Week 1 Broncos Enemy Watch List

What does this photo have to go with the post? Not a thing, but the Denver Broncos cheerleaders are the best in the (AFC) West. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Since our Denver Broncos don't start the season until Monday night, there doesn't have to be a reason to watch some football on Sunday. But there is. We can keep a watchful eye on the AFC West division and also get a first look at our team's Week 2 opponent. Because the Broncos start the year off against their division Arch rivals, that leaves three games on the slate. You should be able to watch at least two of them. The games?  The Buffalo Bills play the Chiefs in Kansas City, the Cincinnati Bengal play at the Cleveland Browns in their annual battle over Ohio and the Minnesota Vikings play the Chargers in San Diego. The first two are early games that will run simultaneously and your ability to watch them will depend on what part of the country you are in since they will both be aired by CBS. The Chargers game is an afternoon game aired by FOX. So unless you have the NFL package and can choose the game you'd like to watch, you are stuck like me. If you'll follow the jump, I will give you the skinny for these games.

The first game on the agenda is the (4-12 in 2010) Buffalo Bills vs. the (10-6) Kansas City Chiefs. The game starts at 1:00 pm EDT on CBS and Kansas City is favored by 5.5 points.

 

Kansas City

 

The Chiefs are led by a dinged up Matt Cassell who will suffer playing with sore ribs. TE Tony Moeaki is out for the year and rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin is recovering from an attack by teammate Thomas JonesHead coach Todd Haley didn't push the rushing game with a big workload in the preseason, but the leading rushing team in the NFL last year won't have a dropoff. The Chiefs biggest concern is the Offensive Line Pass Blocking. They have been suffering from injury and illness for the past couple of weeks. TE Jake O'Connell has battled a sprained right ankle for the last two weeks, but he was at practice on Monday. O'Connell's status becomes even more important given that he's one of just 2 TEs left on the roster.
Kansas City's Run Defense was the team's worst area during the preseason, allowing more than 500 yards, a 4.2 ypc average and 5 TDs. Their Pass Defense had 3 INT's and 7 Sacks, allowing just one big passing play.

 

Player Injuries 

  • QB Matt Cassel (Rib) is Probable 
  • WR Jon Baldwin (Thumb) is Doubtful 


Buffalo

On offense, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is the undeniable starter, since Tyler Thigpen has struggled throughout the preseason. Fred Jackson will be the No. 1 RB, with C.J. Spiller still learning how to play in the NFL. Chan Gailey wants to give Spiller more opportunities.

 

At TE, Scott Chandler is the clear-cut starter and David Martin will be used in short-yardage situations. At wide receiver, with the trade of Lee Evans, the second starting slot was cast wide open, and it looks as if Donald Jones - an undrafted rookie free agent from 2010 - is going to start over Marcus Easley, a still-raw 2010 fourth-round draft pick who missed all of last season with a knee injury.


There are two new starters on the O-Line. RG Kraig Urbik and RT Erik Pears, neither of whom are very accomplished. Center Eric Wood is playing his first full year at that position.


The Bills have shored up their Defense with 5 new starters, adding Free Agent LB's Shawne Merriman, Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison. They have a decent-looking group of young players for depth, so the run defense should be much better after ranking dead last in the NFL, in 2010. No. 1 pick Marcell Dareus looks like the real deal. He's a player with tremendous size (he weighs in the 330s right now) and quickness, both in the pass rush and against the run. NT Kyle Williams is sporting a new $39 million contract and looks as good as ever. The Bills secondary has three NFL-worthy starters in Drayton Florence, Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin, plus play-making FS Jairus Byrd.

 

Player Injures
  • LB Arthur Moats (Calf) is Doubtful 
  • WR Felton Huggins (Concussion) is Doubtful 
  • WR Roscoe Parrish (Hamstring) is Probable 
  • RB Johnny White (Head) is Probable 
  • WR Donald Jones (Concussion) is Probable

Prognosis: Chiefs win this game

 

The other early game to keep an eye on is the (4-12) Cincinnati Bengals visiting the (5-11) Cleveland Browns at 1:00 pm EDT on CBS.  Cleveland is favored by 6.5 points in this contest.

Cincinnati

 

It's going to be a long season for the Bengals. Rookie QB Andy Dalton will throw to fellow Rookie, WR AJ Green if he has the time behind a slightly upgraded Offensive Line. Gone are QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco. The good (sic) news is that RB Cedric Benson got out of jail. Benson averaged 4.1 yards per carry during the preseason and Bernard Scott looks like the change of pace to the back.     

On Defense, Michael Johnson had a nice preseason pressuring opposing Quarterbacks and the Linebackers have been doing a solid job of dropping back into coverage. MLB Rey Maualuga has improved greatly and is missing very few tackles in the open field. He has also been frequently getting into the backfield for Tackles For Loss. CB Nate Clements was brought in to replace the departed Jonathan Joseph and they upgraded the return positions by claiming Brandon Tate on waivers from New England.

Player Injuries

 

S Taylor Mays (Knee) is Questionable for Sunday.
QB Bruce Gradkowski (Hamstring) is Questionable.
CB Kelly Jennings (Hamstring) is Questionable.
LB Keith Rivers (Wrist NFI) Out until at least Week 8.
DL Carlos Dunlap (Knee) is Questionable.
DL Antwan Odom (Thigh) is Questionable.
LB Dontay Moch (Foot) Out for start of season
WR Terrell Owens (Knee) is Doubtful.



Cleveland

Cleveland had a good left side on their Offensive Line with LT Joe Thomas and LG Eric Steinbach, but Steinbach is out for the year with a back injury. His absence will be felt most in experience and the running game. Without Steinbach, Tackle Joe Thomas and Center Alex Mack may have to help the new Left Guard more. Still, with 2nd year QB Colt McCoy running the Offense, the Browns will need to rely on Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty to control the clock. The receivers are the big question in the Browns' Passing Offense. None of them are speed demons and there is room for improvement in their rapport with Colt McCoy. 

Defensively, CB Sheldon Brown is solid and Joe Haden's value is rising, but the safety tandem that will come from Mike Adams, Usama Young and T.J. Ward barely played together in the preseason due to hamstring injuries.The Browns feel like the addition of 1st-round pick Phil Taylor and the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme will benefit the defense. Rob Ryan's blitz attack has been replaced by a more conservative Dick Jauron, whose scheme calls for D-Line penetration to disrupt the offense, letting the Linebackers make plays. We will see if they can stop the run. 

Player Injuries
  • WR Josh Cribbs (Hamstring) is Probable. 
  • WR Carlton Mitchell (Finger) is Probable. 
  • WR Mohamed Massaquoi (Foot) is Probable.
  • TE Benjamin Watson (Hip) is Questionable.
  • LB Chris Gocong (Neck) is Questionable.
  • DB Usama Young (Hamstring) is Questionable.
  • DB Eric Hagg (Knee) is Questionable.
  • OT Tony Pashos (Foot) is Questionable.


Prognosis: Neither team came out of the preseason 100% healthy and their are major questions for each team. This will likely be more of a battle of attrition, but I will take the Home team (Cleveland) by 3 points.

In the afternoon, the (6-10) Minnesota Vikings will be in San Diego vying with the (9-7) Chargers at 4:15 pm EDT on FOX. The Chargers are favored by 8.5 points.
 
Minnesota

 

It appears rookie Christian Ponder will be the Vikings' No. 2 QB, since the Vikings traded for veteran starter Donovan McNabb. McNabb was relatively efficient in the preseason, but it remains to be seen how effective WR Bernard Berrian and slot man Percy Harvin can be. TE Visanthe Shiancoe missed the entire preseason with hamstring problems, but says he is 100%. RB Adrian Peterson is going to be running rampant again this year. The question is, can the Vikings' Offensive Line stay hold up? C John Sullivan battled calf problems last season, is finishing better but is physically limited. LG Steve Hutchinson is healthy, too, but he's in  decline at age 33. RG Anthony Herrera is coming off a torn ACL and there is little experience in their depth. 

 

On Defense, the secondary remains the biggest question of any position group, outside of veteran CB Antoine Winfield. CB's Cedric Griffin (two reconstructed knees) and Chris Cook (bad rookie season) are weak links. The tandem of SS Jamarca Sanford and FS Husain Abdullah were thrown in after FS Madieu Williams' release. Sanford will be the Vikings' starting strong safety in Sunday's opener at San Diego, but Head coach Leslie Frazier indicated Tyrell Johnson could get some reps in that game, too.The Vikings will need alot more from RE Jared Allen in the pass rush this season, too.

 

The Vikings signed their outstanding LB Chad Greenway to a new 5-year contract. DT Letroy Guion had a good camp and figures to hold down the 3-technique spot while DT Kevin Williams serves a 2-game suspension (Starcaps). NT Remi Ayodele takes over the nose for veteran Pat Williams and we'll see how that turns out.


Player Injuries
  • RB Lorenzo Booker (Back) is Probable. 
  • CB Asher Allen (Toe) is Probable.
  • CB Chris Cook (Hamstring) is Probable.
  • DL Kevin Williams (Suspension) Eligible to return Week 3 vs. Detroit.


Chargers

This team will go as far as QB Philip Rivers can take them and WR Vincent Jackson along with TE Antonio Gates will keep opposing secondaries on their toes. The O-Line has to prove it can run-block as well as it does in pass-blocking though. All 5 Offensive linemen return this year and three of them have Pro Bowl experience. However, LT Marcus McNeill missed all the preseason games after undergoing minor knee surgery. The procedure wasn't significant but it cost McNeill valuable practice time. He was able to go through practice this week and will start on Sunday. We shall see if the Unit can keep Rivers upright most of the season. RB Ryan Mathews was supposed to be the featured back, but he has ball-security and pass-protection issues. Mike Tolbert is coming off a breakthrough season and is a power back. Norv Turner will keep trying Mathews, but Tolbert will get plenty of touches. 

Defensively, Shaun Phillips' team-high 11 Sacks last season proved that he is a force, but opposite Phillips, there are questions. Larry English has been a disappointment, so Travis LaBoy was brought in to give Phillips some cover. Antwan Barnes could be a surprise and the Secondary is solid, if Bob Sanders can stay healthy.

 

DT Antonio Garay's already got a bum knee and the situation at ILB is a mess. Takeo Spikes is in his 15th season and young Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton are still learning. Stephen Cooper will be little help with his biceps injury. On Special Teams the Chargers are still looking for a return man to replace Darren Sproles and will break in a new long snapper in Mike Windt. 

 

Player Injuries
  • WR Vincent Brown (Hamstring) is Doubful.
  • WR Patrick Crayton (Ankle) is Questionable.
  • LB Larry English (Groin) is Probable.
  • LB Shaun Phillips (Hamstring) is Probable.
  • NT Antonio Garay (knee) is Probable.

 

Prognosis: The Chargers are notoriously slow starters and Adrian Peterson should easily run for 150 yards. The Vikings will need to keep Philip Rivers off the field as much as possible by running the ball, because the Chargers aerial attack can score quickly. I'm calling upset here. Vikes by 1 point.

I'll be keeping an eye on these games if only to see where the Broncos are in the standings going into Monday Night. None of them look to be very exciting contests, but they do have meaning to Denver fans. Here's looking to a great beginning to the 2011 NFL season.

Go Broncos!

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