What a week in the AFC West. Week 6 proves that there is not one dominant team in this division. The Broncos got dragged down by David Garrard and the Jaguars. The Chargers made a statement by handing the Patriots their first road loss since December 2006. The Raiders went on to show just how desperate they are for new management by losing to the Saints. And the Chiefs. Well, they didn’t lose this week, only because they didn’t play. It’s obvious that the Broncos and the Chargers will be the ones battling it out for first place at the end of the season. The team that comes out on top has a definite chance at going to the Super Bowl because every team in the AFC is capable of losing. The Patriots are not the dominant team they once were, and the Colts are still up and down at this point in the season. Regardless, the middle of the season is creeping up on us, and this is the point when strong teams emerge and weak teams fall to the bottom of the pile. I would say that the next three weeks will tell us a lot about the AFC West, but for now, here’s the breakdown after week 6:
Denver Broncos (4-2):
Looking Back: The past three weeks have been an offensive disaster for the Broncos. After scoring 41, 39, and 34 points in the first three games, the Broncos have scored 19, 16, and 17 in the last three. The team has been plagued with turnovers in both losses. Against the Jaguars, they had three turnovers, and their defense was as soft as Bill Parcells’ stomach. While Jay Cutler was commenting on how he thought he has a stronger arm than John Elway, the Jags were preparing for an away game against a 4-1 team. Little did they know that the Broncos would basically hand them a win on a silver platter. When the Broncos were up 7-3, Brandon Marshall fumbled on the Jacksonville 7-yard. The game could’ve been 14-3, but Marshall felt that he had to make up for Eddie Royal and Tony Scheffler’s absence, and run like a crazy man. There was another play that found Marshall running backwards and then making up some lost yardage, but the play ultimately ended in a 9 yard loss. Obviously, the Broncos latest loss was not caused by Marshall. I am just trying to point out that turnovers are killing the Broncos this season. The Broncos’ defense also took the day off as they missed tackles and watched Maurice Jones-Drew run for 125 yards and 2 TDs. David Garrard went 25-34, 276 yards, and 1 TD, and he confirmed his thought that playing in Denver can be a piece of cake, really good cake, if the Broncos are off on both sides of the ball.
Looking Forward: The Broncos face a road heavy schedule in the next month, so a win on Sunday would have meant a lot to them. They’ve got the Chargers creeping up on their first place territory as they go into Foxbourough next week to face the pissed off Patriots (3-2). The team is going into an angry lion’s den with nothing but their jerseys on their backs. The Patriots’ offense is no where near the top of the league, and their defense has seen better days, but the Broncos will need to play a near perfect game on both sides of the ball. Jay Cutler needs to hold on to the ball and not force his throws to Brandon Marshall. Marshall is a huge target with great hands, but other teams are catching on. They are doubling Marshall and forcing Cutler to throw to someone else. It has worked for Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, so there is no doubt that Bill Belichick will implement the tactic. The Broncos are getting a handle on their defensive philosophy by creating turnovers, and that is what will need to happen in New England. This one last game before their bye week will strengthen or kill the momentum that they had going at the beginning of the season.
Looking Back: The big news out of Kansas City during their bye week is that Tony Gonzalez will be going on the trade block. Playing the Chiefs sans Gonzalez would be like playing the Chargers without LaDanian Tomlinson. He is such a big presence and has been for years, but you know what they say, “if you love someone, set them free, if they come back, it was meant to be.” Well, I’m pretty sure once Gonzalez sees the “outside world,” he won’t want to come back to Kansas City. He will, however, always treasure his time there. That move will virtually cement the Chiefs’ rebuilding status in stone. Normally, rookies in the NFL are stunned to learn just how long a season in professional football really is. The Chiefs’ rookies are learning that the season can seem twice as long when you’re losing and already looking forward to the next draft.
Looking Forward: The Chiefs will look to get on the scoreboard for the first time since their week 4 win against Denver. Brodie Croyle will shake off the rust and return to the lineup to be left for dead against the undefeated Titans. The Titans are ranked 15th in total offense and 1st on defense. Croyle will be like a little boy coming from the minor leagues to pitch in the World Series. While the Chiefs rank 30th in the league for total offensive production, I will put money down that they will get on the scoreboard. Larry Johnson will need to play like he did against Denver if the Chiefs have any shot at staying in the game. The good thing for the Chiefs is they had a bye week last week so Croyle was able to shake off some of the rust. However, Herm Edwards said that Croyle’s timing is still off. As far as the defense is concerned, the team is on pace to finish with fewer than 10 sacks this season. Where’s Jared Allen when you need him, right? Fans are calling for the head of Patrick Surtain. Maybe management should take Surtain’s paycheck and use it to pay back Chiefs’ season ticket holders.
Looking Back: I’m pretty sure that the Raiders want to look back into the 60’s and 70’s when the team actually had some success. Things were good back then. Al Davis had hair and his skin was actually attached to his face, the Raiders were well respected by the media, and they took either 1st or 2nd place in the division for 14 straight years. However, if we look back at last week’s performance against the Saints, things look bleak. Tom Cable was inducted to his first loss as the Raiders head coach and the team managed to score 3 points in New Orleans. JaMarcus Russell, who played at LSU, had a horrible homecoming completing 13-35 passes for 158 yards. He had 1 INT, and 1 fumble. It was Drew Brees who stole the spotlight torching the Raiders defense for 320 yards and 3 TDs. Darren McFadden continues to struggle with a weak offensive line blocking for him and Al Davis calling the plays. It’s tough for a new coach to come into the kind of situation that Al Davis has created in Oakland. Cable may want to contact his lawyer now to ensure that he gets his full paycheck from Davis at the end of the season.
Looking Forward: The Raiders will welcome Bretty and Jets (3-2) to the Black Hole next week. One would think that the Raiders would want to get win #1 for Tom Cable, but with the way everyone is playing, it probably won’t happen. The Jets are ranked 6th on offense and 23rd on defense, but they did just hold offensive threat, Cincinnati, to 14 points. Russell will look to get back on track, and McFadden will try to find holes in the Jets’ on and off defense. Meanwhile, Javon Walker is contemplating catching the ball a few more times. You know, might as well play a little for all the money he’s making. Oakland’s offense and defense are ranked 26th and 27th, respectively. I don’t know if the Black Hole can get any darker, but there is definitely no light at the end of the tunnel in Oakland.
Looking Back: The Chargers are getting their act together quickly. They sent a message to the Patriots and the rest of the league on Sunday night when they won 30-10. The Chargers got back to .500 and they are on the tail of the Broncos for first place in the division. Philip Rivers had 306 yards and 3 TDs while Vincent Jackson had 5 catches for 134 yards and 1 TD. Everyone knows that the Chargers’ offense is stacked, but it was the defense that really put on a show against the Pats. They stopped Matt Cassel on fourth and goal at the 1-yard to emphasize their dominance. The Chargers are 2nd on offense and 19th on defense, and they have me getting worried for the sake of the Broncos. The Chargers are trying to prove all of the naysayers wrong and get to the Super Bowl that a lot of people picked them to be playing in at the beginning of the season. At least they showed that they will not let the Patriots put a dagger in their heart again. The past two years has seen the Patriots eliminate the Chargers from the playoffs, and go on to the Super Bowl. The Chargers are putting the pieces back together again and showing why they should be 6-0.
Looking Forward: Next week finds the Chargers going to the north east to face the Bills (4-1). The Bills are a surprise to most people this year as they rank 10th on offense and 14th on defense. Trent Edwards is expected to play against the Chargers after suffering a concussion in the Oct. 5 loss to Arizona. Lee Evans is one of the top receivers in the league and could cause a lot of problems for the Chargers secondary. Running back Marshawn Lynch is also an excellent player for the Bills that could cause some trouble for the Chargers. The Chargers will truly be tested in the weeks before their bye as they go to Buffalo and then to New Orleans to take on the flaming hot Saints. Right now, their eyes are set on that #1 spot and as long as they play like they did against the Pats, then they could easily take over the division.