The AFC West is looking like free beer night at the local bar – something everyone wants to take advantage of. Just like in week 1, the Chiefs were the only team from the division to win a game. The Chargers are notoriously known for their slow starts, the Broncos are a question mark from game to game, and the Raiders are always sitting at the tail end of the division. The Chiefs are the best and most consistent team thus far, and one of just three teams in the league with an undefeated record. As I wipe the tears from my eyes, here’s the complete breakdown of the AFC West after three weeks.
Denver Broncos (1-2):
Looking Back: Red zone woes need to turn into touchdown shows. The outstanding offensive production (519 total yards) led to just 1 TD and was not enough to lift the Broncos past the Colts in an important home game. The Broncos running game averaged 2.6 yards per carry, and success on third and fourth down was limited. The Broncos treated each drive like a 100-meter sprint rather than a marathon. They started strong, but when the field was shortened, the proverbial wall was built and hit. In the past three games, the offensive line hasn’t been exactly healthy, so as the season continues, expect better production from the backfield.
Looking Forward: The Broncos will pack their bags and head to good ol’ Tennessee. Don’t expect the team to stay at a roadside motel or hit the river boats. Southern hospitality doesn’t apply to visiting football teams in the South. Denver’s front line on defense will face the ultimate challenge in not only stopping a QB that can run in Vince Young, but also stopping arguably the league’s best running back. Chris Johnson can throw down 100-yard games better than frat boys can throw down a case of Natty Light. The Titans are 2-1 on the season and have the defense to put a hold on the Broncos dream of an improved red zone attack. They’ve allowed just 3 TDs this season.
Kansas City Chiefs (3-0):
Looking Back: The Chiefs would like to look back with a cold drink (garnished with fruit and an umbrella) in hand, but there’s still a lot that this team has to prove. The offense finally got on the same page as the defense and the Chiefs crushed the 49ers 31-10. Matt Cassel went 16-27 for 250 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT. The big benefactors in Cassel’s play were running backs Jamaal Charles (12 carries, 97 yards, 8.1 avg.) and Thomas Jones (19 carries, 95 yards, 1 TD). When the ground game is on like that, Cassel has plenty of opportunities deep downfield. The Chiefs’ stout defense forced the 49ers to punt 8 times, they sacked Alex Smith 5 times, and they intercepted the struggling QB once.
Looking Forward: The Chiefs have their bye-week early in the season. A week off could potentially harm the young team that doesn’t necessarily need the rest right now. Taking a break after three consecutive wins is a momentum buster. Ask the Broncos who went 6-0 before their bye week. When the Chiefs return, they’ve got difficult back-to-back away games against the Colts and the Texans. Those tropical drinks better stay on the island because middle-America wants a winning football team from Missouri.
Oakland Raiders (1-2):
Looking Back: One point separates the Raiders from .500 and below .500. One field goal separates the team from 2nd in the AFC West and tied for 2nd. The 24-23 loss to the Cardinals was a jackhammer-to-the-gut kind of blow that puts Tom Cable’s head coaching position even more in doubt. One of the most accurate kickers in the league, Sebastian Janikowski, bolted from the locker room to his car faster than Al Davis can pull the trigger on a bad draft day decision. Sebass missed the game-winning kick from 32 yards out. He also missed a 41-yard and a 58-yard attempt earlier in the game. Bruce Gradkowski filled in for Jason Campbell who was benched after last week’s game. Gradkowski went 17-34 for 255 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT.
Looking Forward: The Raiders host the Houston Texans in a game where the Texans will try to bounce back after their first loss of the season. Look for All-Pro cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha to match up against the Texans’ giant, Andre Johnson, who is averaging 85.0 receiving yards per game. The Raiders 2nd ranked pass defense has a great shot at holding Matt Schaub and the Texans’ 7th ranked passing offense. The main concern is how Oakland’s 24th ranked rush defense will stand against Houston’s 5th ranked rushing attack.
San Diego Chargers (1-2):
Looking Back: If Seattle made its own independent currency, they would put Leon Washington on the $1 bill instead of George Washington. The Chargers lost to the Seahawks by a touchdown despite Philip Rivers’ sky-reaching numbers. Rivers went 29-53 for 455 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs, but his receivers/rushers couldn’t hold on to the ball. San Diego’s demise came in the form of 5 turnovers and poor kick off coverage on special teams. Washington had 253 yards on 4 kick returns and 2 TDs. It didn’t matter that the Chargers held Seattle to 26 second half yards, or that they held on to the ball for 12 more minutes. Special teams can win or lose a game that easily.
Looking Forward: San Diego welcomes the Arizona Cardinals next week. This game will surely get the Bolts on the straight and narrow again. Rivers can take advantage of the Cardinals 25th ranked defense, but the Chargers will need to get their running game going. When Rivers throws for over 375 yards, the Chargers are 0-3. Like their defense, Arizona’s offense also ranks 25th in the league. This game should be money in the bank for the Chargers, but as we know, Norv Turner’s squad always struggles at the beginning of the season.
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