Final Word: AFC West

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
2:24
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Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Manning’s last game against Pittsburgh: It’s been 20 months since Peyton Manning has played an NFL game, as a neck injury kept him out of all of last season. Manning will begin a new chapter in his Hall of Fame career when he quarterbacks the Denver Broncos against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. It will be Manning’s first game against Pittsburgh in nearly four years. On Nov. 9, 2008, Manning led the Colts to a 24-20 road victory over the Steelers, completing 21 of 40 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. I’m sure both the Broncos and Manning would take a similar effort in this outing against the Steelers.

How will the Chiefs run the ball? The Kansas City Chiefs believe they can have one of the best running games in the NFL with Jamaal Charles coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in Week 2 of last season and because of the signing of Peyton Hillis. With Charles’ speed and Hillis’ punishing approach, the pair will be particularly important Sunday against the Falcons. The Chiefs have injuries on defense and pass-rusher Tamba Hali is serving a one-game NFL suspension -- just what the pass-happy Falcons want to see. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs did not record one sack with Hali off the field last season. That’s why Charles and Hillis have to be successful: The Chiefs need to establish a run attack and eat the clock to keep the ball away from Atlanta.

[+] EnlargePeyton Hillis, Jamaal Charles
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerThe contrasting styles of Peyton Hillis (40) and Jamaal Charles (25) will be key to the Chiefs' ball-control efforts against Atlanta.
Can Chargers find offensive rhythm? The Chargers are going to be rusty on offense Monday night at Oakland. The team had several injuries on offense in the preseason and the first unit really didn’t get much time together in games this summer. Quarterback Philip Rivers didn’t even play in the third (and most important) preseason game because of injuries on the offensive line. It could take time for this unit to come together.

Instant bad memories for Oakland: In the last game that counted in Oakland, after Denver lost at home to Kansas City, all the Raiders had to do was beat the Chargers to go to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. However, San Diego, which was eliminated from the playoff race the week before, hammered the Raiders 38-26, keeping them out of the playoffs. It also cemented Hue Jackson’s departure from Oakland. Now, the Dennis Allen-led Raiders can get off to a good start in 2012 by handling the same Chargers.

The Thomas-Taylor showdown: Stepping onto the field in Denver on Sunday night will likely cause Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor to shake a little. On the last play of a game that counted on that field, Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas stiff-armed and badly beat Taylor on his way to a 80-yard touchdown pass from former Denver quarterback Tim Tebow on the first offensive play of overtime to give the Broncos a wild-card-round victory over the Steelers. The play will live forever in both Denver and Pittsburgh. I’m sure Manning will try to create some new memories for Thomas and Taylor if the opportunity presents itself Sunday night.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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