As the new NFL season begins, the AFC West is looking to prove the “experts” wrong. Three of the four teams are in a rebuilding stage, and struggling with some internal conflict. In the off season, the so called experts were calling this division out for being young, weak, disruptive, and on par with the NFC West as one of the weakest divisions in the NFL. The Chargers were considered the sure fire pick to take the AFC West – often said with more authority than a Patriots come from behind victory over the Bills. However, after watching the four teams play during week one, I can confidently say that the Chargers have some competition, and their divisional opponents are hot on their tail.
Denver Broncos (1-0):
Looking Back: The reception that came way by Bengals deflection gave Josh McDaniels and the Broncos their first win of the regular season. Who says winning has to be pretty? There were some major gaps in the Broncos offense considering they didn’t find the endzone until there was 11 seconds left to play, but the new 3-4 defense proves to be much better than last year’s 4-3. Kicker Matt Prater went 2-2 on field goals from 48 and 50 yards away to give the Broncos a 6-0 lead until Cedric Benson ran it in for the score. At times, watching this offense with Kyle Orton at the reins is a lot like sitting in a traffic jam. You’re not moving anywhere quickly, and there’s nothing you can do except throw your hands up and curse. I suppose it’s better than watching the team turn the ball over. Correll Buckhalter had a solid performance averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and Daniel Graham also came through with 3 receptions for 40 yards and a couple of big first downs.
Looking Forward: The Broncos take the field at Invesco for the first time to welcome “the hidden QB” and the Cleveland Browns (0-1). No, the Browns finally revealed that Brady Quinn would get the starting job shortly before their week 1 game. The Broncos have a very good chance at taking down the 2nd Ohio team in consecutive weeks. You know what they say – If it’s Brown, flush it down. Last week, Quinn threw an INT and fumbled the ball, so if this Broncos defense can continue its tear, Quinn could easily be forced into some turnovers. Their offense struggled against the Vikings as they went 3-12 on third downs, and only managed 89 yards rushing in Eric Mangini’s debut with the team. A Denver win at home is going to help smooth things over with fans and get the season off to a very nice start.
Looking Back: I’ve got to hand it to the boys in red. They put up a great fight against the Baltimore Ravens in week 1. In fact, the game was within reach until the end of the 4th. The Chiefs couldn’t contain Baltimore’s offense (Yes, I guess they have one this year), and only went 2-10 on third downs themselves. Throw in the fact that they accumulated just 29 yards rushing and figuring out how they kept it that close without Matt Cassel in the lineup is more difficult than solving a rubix cube blindfolded. Brodie Croyle got the start instead and went 16-24 for 177 yards and 2 TDs. Things are starting to look up in Kansas City, and they’ve securely won the title of best pro football team in Missouri.
Looking Forward: Oakland goes into Arrowhead looking for their first win of the season as well. The Chiefs defense has got a lot on their plates as they prepare for an Oakland offense that actually looked put together on Monday Night Football. The Chiefs will have a rowdy crowd that has seen many off season changes in the personnel department as well as on the field. Going into Arrowhead is never a joke. Just ask last year’s Broncos team that lost 33-19 after winning their first 3 games of the season. The Chiefs offense should be able to do well whether or not they have Cassel. At this time, it’s still unknown if he will get the start. If they were able to pass well against the Ravens, they are capable of continuing that trend against the Raiders. If their running game gets going, the Chiefs have a very good shot at cementing their first win into the 2009 season.
Looking Back: Like the rest of the nation, I was surprised that the Raiders were neck and neck with the Chargers in the late Monday night game. Not just neck and neck, but actually up by 3 until there was 18 seconds left in the game. Had they won, that would’ve messed up my entire football pool for the week. While watching that game after the Bills-Patriots game, I was convinced that anything could happen this season. JaMarcus Russell had a mediocre outing going 12-30 for 208 yards and 1 TD while throwing 2 INTs. At least he kept his team in the game and I’m pretty sure that he convinced Al Davis to keep him around for at least another 6 seasons regardless of his record. Darren McFadden was all over the field with 68 rushing yards and 25 receiving yards. The big news was Richard Seymour’s debut. It looked like he had practiced with the team for the past two weeks as he recorded 7 tackles and 2 sacks. Nicely played game by the silver and black.
Looking Forward: I wonder if Al Davis will make the trip to Kansas City or if all that red will burn his retinas. This game is really up in the air. I would take the Raiders defense and offense over the Chiefs two squads, but I don’t know if the Oakland we saw on Monday night was just a facade. Tom Cable was upset that they didn’t get that first win (I don’t think he hit anybody) and he’s going to prepare his team in a similar manner for the Chiefs. The Raiders did a great job of limiting the Chargers rushing game to 77 yards, so they have the ability to put the hammer down on Larry Johnson too. I would consider the Raiders defeat a good loss, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Broncos fan. It was a good loss because it showed the team what they’re capable of. Now, losing to the Chiefs? That’s a slap in the face sort of loss.
Looking Back: The Chargers took a page out of Tom Brady’s book to come from behind and win in week 1 against the Raiders. While he rushed for 55 yards and 1 TD, LaDanian Tomlinson continues to confirm people’s beliefs that he’s past his prime as he fumbled the ball and sprained his ankle along the way. Darren Sproles continues to impress as a return specialist, and an alternative to LT in the backfield. He can also rack up some receiving yards very quickly. Antonio Gates ( 5 catches for 83 yds.) and Vincent Jackson ( 5 catches for 56 yds. and 1 TD) were the two big targets for Philip Rivers and proved instrumental in their fourth quarter comeback. Defensively, they forced JaMarcus Russell into some tough situations, and created a fumble. This team is so talented offensively that once they get things clicking, they shouldn’t have problems with too many teams.
Looking Forward: The Chargers training room is already a little too full this time of year. Along with LT, Nick Hardwick and Louis Vasquez are not able to practice this week in preparation for a very hungry Ravens team. The Ravens had a close call against the Chiefs and they know beating the Chargers in sunny California is a tough task. However, if that Ravens offense which is led by Joe Flacco can stick around for the season, I would put money on them to make it to the Super Bowl. Cutting down on penalties (9 for 60 yds. v. Oak) and getting the running game going will be key for San Diego as it will take some pressure off of Rivers. This is the type of game that can boost San Diego into the high heavens with a win, or bring them a little closer to the pits of you know where with a loss.