Heading into the 2016 campaign, Around The NFL is taking a closer look at each division over the course of this week. Which storylines -- and players -- will define the coming months within each of the league's eight sectors? Check out the AFC West entry below.
Most significant changes from 2015
The Broncos will join the 2001 Ravens as the only teams in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and enter the next season without the top two quarterbacks from their championship run. Given the hand that general manager John Elway was dealt with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, that's hardly a surprise. The larger revelation is that untested 2015 seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian has bested veteran Mark Sanchez and first-round rookie Paxton Lynch for the starting nod in the NFL Kickoff 2016 rematch with the Panthers.
The offseason change wasn't as drastic in Kansas City, home of the division's other playoff outfit from 2015. The Chiefs' biggest makeover is on defense, where the secondary lost a pair of starters in Sean Smith and Tyvon Branch. All-Pro pass rusher Justin Houstonwill start the season on the PUP list after undergoing offseason knee surgery, meaning he will miss at least the first six games.
One player to watch from each team
Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch, quarterback. Siemian might have won the August competition, but he's going to be battling Lynch from September until the rookie's inevitable ascendance to the starting lineup. A dynamic athlete with a rocker arm, the former Memphis star is coming like a freight train. Asked about Lynch during Saturday's dress rehearsal, Elway raved, "He's getting better, more comfortable every day ... We think the ceiling is really, really high."
Kansas City Chiefs: Marcus Peters, cornerback. The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year not only showed rare ball skills last season, but he also began shutting down opposing wideouts in the second half of the campaign. Will he enter the discussion with Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Josh Norman as the game's premier cornerback?
Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, wide receiver. If his first season is any indication, the Raiders offense already goes as Cooper goes. The 2015 draft's No. 4 overall pick became the first rookie since Mike Ditka in 1961 to post three 100-yard performances in his first six career games, only to struggle through a painful foot injury throughout the second half of the season. A healthy Cooper could emerge as the division's dominant receiving threat.
San Diego Chargers: Melvin Gordon, running back. Tip-toeing to the line of scrimmage, Gordon was one of the least effective first-round rookie running backs of the Super Bowl era in 2015. If the preseason is any indication, Chargers fans will see a more decisive and explosive version of Gordon in his second season.
What we'll be talking about at season's end
The reigning Super Bowl champions unearthed their quarterback of the future but took their lumps on offense while falling behind the Chiefs and Raiders in the standings. Alex Smith garnered overdue recognition as a legitimate franchise quarterback while posting a career year in his fourth season under Andy Reid's masterful tutelage in Kansas City. The Raiders' 25-and-under trio of Cooper, Derek Carr and Khalil Mack is the envy of organizations across the league. The Chargers are staying in San Diego!