NFL 2013: Broncos again class of AFC West
Shaun Phillips joined the Denver Broncos after a decade of jawing with them as a member of the San Diego Chargers. He wants to show both his new team and his old one that he still has plenty of sacks left in him.
''I didn't come here to be a cheerleader,'' he declared.
That's exactly what All-Pro linebacker Von Miller will have to be for the next six weeks as he serves his suspension for violating the NFL's drug-abuse policy.
Miller kicked off the winter by guaranteeing the Broncos, 13-4 a year ago, would win the Super Bowl next February.
Now, he's sidelined until Oct. 20, when Peyton Manning makes his much-anticipated return to Indianapolis, where he spent his first 14 NFL seasons before joining the Broncos last year.
No one can fill Miller's enormous cleats, but how the Broncos make up for his absence might go a long way in determining whether his Super Bowl assurance was bold or just balderdash.
Five things to know about the AFC West:
SLY LIKE A FOX: This is just John Fox's third season in Denver and already he's the elder statesman among coaches in the division. Two of his contemporaries are former assistants: Dennis Allen in Oakland, his defensive coordinator in 2011, and San Diego's new coach Mike McCoy, his long-time offensive coordinator with both the Panthers and Broncos.
Kansas City's rebuilding project got a jumpstart with the hiring of Andy Reid after his long stint in Philadelphia came to an unceremonious end. With Wes Welker teaming up with Manning after six seasons as Tom Brady's top target in New England, Denver looks like the class of the division again. But the Broncos will be hard-pressed to go 6-0 in the West like last year, and the Chiefs don't look anything like another 2-14 team.
MANNING'S MAD: The Broncos went 13-3 in Manning's first season in Denver and now he's healthy, cozy - and angry. Manning said Denver's loss to Baltimore in the playoffs left a scar that can only be soothed by a Super Bowl title.
But the Broncos had a stormy offseason, losing Elvis Dumervil to free agency following a fax foul-up, then watching two executives get suspended for drunken driving arrests. Then came Miller's troubles. The Broncos' biggest obstacle to winning it all might just be themselves.
They added Welker on offense and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on defense in free agency, but Champ Bailey doesn't see this season, his 15th in the NFL, as his best shot at a title. ''I look at it as my ONLY shot,'' he said. ''Nothing is guaranteed in this league. We can all be in different places next year.''
REID REBUILDING: Reid and new GM John Dorsey, his old pal from the Packers, dusted off the blueprints Reid used to rebuild the Eagles 15 years ago when he was plucked out of Green Bay, where he was Brett Favre's position coach. Using that same formula, they traded for QB Alex Smith, re-signed WR Dwayne Bowe and P Dustin Colquitt, lured free agents Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, and used the No. 1 pick on big RT Eric Fisher. At least one last-place team from the previous season has made the playoffs every year since the NFL's realignment in `02, and the Chiefs look like a threat to join that list.
RECHARGED CHARGERS: San Diego fans finally got what they wanted when Norv Turner and A.J. Smith were fired in January following San Diego's first losing season since 2003. They were replaced by rookies McCoy and GM Tom Telesco, who face a big rebuilding project behind Philip Rivers, who's been sacked 79 times and committed 47 turnovers the last two years.
McCoy was smack dab in the middle of Tebowmania in 2011 and now he's in the eye of the storm with rookie linebacker Manti Te'o, who might prove popular and polarizing, just like Tebow.
CULTURE CHANGE: Anybody can have a bad decade, even the Team of the Decades. GM Reggie McKenzie enters Year 2 of trying to get old mistakes off the Oakland Raiders' books. He has big questions at quarterback, along both lines and at wide receiver, so the end of their 10-year playoff drought doesn't appear in sight. QB Terrelle Pryor outplayed Matt Flynn in the preseason, but will it matter who's under center behind a leaky offensive line and no established go-to receiver on the other end of all those passes? Darren McFadden is hoping to bounce back from a career-worst 3.3 yards per carry last year and return to form as a power back. That would restore some nastiness in Oakland.
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