If there’s one division that consistently puts me in the hole with my football pool, it’s the AFC West. Last week, it was the Broncos losing to the Chiefs, and this week it’s the Chargers losing to the Dolphins. I don’t know what will happen next week, but if the Raiders beat the Saints, then I’ll throw my hands up in the air and declare O.J. Simpson innocent, er, I mean I’ll call Al Davis my hero. Okay, not really, but you see my point. The AFC West is a toss up week in and week out. As far as the rest of the league goes, things are returning to normal. Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson is concentrating on TD celebrations more than a win, Detroit has a better chance of winning the lottery than winning a football game, and Indianapolis actually won a game. As interesting as that is, I will be focusing in on the AFC West as usual. Five weeks into the season, and I don’t think many people would’ve predicted the Broncos sitting atop the division, and the Chargers struggling with a losing record.
Denver Broncos (4-1):
Looking Back: The Broncos actually have a defense. It made it’s first appearance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 5, and the whole stadium broke out the cigars and cracked open the Dom Perignon. The Bucs were held to 13 points as Jeff Garcia replaced an injured (elbow) Brian Griese, spoiling his first return to Denver since leaving the Broncos. Griese had the chance to kick back and watch his old team dominate on the defensive end. The Broncos came up with 3 sacks (had 6 sacks combined through the first 4 games) and 1 INT, and more importantly, they didn’t give up big plays to the Bucs. The Broncos’ linebackers came up with a little more than half of the defenses’ 62 tackles. Mike Shanahan may have finally found the right defensive scheme: a combination of the 4-3, 3-4 alignment. People might say that the offense struggled just because they didn’t score their usual 30+ points per game, but Jay Cutler had 227 yards, 1 TD, and 0 turnovers. Opposing teams have learned to double-team Brandon Marshall, but all that does is leave other receivers open. Nine different players caught a pass, and Brandon Stokley has emerged as the hidden gem within the Broncos offense. He has 13 catches for 132 yards and 1 TD in the last two weeks. Not bad for a guy playing alongside Marshall and standout rookie, Eddie Royal. Stokley is probably happy he’s not playing with Peyton Manning and the Colts right now. Who would’ve thought?
Looking Forward: The Broncos stick around Denver this week and wait for the Jaguars (2-3) to roll into the Mile High City. The Jags are coming off of a tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that saw their defense get torn to pieces by Ben Roethlisberger late in the game. The Jags’ pass defense is 26th in the league, so if the offense of old comes back to life, then the Broncos could have some success in the air. The only problem is that two of Jay Cutler’s go-to guys, Tony Scheffler and Eddie Royal, were injured in the game against Tampa. Scheffler (strained groin), Royal (sprained ankle), and Selvin Young (groin) will be bonding over ice packs in the training room this week and should be ready to rumble on Sunday. The Broncos have beaten better teams than the Jaguars in recent weeks, but they also lost to the Chiefs. The Broncos know they are vulnerable. If Pat Bowlen were to fly Dr. Phil in for a pep talk, the Broncos would probably hear something like this: “Awareness without action is worthless.” Not bad advise from a doctor gone Hollywood. Then, he would say, “now, does anyone have Travis Henry’s phone number?”
Looking Back: The only positive from the Chiefs last game was Tony Gonzalez surpassing Shannon Sharpe’s all-time record for receiving yards by a tight end. Even so, he finished with just 3 catches for 17 yards in the 34-0 loss to the Panthers. That’s how pathetic the Chiefs were in week 5. Larry Johnson ran for 198 yards and 2 TDs against the Broncos, but against the Panthers, he had 7 carries for 2 yards. 2 yards? 2? Hmmm, maybe the Broncos should contact the Panthers before their December re-match to find out how they stopped Johnson, and the rest of the Chiefs. With that, the Chiefs rank 30th in the league for total defense and 27th for total offense. They are still manipulating this rebuilding experiment by testing their two healthy QBs in order to find something, anything, that works. The fat lady had already belted her tune when Huard was pulled and replaced by Tyler Thigpen in the fourth quarter. I guess the Chiefs were looking for anyway to get on the scoreboard. Fans are now calling for the head of Herm Edwards. Just don’t have Damon Huard hold it. He’ll throw it away before he makes it to the guillotine. Well, I guess the positive is that they still have a better record than the Rams.
Looking Forward: Yes, I’m sure the Chiefs are looking forward to their bye week. Having a week off is one way to avoid chalking up another mark in the ‘L’ column. It’s also a way for injured players to get some R&R. Brodie Croyle will be welcomed back in week 7 when they take on the undefeated Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium. However, he’s not good enough to clean up the huge mess that the Chiefs created all within the first 5 weeks of the season. The Chiefs are definitely looking forward to the draft where they can continue this “rebuilding” project and give fans something to cheer about.
Looking Back: The Raiders are 1-3. Al Davis is 2-3. He put a mark in his own personal win column when he fired head coach Lane Kiffin last week. The Raiders had a bye, so what better why to keep your organization’s name in the top headlines than to fire your coach and hold an entertaining 1.5 hour press conference. Davis named line coach Tom Cable as the new head coach. Hopefully, Cable brought his plunger to his new office because he has a lot of Al Davis’ shit to deal with. In a year that sees former Raiders QB, Kerry Collins, lead his Titans to a 5-0 record also sees a young Raiders team floundering in wet cement. Will the young players settle in as losers, or are they going to do something about their losing season? People in Oakland are anxious to see if JaMarcus Russell can fit into a winning Raiders scheme, if the big contract Javon Walker signed was really worth it, and if Darren McFadden can help get the team to the playoffs in the near future. If not, then the house that Davis built should be demolished.
Looking Forward: This reconstructed team goes into a rebuilding city in week 6 as the Raiders face the Saints. The Raiders are in the bottom tier of the league in total offense and defense. That doesn’t bode well when facing a Saints offense that includes Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and Co. New Orleans’ record does not give any indication of how talented this team really is. It’s a tough situation for Tom Cable to make his coaching debut in. I’m sure he knew that nothing would come easy in this kind of predicament when he accepted the death sentence job offer from Al Davis. Some people say that you have to hit an all-time low before change can take place and your team can get better. If that’s true then watch out National Football League. The Raiders could be getting better as you read this, and coming for your team in the near future.
Looking Back: First, Miami knocks off the Patriots and then they put another hole in the Chargers already dinged ship. The Chargers were supposed to be sailing to Tampa already, making their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994. Hold up, though. This team may not even qualify for the playoffs if things don’t start going their way. The Chargers have not won in Miami since 1982, so maybe playing in Tampa, 300 miles away from Miami, would yield similar results in a Super Bowl appearance. Against the Dolphins, Philip Rivers threw for 159 yards and 1 TD and LaDanian Tomlinson only had 35 yards on 12 carries. Apparently, all you need to do is keep the ball in your possession for most of the game, so the Chargers don’t have a chance to get onto the field. That’s what Miami did, and they didn’t even need to score in the second half of the game. It’s too dangerous to say that the Chargers aren’t going anywhere this season. They started 2-3 in 07′ as well, and ended up winning the AFC West.
Looking Forward: The Chargers host New England at home next week, and they will be like a bear escaping from a cage at the zoo. The offense will go on a rampage and the defense will probably put up their best performance of the season. Everyone in the league gets excited to play the Patriots. They’re the dynasty that is on the edge of destruction. Opposing coaches want to out smart Bill Belichick and his staff, players want to hit the QB with authority even though it’s not Tom Brady, and receivers want to have big games against the Patriots new secondary. The Chargers and their fans are up for this game, and it should have more highlights than Barry Manilow. If Philip Rivers is really the quarterback that he thinks he is, then he’ll bounce back and reel this season back in before it’s too late.