-around impact of quarterback play; and his 11 wins are the most by a player after missing an entire season. Denver hasn’t won this many games since 2005. If the season ended today, Manning would be the fifth player ever with at least 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and a 67 percent completion rate while throwing 10 or fewer interceptions. Three of the four previous players won the MVP award.

The vote will be close, but there is no doubt Manning will be in the MVP conversation. If history is any indication, it could come down to Manning and Brady. The last time a nonquarterback won the award was in 2006, when San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson won. A quarterback has been shut out just four times in the past 20 years.

Miller: Denver took Miller with the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011. Last season, he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He could easily win the Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season.

Miller was considered a top-flight pass-rusher as a rookie, but he has worked to improve his overall game. He is now strong in coverage and against the run in addition to being a complete terror as a pass-rusher.

“To me, Miller is the best defensive player in football,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Still, the chase for top defensive honors this season is as close as the MVP race. Miller is competing with a pair of fellow 2011 first-round picks -- Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston -- and Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

When asked about his chances of winning the award, Miller said he wants it, but his plan is this: “I’m just going to keep on playing with a fanatical effort and a relentless pursuit to the ball.”

It’s working.

Miller has 16 sacks, 3.5 off the pace set by Smith and Watt.

Watt leads the league with a combined 37 sacks and tackles for losses. Miller is second with 29; Smith is third at 21.5.

Watt has made several big plays and is the best player on a strong defense for a winning team, so he is probably the leading candidate for the award. But Miller has his supporters.

I think Manning’s chances of winning may be higher than Miller’s, but both have had major impacts on Denver’s success in 2012.

Moving on: Denver Broncos

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
11:00
AM ET
Here are some areas the Denver Broncos need to focus on after a 31-23 win at the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday:

Recap: The Broncos improved to 5-3 and stayed in first place by themselves with the road win. Denver saw a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter become a 20-17 deficit early in the fourth quarter. Denver came roaring back with two fourth quarter scores to seal the win.

Biggest area to fix: Running game. Denver had just 68 yards on 26 carries. Peyton Manning is tremendous, but he needs help. Denver can’t afford to be one dimensional on offense.

Biggest area to build on: Manning was perfect on his underneath throws, according to ESPNs Stat & Information. He completed all 18 attempts thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (Week 4 of this season) was perfect on underneath passes with at least 18 attempts in the past five seasons.

What to watch for: Denver coach John Fox brings his team to Carolina, where he was the head coach for nine seasons. Carolina fired him after the 2010 season and he was hired by the Broncos shortly later.

A look at the Chargers’ 21-13 home win Thursday night:

As Philip Rivers’ said in a sideline interview with ESPN, the Chargers’ offense was good and bad. The good was a 23-yard dart Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates with for a touchdown. Gates is healthy for the first time since 2007 and he has been outstanding in training camp. That was a good sign.

However, Rivers made a mistake later when Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams jumped in front of a pass intended for new San Diego receiver Robert Meachem deep in Green Bay territory. It was probably just a matter of timing for Rivers and Meachem. However, Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season and he must improve in that area.
  • The San Diego first-team defense looked strong, which is a great sign. It did allow Green Bay to covert on third down on its first two attempts. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense last year. But overall, San Diego’s first unit looked terrific and aggressive on defense. Overall, the Chargers’ first-team offense and defenses looked further along than the Packers' did.
  • First-round pick Melvin Ingram played extensively. He looked fabulous. If San Diego wasn’t shaking with delight over the prospect of having Ingram before Thursday, it should be now. Boy, is he explosive. He forced Aaron Rodgers into throwing an interception and he was all over the place.
  • Undrafted free-agent quarterback Jarrett Lee looked really good for San Diego and outplayed Green Bay backup Graham Harrell much of the night. He made some big league throws. I’d be shocked if Lee doesn’t make the 53-man roster as the No. 3 quarterback behind Rivers and Charlie Whitehurst, who is still recovering from a knee injury.
  • Reserve receiver Vincent Brown worked hard for the final 7 yards of a 27-yard touchdown pass from Lee, and Brown had a good night overall. I think he will be a key contributor in the season.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews hurt his shoulder and was taken out. There is no word on the status. It is not a surprise that he was taken out after the injury even if it was minor. Update: the San Diego Union-Tribune reports Mathews suffered a broken clavicle. He will be out four to six weeks. I will have more this later.
  • Kicker Nick Novak missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, further making Nate Kaeding the favorite to win the kicking competition. Novak replaced Kaeding last season when Kaeding tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of the season.
  • Receiver/returner Michael Spurlock is making a big push to make the 53-man roster. He had two catches for 52 yards.
  • Undrafted free-agent left tackle Mike Harris started for the injured Jared Gaither. Harris had a nice night, which is commendable for an undrafted rookie who started his first preseason game at a premium position. Harris should easily make the team.
  • It was a cool scene to see some San Diego players greet replacement official Shannon Eastin prior to the game. She is the first woman to officiate an NFL game.

Chargers add to offensive line

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
10:00
PM ET
The Chargers signed veteran tackles Anthony Davis and Michael Toudouze. Both players are vying to make the bottom of the roster. The Chargers are looking for some camp insurance because starting left tackle Jared Gaither has practiced just once this summer.

He will miss Thursday’s preseason opener against Green Bay and may not play next week against Dallas. Undrafted rookie Mike Harris has been playing for Gaither. Gaither should be ready for the regular season, but Harris is very likely nearing himself a roster spot with his unexpected extensive work.

Meanwhile, there is a chance Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers won’t pay at San Diego on Thursday because his starting left tackle, Marshall Newhouse, is out because of a concussion.

In other AFC West news:
Quarterbacks are measured on victories. That’s one of the reason why new Kansas City offensive coordinator Brian Daboll believes in Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.

Daboll points to Cassel’s 11-win season in New England in 2008 (when he spelled an injured Tom Brady) and his 10-win season in 2010 as evidence that Cassel is and can continue be an effective NFL quarterback.

“He’s been a winner,” Daboll told reporters in Kansas City of Cassel on Thursday. “He’s had two 10-plus win seasons. I did a study just this offseason about 10-plus-win quarterbacks, which is what you’re defined by, obviously. There’s been nine of them in the last four years that have had two or more 10-plus win seasons in the regular season, and Matt is one of them. The other ones being Brady, (Drew) Brees, (Aaron) Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli (Manning), (Joe) Flacco, (Matt) Ryan, so he’s been a winner. He works his tail off in the classroom. I think he’s done a good job in these OTAs, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

In other AFC West notes:

I know a lot of readers are connecting pass-rusher Aaron Kampman, cut by Jacksonville on Thursday, and the Raiders because he was in Green Bay with new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie. However, I think the Raiders are set on the defensive line. Plus, Kampman is very banged up.

Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said Thursday he expects running Jamaal Charles to go to the doctor soon in an attempt to get cleared for training camp. There aren’t expected to be any issues with Charles -- who was lost for the 2011 season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in Week 2 -- receiving clearance.

The Seahawks invited linebacker Brian Banks to their minicamp after giving him a tryout Thursday. The Chiefs have been interested in giving him a tryout. Banks was recently exonerated from a sexual assault charge on which he was convicted 10 years ago. He was 16 and prized USC recruit when he went to jail. He is now 26.

Crennel said Thursday the Chiefs would still like to work Banks out. However, Seattle has to be considered the favorite to sign him. I think if Banks works well in a practice setting, the Seahawks will sign him. Seattle coach Pete Carroll is the man who recruited him at USC.

The Chiefs believe newly signed tight end Martin Rucker may have a torn ACL. He was a bit of a long shot to make the 53-man roster.
The Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs might both consider taking a quarterback in the draft. Let’s look at the top quarterbacks and the chances that they land with either team.

Andrew Luck, Stanford

Known for: Being one of the best overall prospects in the past several years. He is considered a sure thing.

Draft range: Barring a major upset, Luck will be the No. 1 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: Yes, the Chiefs interviewed Luck on Friday, but Luck is going to be a Colt. It’s as simple as that.

Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Known for: Being a total package. The Heisman Trophy winner can run and throw. He is also known as a high-character individual.

Draft range: The St. Louis Rams are expected to put the No. 2 pick up for auction, sending it to the bidder that wants Griffin the most.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: The Chiefs have met with Griffin and coach Romeo Crennel was smitten with him. There could be a chance Griffin ends up a Chief, but the price would be sky-high. I’d call it a real longshot.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Troy Taormina/US PresswireRyan Tannehill, a former wide receiver, could be the third-best quarterback available in the draft.
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M

Known for: A former receiver, the athletic Tannehill is a skilled drop-back quarterback who is the third-best signal-caller in a pretty strong class.

Draft range: ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay thinks he’ll be a top-20 pick.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: Kansas City did meet with Tannehill. Taking him at No. 11 may be a little high, but perhaps the Chiefs could trade down a few spots and still grab him. If he becomes a Chief, Tannehill will likely become the starter fairly soon. McShay had Denver taking Tannehill at No. 25 in his Insider most recent mock draft, but the Broncos will probably have to trade up to get him and that's unlikely.

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

Known for: Being the old guy. Weeden will turn 29 during the 2012 season and he is older than NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. Still, Weeden has NFL skills and the former New York Yankees farmhand is one of the most intriguing players in the draft.

Draft range: He could go late in the first round or in the first half of the second round, but Weeden raised some red flags with an erratic performance at the combine.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: I think this is where we start to look for legitimate pairings for either Denver or Kansas City. If Weeden gets to the second round, I can see Kansas City grabbing him. If he gets to Denver’s spot in the second round, I think he will be a favorite to be taken there. Weeden might not have a long NFL career, but it could be productive.

Brock Osweiler, Arizona State

Known for: Being the big man. Osweiler is nearly 6-foot-7. Still, he is athletic, a leader and has a big arm. He is a player to watch develop.

Draft range: He’d have to be a workout star to be a first-rounder, but some team will take Osweiler in the second round, perhaps early.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: Osweiler had a meeting with the Chiefs; he has to be considered a candidate for their second-round pick. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Denver ending up taking him, but it may have to trade up to get him.

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
Douglas Jones/US PresswireMichigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins could still be available when Denver picks in the second round.
Known for: A solid player who has a chance to develop into a strong NFL presence.

Draft range: Cousins had a terrific combine and he is a strong second-round prospect. In fact, if he has a strong pro day, he could end up being a top-35 pick.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: McShay thinks this is the player Denver could take a shot on in the second round. And because the talent level drops after Cousins, the Broncos may be compelled to make a play for him.

Nick Foles, Arizona

Known for: Foles might have been a better prospect had he come out last year — accuracy issues in 2011 hurt his draft stock. Plus, he didn't perform well at the combine. He ran slowly and struggled with some throws. However, he has a strong skill set and many NFL scouts think he can be a legitimate starter.

Draft range: He is like Weeden. A top-40 pick if indeed he doesn't go in the first round.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: I think Denver cooled on him during last season, but with a strong pro day, Foles could get back on the Broncos' radar, and he’d be a good value pick in the third or fourth round. I think the Chiefs might have other favorites at this point.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin

Known for: Wilson is athletic and has a big arm. However, he measured in at 5-11 at the combine — considered too short to be a productive NFL starter.

Draft range: Wilson is a third-day project.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: I think if Denver is looking for a backup to Tim Tebow, Wilson might be worth putting in the program to see how he performs in the preseason. Drew Brees isn’t a giant, but he’s probably headed to the Hall of Fame, so Wilson is worth checking out.

Kellen Moore, Boise State

Known for: He was a prolific passer for the Broncos. He is rugged, smart and a playmaker. But, at 6 feet, Moore has the same problem Wilson has.

Draft range: Like Wilson, Moore is likely a third-day prospect.

Chances of ending up in the AFC West: I think any team looking for a quarterback may take a shot at Moore. At the very least, he could become a solid backup. He’s intriguing at the right spot.
Earlier Wednesday, I had a chance to catch up with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to discuss him being a finalist for the NFL Man of the Year award.

Rivers
We also had a chance to talk about a current league issue that Rivers was involved in Sunday. Tuesday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers caused a stir when he said he was embarrassed for some of his NFC teammates because of the lack of effort they displayed in a 59-41 AFC win Sunday in the Pro Bowl.

Rodgers wasn’t the only person to question some of the players' efforts Sunday. The crowd in Honolulu booed some of the early-game play.

Rivers was one of the quarterbacks for the victorious AFC team. He said he understands some of the complaints and he thinks the competitive nature of the game has appeared to decline some over the past 10 years.

Still, Rivers said the Pro Bowl dispute presents a “fine line” and he thinks the current format is attractive to some players.

“In general, maybe the whole week should be up for discussion,” said Rivers, who would like to see the skill challenges be part of the weekly festivities again. “But I know there are guys in the game whose contracts may be up and they don’t want to get hurt and things like that. Still, we have to think of the fans and try to stay true to the game and not make a joke or a mockery out of the game.”

Rivers did say he thought the AFC “cranked it up in the second half” and he was impressed by the efforts of several of his teammates, including San Diego teammate Vincent Jackson and Miami receiver Brandon Marshall (who was named the game’s MVP) for giving strong efforts.

Still, Rivers also said he’s not sure the Pro Bowl will ever see the intensity of a regular-season NFL game.

“Again, it’s the fine line,” Rivers said. “You want to see effort, but if those big ole boys like Jared Allen or Justin Smith kept coming hard at me, I might be like 'easy, slow down, slow down' (laughing). … In the end, I think it can be adjusted some, but it’s a great week for everyone involved and it’s a positive experience for the fans over in Hawaii.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC WEST SCOREBOARD