Eight in the Box: Biggest questions

The major question facing each team in the division as summer break looms.

Denver Broncos: How long will the Super Bowl window be open? The talk at Denver’s minicamp this week is that there is a sense of urgency in the building because this might be the team’s one year to make it to the Super Bowl. If it doesn’t happen, all will be lost in Denver. I think that is a little off base. Of course, this current team’s window is not wide. It all revolves around quarterback Peyton Manning, who is 37. So, the window is narrow. It’s probably two years. Denver signed Manning last year with the short term in mind. The brain trust thought Manning gave the team its best chance to win for the next few years and it went for it. The same thinking prevailed when the Broncos signed receiver Wes Welker for two years. He was the best player available to help the team win now. Denver also brought in some other veterans. But if you look at Denver’s roster, there is plenty of young talent, as well. The bottom line is the current window will be open as long as Manning is healthy and effective.

Kansas City Chiefs: Can Alex Smith be the difference-maker? There is excitement in Kansas City. The new regime added several pieces to a roster that was much better than the Chiefs’ 2-14 record indicated. The coaching staff is also much improved with head coach Andy Reid leading the way. But in the NFL, ultimate success starts with the quarterback. There is no doubt Smith, acquired in a trade with San Francisco, is an upgrade over Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. He will make the Chiefs better. But how much better? Can Smith help the Chiefs make the playoffs? At the end of the day, he is more of a game manager than a game-changer. But Smith has won before. He seems to be a good fit for Reid’s system, and he does not turn the ball over. The Chiefs have a shot to be a contender this year, and it’s up to Smith to make it happen.

Oakland Raiders: Is this young roster ready to compete? There are few established NFL starters on Oakland's roster. The Raiders do have several players who have potential to become good players. That can be said at virtually every position. This is a team at the beginning of a rebuild. In two or three years, coupled with the youngsters getting experience and a refreshed salary-cap outlook, Oakland appears to be on the right track for the long haul. But all that matters now is the 2013 season. Can this roster compete now? I think the coaching staff feels good about it because the roster, as a whole, loves football and the players want to get better. There are holes, so being competitive on a regular basis won’t be easy. But if these young players take advantage of their opportunity, Oakland could become competitive faster than some think.

San Diego Chargers: Can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? New San Diego coach Mike McCoy said this week that there is not a doubt in his mind that Rivers will have a great season. Rivers has struggled for big chunks of the past two seasons. A major reason is a lack of protection. The Chargers' offensive line has been riddled by injuries the past two seasons, which has hurt Rivers. The Chargers have tried to improve on the offensive line, namely taking Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker with the No. 11 overall pick. The line should be better, and it is deeper than in recent years. But it is not an above-average unit yet, so there still may be growing pains. But the bottom line is Rivers needs better protection or the offense will continue to suffer.