But while their individual talent is undeniable, the pair of Kansas City Chiefs wideouts was blitzed by skeptics this preseason.
Questions were sprouting by the day: Is long-time star Dwayne Bowe taking the 2012 season seriously enough, or will he pass the torch to the acclaimed up-and-comer Jon Baldwin?
The two were often depicted as rivals, more so than teammates, by the local media. It was as if somebody stole the script of the U.S. Olympic swim team and replaced the names "Michael Phelps" and "Ryan Lochte" with "Dwayne Bowe" and "Jon Baldwin."
However, any tides of change will have to take a rain check. Just like the aforementioned Olympians, the Chiefs pass-catchers will coexist, and their team will ultimately be the winner because of it.
Throughout his five NFL seasons, Dwayne Bowe has proven to be a more-than-viable wide receiver. He will never be mistaken for Calvin Johnson, but he still demands the respect of an upper-echelon aerial threat.
Jon Baldwin's status isn't nearly as solidified as that of his counterpart.
Due to the lockout and a well-publicized thumb injury, Baldwin practically missed the entirety of the 2011 offseason and preseason, and he was sidelined for the first five regular-season games. While the then-rookie only managed to snag three or more receptions in a trio of games last year, he occasionally beamed with brilliance.
Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin will have an edge over other AFC West tandems for two reasons.
Addition by Division
Yes, Peyton Manning is a member of the AFC West now, and he knows a thing or two about quarterbacking. Save your breath, Coloradans.
It would be convenient to write No. 18 off due to health concerns. However, the same could be done for every team in the NFL—including Kansas City. Let's stick to the facts.
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Denver's starting receivers, are a lot of things. Two things—or in this case, players—they are not: Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
Fourteen-year veteran Brandon Stokley is not the slot threat that Manning remembers from years ago, and the second coming of Dallas Clark will not be lining up as the bookend to Denver's offensive line.
Elsewhere, the Oakland Raiders roster shows three wide receivers on the rise—Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford—but all three would be complementary options on most NFL teams.
They also can't throw themselves the ball.
Carson Palmer's career has plummeted in a downward spiral since his return to football; this preseason is no exception. The quarterback has thrown an interception (four overall) in each of his three preseason contests this year.
Similarly to Oakland, there is no clear-cut No. 1 wideout for San Diego. Perennial playmaker Vincent Jackson was reeled in by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. New additions Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal have been barraged by questions since their respective signings.
Meachem has never posted more than 45 receptions in a single season. Like Deion Branch, Meachem could prove to be nothing more than a byproduct of a well-oiled system run by a top-tier quarterback.
Royal accounted for more touchdowns in his rookie season (five) than he has in his last three years (four).
Like Meachem, Malcom Floyd has also never eclipsed 45 receptions in a single season.
After Jackson's departure, expect Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates to play a more pivotal role in San Diego's offense.
Don't Call It a Comeback
Jamaal Charles is back like he never left, and Scott Pioli signed Peyton Hillis. Kansas City is going to be a rush-first offense, which will detract from the numbers of Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin, right?
Jamaal Charles played in all 16 games of 2010, and the league's leading rushing attack resided at Arrowhead Stadium. Charles' 6.38 yards per carry ranked second all-time (behind Jim Brown) in the history of the NFL. When coaches demonstrate a play-action pass, No. 25 is on the telestrator.
There is no coincidence that Dwayne Bowe's numbers skyrocketed during the same year. Bowe produced a career-high 1,162 yards and led the NFL with 15 receiving touchdowns—all with Chris Chambers starting opposite of him.
Saying Jon Baldwin is more talented than a then-aging Chris Chambers isn't exactly stepping out on a limb. In less than three quarters' worth of action last Friday night, Baldwin successfully fetched six of the seven passes targeted his way. Aside from the returns of Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, the progress of the second-year standout had been the talk of Chiefs training camp.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas City's secondary doesn't help the cause of any of the other three divisional duos.
Despite Eric Berry only playing a single quarter, the Chiefs ended 2011 with the league's sixth-ranked pass defense. San Diego finished slightly above the middle of the pack, with the 13th-ranked unit, while the efforts of Denver (18) and Oakland (27) were subpar.
Dwayne Bowe has already showcased what he is capable of with a Jamaal Charles-led ground game. Throughout the offseason, Jon Baldwin engineered a runaway hype train, and he displayed why on Friday evening.
If the best defense is a good offense, then Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin will light up Romeo Crennel's face as they regularly burn AFC West secondaries.
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