I watched the Wizard of Oz on Sunday night, and I saw comparisons between the movie’s characters and the AFC West. Throughout the season, the Broncos have been playing with and without their brain, the Chiefs have been searching for courage, the Chargers have been playing without heart, and the Raiders, well, they’ve been in the hunt for a brain, a heart, and some courage. In fact, I don’t think they’re even following the yellow brick road to Oz. They’re out in left field batting around the crazy ideas that Al Davis has for this team. With one win and three more losses, the AFC West has allowed the national media to keep rolling out the punch lines for this joke of a division. Let’s dive a little deeper into their issues and find out what next week holds for them.
Denver Broncos (6-4):
Looking Back: When you shop for running backs at the mall, you may think you’re team is in trouble. When you’re on the road for the second straight week playing a team that is undefeated at home, you may think another mark in the loss column is a sure fire bet. However, the Broncos proved everyone wrong. They beat the Falcons 24-20 mostly because of their defense. Gasp! They held the tough running Falcons to 114 yards on the ground and came up with an interception on rookie sensation Matt Ryan. The offense also did their job by balancing the running and passing game nicely. 2 rushing TDs, 208 passing yards, and no turnovers allowed the Broncos offense to gain even more respect from the national media. Credit Spencer Larsen and Eddie Royal for their tough play as well. Larsen started on offense, defense, and special teams while Royal had 159 yards on 5 kick returns. If these guys don’t deserve a day at the spa, then I don’t know who does.
Looking Forward: The Broncos are looking forward to coming home to play the woeful Raiders (2-8). The team cannot take the day off just because they are playing a 1-4 road team, however. After all, the Broncos have seen the best (fourth quarter comeback win in Cleveland) and worst (shutout loss in Kansas City) from themselves this season. Character may have been built on the road trip, but there are still a lot of injuries and inexperienced players that could cause a Broncos collapse. The Raiders always get pumped up to play Denver and they want revenge after a week 1 loss in Oakland on Monday Night Football. With DeAngelo Hall leaving the Raiders secondary, the Broncos passing game can breathe a bit easier. Turnovers (or lack thereof) will continue to be a major determinant of the Broncos success throughout the season.
Looking Back: The Chiefs kept it close. They came within 7 points of the Saints in the fourth quarter before the great Drew Brees led his team down the field for a 3 point score, and ending the game 30-20. Tyler Thigpen continues to look good with 235 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT. Receiver David Bowe had another good performance with 7 catches for 53 yards and 2 TDs. It helps that he has Mark Bradley in the lineup with him to relieve some pressure. Larry Johnson was back in the lineup after serving his suspension and he had 19 carries for 67 yards. Nothing to write home about there. The Chiefs defense had no chance of stopping the Saints offense, so it was probably a bad call for Herm Edwards to punt the ball away on fourth down in the 4th quarter with time winding down. They converted a fourth down on the previous series, so why not let your offense win it for you? They have nothing to lose, except maybe a top draft pick. Let your players develop in tight games to improve for the future.
Looking Forward: Kansas City stays at home to prepare for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have been hit or miss all season as they play in the very competitive AFC East. They have already beat San Diego and Oakland from the AFC West, and they will be setting their sights on the Chiefs and Broncos to close out the season. Look for Larry Johnson to have a bigger performance against the Bills than he did against the Saints. The team will continue to evaluate and groom Tyler Thigpen to see if he is capable of leading this team into the future. The trio of Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch, and Lee Evans makes for a deadly offensive threat that could send the Chiefs defense into the locker room crying like a 4 year old that just wet the bed. The Chiefs have had close games this year against some very good teams, so it should be interesting to see if they can pick up their second win of the season.
Looking Back: It was a game, folks. The Raiders only lost by two points to the Dolphins. That was a surprise, and I’m sure it made everybody in Las Vegas cringe. JaMarcus Russell got to know Miami’s turf real well as he was sacked 4 times for 22 yards lost. He threw for 156 yards and 0 TDs. So, the offensive woes for the Raiders continue as they had 186 total yards. Their only touchdown came on a punt return form Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Tom Cable has got to be shaking his head right now knowing that his position as head coach will end on December 28th. With the punt return, the Raiders were actually ahead in the fourth quarter but Chad Pennington was able to lead his team down the field to set up the game winning field goal. The Raiders have not scored an offensive touchdown in 13 quarters which is hard to believe considering they have Russell and Darren McFadden.
Looking Forward: That offensive touchdown may come against the Broncos next week. The Broncos have had trouble stopping the run all year and their pass defense does have some gaps. The Broncos are a team that will let poor teams stay in the game because of turnovers or defensive lapses. The Raiders are last in the league in total offense, and former Bronco Javon Walker will not be playing due to undergoing ankle surgery. There still is some offensive talent on the team, but the Raiders probably won’t beat the Broncos in Denver unless Denver throws the game away themselves.
Looking Back: Playoff hopes are slowly diminishing for the once heavily favored Chargers. The Steelers held the Chargers to just 10 points intercepting Philip Rivers twice, and not allowing one receiver to have more than 40 yards. Willie Parker rushed for almost twice as much as the entire Chargers team with 115 yards on the ground. Hines Ward torched the Chargers secondary with 124 yards, and all Norv Turner could do was watch Jeff Reed kick a winning field goal from 32 yards away with 11 seconds remaining. That gave the Steelers an 11-10 lead and left the public wondering just what happened to the Chargers team from last year. As of late Philip Rivers is looking like puppy when facing big dog defenses like the Steelers.
Looking Forward: Things don’t get much easier for the Chargers as they look to play the Colts and Falcons in the coming weeks. It helps that their next three games are at home because they need to get momentum shifting their way before it’s too late. With the Broncos most likely winning against Oakland next week, the Chargers will need to win against the Colts to keep their hopes alive. Rivers should be able to thread passes through the Colts struggling defense, and the offense could easily get back into full gear. The defense will have their work cut out for them again this week as Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne roll into town with a chip on their shoulder. This Colts team is trying to get back in the thick of things, and like a shark in the San Diego water, they smell blood.