AFC West: Arian Foster
Tania Ganguli: How has the atmosphere in the organization changed with GM Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy taking over?
Matt Williamson: A change in San Diego was certainly needed. The environment had become stale and the once wide-open window under former coach Norv Turner and a roster stocked with great players has closed. A rebuild is needed, and a new general manager and head coach are what is needed to potentially get this team back where it once was -- or maybe beyond. Has the right side of the Texans’ once-great offensive line been fixed?
Ganguli: It's certainly on its way. The Texans are rightfully very high on right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Derek Newton is healthy. They didn't mind rotation in those spots last year, but stability will definitely help.
Can McCoy turn Philip Rivers (back?) into an elite quarterback?
Williamson: I feel as though we have seen the best of Rivers’ impressive career, unfortunately. That being said, the scheme change, which stresses getting the ball out of Rivers’ hands quicker, could be an advantageous move to boost Rivers. He does have a quick release and makes quick reads, making him a good fit for what McCoy is looking to accomplish.
What is the status of Arian Foster, and might Ben Tate have an expanded role for the season and to open the year?
Ganguli: Tate will have an expanded role, especially early in the year. The Texans won't ride Arian Foster too much given he missed all of the preseason, training camp and most of organized team activities (OTAs). He was working, but they're intent on being smart with his return to make sure they have him at full strength late in the season.
What are the biggest problems with the Chargers' offensive line?
Williamson: Once again, the scheme switch to a short passing game should help the protection of this line -- a line that is better-equipped to run block than protect. Still, the true problem with this line is they simply lack good players up front. They added a few free agents, but no one that is even a league-average starter, and they used their first-round pick on D.J. Fluker to play right tackle. However, I have my doubts that Fluker is quick or light enough on his feet for edge protection. Instead, I think Fluker could be a Pro Bowler at guard.
What impact does first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins have on the Texans' offense?
Ganguli: It's difficult for rookie receivers to put up big numbers, but Hopkins will have a major impact on the Texans' offense. He'll take pressure off Andre Johnson, on whom the Texans were overdependent last season in their passing game. He is very skilled on contested catches and will help Houston's red zone efficiency.
What impact does Dwight Freeney have in San Diego?
Williamson: Can he still be productive at 33? Of course it would be ideal to have Melvin Ingram in the fold as well as Freeney, who could be the perfect mentor, but Freeney has looked quite spry through the preseason and should have plenty left in the tank. The concern for me is that San Diego will be forced to play the 33-year-old too many snaps, which could lead to less effective play late in games and especially late in the season.
How big a boost to this team -- tacitly and emotionally -- is it to get Brian Cushing back on the field?
Ganguli: Cushing makes a difference in both ways. He creates mismatches in the pass rush that free up the outside linebackers. His presence in the middle makes things easier on the Texans' defensive backs, too. Emotionally, Cushing provides an edge for the Texans' defense. His maniacal intensity is contagious and the Texans feed off it.
How will Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews impact each other?
Williamson: While Mathews is a decent pass-catcher, Woodhead is an exceptional all-around contributor in the passing game. Their roles should be very distinctive, with Mathews -- who has looked excellent this preseason -- as the early-down workhorse (if he can hold up) and Woodhead being the specialty movement player that is equal parts running back and slot receiver.
Watt is a rare interior pass-rusher, but does Houston have enough pressure coming from their 3-4 outside linebackers?
Ganguli: That remains to be seen. It's definitely been a focus for the Texans' outside linebacker group. Whitney Mercilus, now in his second year, has taken over as a starter opposite Brooks Reed after the departure of Connor Barwin. Mercilus set a franchise record for rookies with six sacks last season, but he missed most of training camp and the preseason. Reed is healthier than he was at the end of last season when he returned from a groin injury. He had an offseason surgery to repair it fully.
This year, McGahee’s production was expected to wane because of quarterback Peyton Manning. Through a quarter of the season, McGahee has continued to be a huge part of Denver’s offense. McGahee, who turns 31 this month, has 325 yards rushing and is averaging 4.7 yards a carry.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, McGahee’s nine 100-yard rushing games is tied with Houston's Arian Foster as the most in the NFL since the beginning of last season. In 2009-10, while with Baltimore, McGahee had just one 100-yard game. After averaging 29.7 yards per game in those last two years with the Ravens, McGahee is averaging 80.2 yards per game as a Bronco.
Running backs usually don’t improve late in their career, but that is exactly what McGahee is doing.
There are only 16 candidates remaining. San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is the division’s last representative.
Gates, a No. 8 seed, barely beat the Colts’ Dwight Freeney, a No. 9 seed. The AFC West’s last chance, though, will be a heavy underdog in the Sweet 16. Gates faces Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, a No. 1 seed. Voting goes through next Wednesday.
Every other AFC West candidate was sent packing. Even though he was traded to the Jets last week, Tim Tebow still represented the Broncos. The No. 14 seed was barely defeated by Houston running back Arian Foster, a No. 3 seed.
Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe, a No. 11 seed, was trounced by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, a No. 6 seed. Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, a No. 3 seed, beat Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski, a No. 14 seed.
Well, that problem has been solved.
The Broncos announced McGahee, who was a first alternate, will replace an injured Arian Foster on the AFC Pro Bowl team. Denver left tackle Ryan Clady, replacing the Miami Dolphins' Jake Long, will also join him.
Denver now has five players in the Pro Bowl. McGahee and Clady join Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.
McGahee’s selection to the Pro Bowl team puts a bow on a great season for the 30-year-old tailback who was one of the best free-agent signings in the NFL last summer. McGahee had 1,199 yards rushing and he was a key to the No. 1 ranked rushing offense in the NFL. The Broncos set a franchise record for rushing yards in a season with 2,532 yards on the ground.
McGahee was tied with Foster for the NFL lead with seven 100-yard rushing games in 2011. This is McGahee’s second Pro Bowl selection.
According to the Broncos, Clady is the fifth offensive lineman in NFL history to start every game and make at least two Pro Bowls in his first four NFL seasons.
New England quarterback Tom Brady won the award. He received 21 votes. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick finished with 11 votes and Houston running back Arian Foster received seven votes. Rivers received five votes.
Atlanta receiver Roddy White, Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers each received two of the 50 votes.
Rivers, 29, led the NFL with 4,710 passing yards. Rivers threw 30 touchdowns passes and he was intercepted 13 times. His season passer rating was 101.8.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:
Raiders look for consolation prize: While the Chiefs are playing to be perfect at home, the Raiders are playing to be perfect in the AFC West. The Raiders are 5-0 in the AFC West. If Oakland beats the Chiefs, it will become the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to go undefeated in its division and not make the playoffs. The feat has been accomplishment by 29 teams in that time span. Although Oakland has been impressive in its division, its 2-8 record against the rest of the league is what is keeping the Raiders out of the playoffs.
Chiefs keep hold of the ball: If it weren’t for the Patriots, the Chiefs would be on pace to set an NFL record for fewest turnovers. Kansas City has committed 12 turnovers. The NFL record is 13. New England has turned the ball over just nine times this season. Still, record or no record, the Chiefs’ supreme ball security is a big reason they are headed to the playoffs.
League leads at stake: Several AFC West players can finish the season as the NFL leader in key statistical areas. Denver receiver Brandon Lloyd is the NFL’s leader in receiving yards by 48 yards. Philip Rivers trails Colts quarterback Peyton Manning by 39 yards and Drew Brees by 27 for the NFL lead. Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles trails Houston’s Arian Foster by 56 yards for the NFL rushing yards lead. Charles, who has 1,380 rushing yards, is also on the verge of joining rushing royalty. He is leading NFL running backs with a 6.4 per carry average. Only one player in NFL history has finished a season with more than 1,100 yards and a 6.2-plus per-carry average. The legendary Jim Brown had 1,863 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry in 1963.
McDaniels in Kansas City? Could this be Charlie Weis’ last regular-season game as the offensive coordinator of the Chiefs? ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is reporting that Weis is poised to become the offensive coordinator at the University of Florida. Last Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said he wouldn’t be surprised if Weis didn’t return next year. If so, Schefter said a logical replacement could be former Denver coach Josh McDaniels. It would be a huge story if it did. Look for more reaction laterFriday.
Player: Philip Rivers, San Diego
What does it mean: Rivers trails Peyton Manning by 39 yards for the NFL lead.
Player: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
What does it mean: Charles trails Arian Foster by 56 yards for the NFL lead.
Player: Brandon Lloyd, Denver
What does it mean: Lloyd leads the NFL in this category.
Player: Derrick Johnson, Kansas City and D.J. Williams, Denver
What does it mean: These two linebackers are still deadlocked.
Player: Tamba Hali, Kansas City
What does it mean: Hali pulled in front of San Diego’s Shaun Phillips with a sack Sunday.
Player: Eric Berry, Kansas City and Antoine Cason, San Diego
What does it mean: Berry caught up to Cason with a spectacular 54-yard return for a touchdown Sunday.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:
Elements shouldn’t be an issue this time around: It is supposed to be a brilliant day in San Diego for the biggest game of the AFC West season to date. The forecast calls for a sunny day with the temperature expected to be between 75-80 degrees. Yes, perfect weather for a game in which the 8-4 Chiefs can move to the doorstep of the division title and the 6-6 Chargers must win to have any chance of keeping their four-year division championship streak alive. The conditions should be much different than when these teams played in Kansas City in Week 1. The Chiefs won the Monday Night Monsoon game, 21-14. Kansas City was able to adjust to the rain and the Chargers were clearly affected. It should be an even playing field this time.
Draft-pick bowl: The first game of what will likely be the four-game Eric Studesville era is a winnable game for the 3-9 Broncos at Arizona. But is it worth it? According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cardinals (3-9) are on pace to have the No. 5 overall draft pick. Denver -- which fired second-year coach Josh McDaniels on Monday -- is on pace to have the No. 6 pick. Thus, the winner of the game will be on pace for a worse draft pick. Of course, both teams will want to win to make this miserable season a little less, well, miserable. But in the end, a better draft pick means more drafting power in April.
Tolbert is a go-to player at the goal line: If the Chargers get to the goal line, the Chiefs will likely know the play, especially if it's a run. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Chargers’ running back Mike Tolbert is tied for the NFL lead with 12 carries inside the opponents' 3-yard line. He has scored seven touchdowns in those situations, second behind NFL leading rusher Arian Foster of Houston. The bowling-ball shaped Tolbert is a perfect goal-line threat because it usually takes multiple defenders to bring him down.
Raiders are traditionalists: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Raiders lead the NFL in traditional two-running back, two-receiver and one tight-end sets. The Raiders have run 286 plays out of that basic set. The Jets are No. 2 in the league with 10 fewer plays than Oakland. The Raiders have been average using the set. They have gained 1,446 yards, which is far from the league lead. But it seems like Oakland’s offense is evolving as their receivers and tight end Zach Miller close in on regaining their health. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called a very strong game Sunday against San Diego, and it seems like the unit may get more creative in the final quarter of the season.
1. Kyle Orton’s ball security: Denver quarterback Kyle Orton is having a fine season. It continued Sunday in a loss to San Francisco when he threw for 369 yards. But Orton hurt his team with sloppy play. He was intercepted and he fumbled twice, losing one. The 49ers capitalized on his turnovers in Denver’s eight-point loss. Orton is a positive for Denver, but he needs to cut down on the mistakes if he is going to lead Denver back from a 2-6 start.
2. San Diego’s secondary: San Diego has the No. 1-ranked overall defense (and No. 1-ranked passing defense) in the NFL, but it has to tighten up its pass defense going into a game against the explosive Texans. San Diego allowed 303 passing yards against Tennessee. Five different Titans receivers caught passes of at least 24 yards. San Diego survived the onslaught, but it has to improve in this area.
3. Denver’s run defense and offense: Denver allowed 143 yards on the ground to San Francisco, after giving up 328 yards to Oakland the week prior. Denver is ranked 31st in the NFL against the run. The Broncos are ranked No. 32 in the NFL offensively in rushing. The Broncos are simply being destroyed on the ground on both sides of the ball.
2. San Diego’s run defense: While the Chargers were suspect in the passing game against the Titans, they were fantastic against the run. Titans running back Chris Johnson was, for the most part, stymied by San Diego. The Chargers are ranked No. 2 in the NFL against the run. Now, they have to keep it up Sunday against Houston’s Arian Foster.
3. Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop: Succop could have easily been on the falling list. But redemption is sweet. After missing a 39-yard field goal attempt earlier in overtime on a windy day, Succop nailed a 35-yarder at the end of overtime to give the Chiefs a 13-10 win over Buffalo and a 5-2 record. Not only did Succop give the Chiefs a victory, but he also saved his own psyche. Now he is heading into Sunday’s game at Oakland knowing he gave his team a win instead of costing it a game.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5.
Can Chiefs run by the Colts? The Colts have been beaten twice and they have given up big yardage on the ground in both games. That has to excite the Kansas City Chiefs. One of the strengths of Kansas City’s 3-0 team is the running of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. Houston and Jacksonville had success running the ball in wins against the Colts. Houston’s Arian Foster had 231 yards against the Colts and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew had 105 yards. Indianapolis has the No. 29 run defense in the NFL and the Chiefs have the No. 3 run offense with an average of 160.7 rushing yards per game. Running the ball has to be Kansas City’s game plan. Not only does it exploit a Colts’ weakness, but it will also eat the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field, which is never a bad thing.
Can Oakland wear down San Diego? San Diego has beaten the Raiders 13 straight times heading into Sunday's matchup in Oakland. There are some folks in San Diego who feel fortunate the Chargers beat Oakland twice last season, especially at Oakland in Week 1. Oakland was more physical than San Diego in that game. The Chargers just made more key plays. The Raiders have had success running the ball against the Chargers. Expect Oakland to try to out-muscle the Chargers again as it tries to end the streak.
Will Ray Lewis get a chance to welcome Tim Tebow to the NFL? In the offseason, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said he thought Denver rookie Tim Tebow received more help than most NFL prospects on his way through the draft process. Lewis made it clear he didn’t think it was cool. Perhaps Lewis will get a chance to welcome Tebow to the NFL in his special way Sunday? The only way that happens is if Denver uses a special package that includes Tebow. He has been on the active roster in three of four games this season, but he hasn’t played since opening day.
The byproduct of no running game in Denver: Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. notes that Denver has had to get creative in the passing game because of a porous run game. Denver has the No. 32 run game in the NFL. It is averaging 2.2 yards per carry and 55 yards on the ground a game. Horton said Denver is manufacturing yards with three and four-receiver sets. Horton says Denver is using a lot of short pass plays and is using screens on running downs as a way of bringing life to the run game.
Denver Broncos running game: A season-long issue is getting worse. The Broncos had 19 yards on 20 carries at Tennessee. They are ranked No. 32 in the NFL in rushing. Denver is averaging 2.2 yards per carry and 55 yards on the ground per game. Denver is literally getting nothing from its ground game.
Oakland Raiders run defense: The Raiders spent a lot of time and resources on improving one of the worst run defenses in the league. Oakland has had its moments, but overall it is still an issue. After being benched to start the game, Houston’s Arian Foster ripped apart Oakland. He had 131 yards on 16 carries, adding a 74-yard touchdown run. Oakland is just not closing gaps well enough on a consistent basis.
Steve Gregory, San Diego Chargers, safety: The Chargers’ starting strong safety is suspended by the NFL for the next four games for using a performance-enhancing substance. Gregory said he did not knowingly take the substance. Paul Oliver will take the place of the play-making Gregory.
Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos, quarterback: Orton is playing out of his mind. He is making up for Denver’s bad running game with stellar performances. He has thrown for 1,419 yards. It is the second highest yardage total after four games in the history of the NFL.
San Diego Chargers defense: The Chargers have allowed four touchdowns in four games. San Diego had nine sacks, including four by linebacker Shaun Phillips, in a win over Arizona. Like San Diego’s offense, its defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders, tight end: Miller is one of the best young offensive players in the league. He had 11 catches for 122 yards in a loss to Houston. Miller is a favorite target of Oakland quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and he is a great safety net for an offense that has an unreliable receiving crew.
What it means: If the Raiders were going to pull off the upset against the Texans, you would have thought Sunday was the day. Houston receiver Andre Johnson didn’t play and top running back Arian Foster was on the bench to start the game. Yet, the Texans ran out to a big lead anyway and held on for the win. Oakland is now 1-3 and alone in last place in the AFC West.
Tomorrow’s talker: Bruce Gradkowski makes his share of mistakes, but he’s a gamer. He tried his best to bring Oakland back but didn’t get the help he needed. Tight end Zach Miller had 11 catches for 122 yards and a score. This combination could be dangerous.
Trending: The run defense had trouble. This has long been an issue in Oakland. Foster ripped the Raiders for a 74-yard touchdown run and had 131 yards rushing on 16 carries. Yes, John Henderson was out, but the Raiders have to do better in this area.
What’s next: Oakland will try to keep its season afloat at home against San Diego, which has beaten Oakland 13 straight times. If the Raiders lose their second straight home game to fall to 1-4, expect to coach Tom Cable to be on the hot seat.
Both players were dealing with injuries during the week, although the team had hoped all week they’d play. Run stuffer John Henderson is not active, which could be an issue against Houston top back Arian Foster. Foster could play a huge role in Houston’s offense with star receiver Andre Johnson inactive.
In Tennessee, rookie quarterback Tim Tebow is again the No. 2 quarterback and Brady Quinn is inactive. Last week, Quinn was the No. 2 quarterback last after Tebow won the backup job in the preseason. Denver coach Josh McDaniels said the backup quarterback job may be a week-to-week endeavor, depending on the game plan. So far, Tebow hasn’t touched the ball against the Titans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
On the eve of the NFL draft, we are taking a crack at a mock draft for each team in the AFC West. This is just for kicks, folks. I'll be lucky if get a first rounder or two on the money.
The mock drafts are based on pre-draft visits and workouts, league information, reports and team needs.
We'll start with the Chiefs and go in order of the team's first choice. Check back throughout the afternoon for the other three team's mock drafts.
Round 1, pick 3
Aaron Curry, Wake Forest, LB
Round 3, pick 67
Mike Thomas, Arizona, WR
Round 4, pick 102
Kyle Moore, USC, DE
Round 5, pick 139
Kevin Ellison, USC, S
Round 6, pick 175
Arian Foster. Tennessee, RB
Round 7, pick 212
Rob Bruggeman, Iowa, C
Round 7, pick 256
David Buehler, USC, K