AFC West: audibles
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The speculation prior to the April draft was that Kansas City could try to move up with its gaggle of draft picks and take Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan.
The Chiefs sent large contingents to scout Ryan in the offseason and there was the famous photo of Chiefs coach Herman Edwards and Ryan hamming it up after a Ryan workout.
Yet, the Chiefs never tried to move up from their spot at No. 5 in the draft and Atlanta pulled the trigger on Ryan at No. 3.
Kansas City will try to break its 11-game losing streak -- it lost the last nine games of the 2007 season and the first two games this season -- against Ryan and the Falcons.
The Chiefs are still trying to find their way at quarterback with starter Brodie Croyle and backup Damon Huard both getting hurt this season. The Falcons will likely get a long look at Chiefs reserve quarterback Tyler Thigpen.
The Chiefs are happy with defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who was taken with the No. 5 pick. They will be even happier if he gives would-have-been Chief Ryan a hard time and helps ends the team's drought.
If the Raiders are going to make the statement they were hoping to make in what turned out to be a disastrous season opener against Denver, they must beat the Bills the same way they beat the Chiefs.
Darren McFadden. It is no coincidence that Oakland's first win of the season came on the day the No. 4 overall draft pick went off. The former Arkansas star had 164 yards on 21 carries. He single-handedly destroyed the Chiefs.
McFadden has the ability to beat teams by himself.
If the Raiders are going to upset the Bills, it will be because of McFadden. Yes, he has been slowed some by a turf toe injury, but this is a special talent.
McFadden had nine carries against Denver and the Raiders were hammered. He had 21 carries at Kansas City and the Raiders won.
Get the picture?
There were concerns about the Denver Broncos' offense being able to show explosiveness this year because of the offensive line, particularly the tackles.
The concern in Denver was legitimate. The Broncos were entering the 2008 season with essentially two rookie tackles. Left tackle Ryan Clady, taking over for the retired Matt Lepsis, was the No. 12 overall pick in the April draft. At right tackle, Denver was inserting Ryan Harris, who was a third-round pick in 2007. Harris played one offensive play last season.
Teams usually don't win with two rookie tackles. Yet, the Broncos, who have scored 80 points in two games, are atop the AFC West at 2-0. Clady and Harris have been major reasons why.
Denver quarterback Jay Cutler is an early NFL MVP candidate, and a big reason why is he can order a pizza and get it delivered in the time he has to throw. Cutler has been sacked one time this season but that was because of his controversial fumble at the end of the San Diego game. Cutler has not been physically tackled for a loss this season. He wasn't sacked in five quarters during the preseason, either.
Yet, the San Diego Chargers' quarterback, who rarely declines to comment on any subject, politely declined to speak about the Favre situation while it was still percolating.
"I want to see how it plays out," Rivers said. "Brett Favre has always been one of my favorite players and I really hope it works out for him. I really respect him."
Rivers will have a chance to tell Favre how he feels in person. Rivers and his reeling 0-2 Chargers must beat Favre and the Jets or their Super Bowl aspirations will take a serious hit.
Rivers, who is quietly developing into one of the finer quarterbacks in the NFL, may need some Favre-like magic to turn around his team's fortunes after two heartbreaking losses to start the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Lane Kiffin talked this week about his job security as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
He said he has none. Kiffin said history has shown that Oakland owner Al Davis has a short leash on coaches. Kiffin was absolutely right. There is no job security in Oakland. And if Kiffin loses Sunday in Kansas City, there could be another coach realizing that fact soon.
The Raiders need to win this game. It is set up for them. Not only are the Chiefs young and still trying to find their way, but they are also playing without their starting quarterback. Brodie Croyle will be shelved for a few weeks with a separated shoulder. Former starter Damon Huard will start.
If the Raiders are beat handily by Kansas City, there will be trouble in Oakland.
A lot was expected in Oakland this season. Starting 0-2 against AFC West rivals Denver and Kansas City wasn't part of the plan. If Kansas City, which nearly won on the road at New England despite its youth, soundly defeats the Raiders Sunday, that famous lack of job security in Oakland could become an issue.
The Chargers have owned the Broncos the past two years because their offense has dominated. In the past four games against Denver, San Diego has scored 147 points. They won by margins of 38, 28, 20 and 8 points.
The San Diego offense better roll again Sunday in Denver when the Chargers must win to even their record at 1-1 and tie Denver for the early lead in the AFC West. The game is going to be all about the San Diego defense. It must stop Denver's offense, which had some San Diego-like explosiveness Monday night in a 41-14 thrashing of Oakland.
The Chargers lost on the final play of the game against visiting Carolina on Sunday when Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme hit tight end Dante Rosario from 14 yards out in the back of the end zone with no time left.
It was the San Diego defense that ultimately let the team down. Carolina moved the ball at will despite not having its best player, Steve Smith. The Chargers will have to rebound without Shawne Merriman. The linebacker will miss the rest of season due to reconstructive knee surgery.
The Chargers defense has to respond to the challenge. Defensive tackle Jamal Williams, who is still working his way back from an injury, has to return to being the stalwart against the run, and the Chargers, who may have to play without standout cornerback Antonio Cromartie (hip), have to defend against the pass better pass in critical situations.
The Broncos are gunning for the Chargers this week. And San Diego will need more than a high-powered offense to stop them.
Kansas City at New England, 1 p.m. ET
At first look, this isn't much of a contest. New England is the favorite and this is, by far, on paper, a huge mismatch and perhaps the least intriguing game of the opening weekend.
It certainly isn't easy duty for Kansas City. This is a team in a complete rebuilding mode, and it has 15 rookies on the roster, several who will start today. Besides two games against AFC West rival San Diego, this is perhaps the best team the young Chiefs will face.
And it just happens to be on opening day.
Can Kansas City hang with New England? It will be very tough even if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is still ginger and rusty from his foot injury.
Here are three keys for the Chiefs in this game:
1. Start fast: If Kansas City is going to keep this game respectable, it has to score early and not let the game get out of control. If New England takes a two touchdown lead in the first quarter, it will be a long day for the visitors.
2. Control the clock: Sunday is the best time to introduce rookie Jamaal Charles to Kansas City's backfield. Kansas City needs to pair Charles with Larry Johnson and control the game on the ground. This way, New England's high-powered offense would be off the field and the Chiefs would be controlling the clock, which are two things they need for this monumental upset to happen.
3. Play flawless: Yes, that is a lot to ask, but the Chiefs cannot make any mistakes Sunday. None. Asking so many young players, especially quarterback Brodie Croyle, to play flawlessly may be unreasonable. But it is Kansas City's only chance.
Did you know? Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez had the best day of his career against the Patriots in 2000 when he gained a career-high 147 receiving yards.
Carolina at San Diego, 4:15 p.m. ET
All summer long, the Chargers have heard that they are embarking on what could be a Super Bowl season. All summer long, the Chargers have rebutted by saying that won't be possible if they repeat last year's slow start. San Diego started 2-2 before rebounding and ending up in the AFC Championship Game.
San Diego is very conscious of not stubbing its toe this week. But San Diego will have to play well to win. The Panthers are not a bad team and are capable of pulling off an upset.
San Diego is banged up on the offensive line and will likely not have star center Nick Hardwick and standout left tackle Marcus McNeill, who are injured. Tight end Antonio Gates will play for the first time since suffering a serious big toe injury on his left foot in the playoffs last year. San Diego has some issues, but it should find a way to start off the season with a win.
Here are three keys for San Diego in this game:
1. Run the ball: Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the best weapons in the game. San Diego needs to open the season by punishing the Panthers with its run game. Yes, the offensive line is missing a couple pieces, but the Chargers still have to establish a good run game.
2. Attack Jake Delhomme: Delhomme is an efficient quarterback, but he can be shaken. San Diego needs to pressure him all game and force him to make mistakes.
3. Strike fast: The Chargers need to show themselves they won't stumble out of gates this season. They must strike quickly. If San Diego can build a double-digit lead in the first half, they should cruise.
Denver at Oakland, 10:15 p.m. ET Monday
Three keys for Denver:
1. Jay Cutler: A lot is expected from Cutler this year, especially after his outstanding preseason. He needs to show he can be the best player on the field and he needs to do it Monday night. He will be missing his favorite target, Brandon Marshall, who is serving a one-game NFL suspension. But Cutler has other options. He needs to hit tight end Tony Scheffler and receiver Brandon Stokley often.
2. Stop the run: Denver was ranked 30th in the NFL in run defense last year. The Broncos were kept out of games last year because they couldn't stop the run. Denver's primary focus on defense this summer has been the run defense. Expect Denver to stack eight men in the box often as it tries to stop Oakland's terrific running back trio of Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush.
3. Play well on special teams: I expect this to be a close game and good or bad play on special teams can play a major factor. Denver has a new look special teams featuring young kicker Matt Prater. If Denver doesn't make any mistakes and special teams, it could help it win this game.
Three keys for Oakland:
1. Run the ball: Expect Oakland to try to ram the ball down Denver's collective throat. The Raiders have an excellent run attack and Denver's run defense was not good last year. Raiders want to control this game on the ground.
2. Stop the run: Oakland's run defense was ranked 31st last year. Denver could always run the ball and it will try in this game. Cutler is expected to let it loose as well. Oakland has to step up and stop the run and make life tough on Cutler.
3. Feed off the fan energy: Oakland fans are always up for games against Denver. Mix in the fact that it is opening day and a Monday night game, and there will be a fever pitch in Oakland. The Raiders had to take advantage of the noise and jump on Denver and keep the fans in the game.
Did you know? This is Denver's fourth straight season opener on the road. It lost in Miami in 2005 and at St. Louis in 2006 before winning at Buffalo last year on opening day.