The road to Dallas goes through the sewer. All NFL teams and divisions will fall into a rut at some point. The season is too long and grueling for that not to occur. However, the teams that can pull themselves from the gutter at the right time will find themselves on a one-way street to North Texas in February. Week six saw an 0-4 record in the AFC West. Even though it was a goose egg type of weekend for the division, the Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders have not lost hope yet. Not one team has really emerged as the dominant team in the AFC West. The race is wide open, and for the Broncos, division play finally kicks off this week. Before fully diving into Raiderville, however, let’s take a brief look at the division after six weeks.
Denver Broncos (2-4):
Looking Back: It took approximately one New York minute for the Broncos to drop their second consecutive game. On fourth-and-6, the Broncos were flagged for a pass interference call that put the Jets on the 2-yard line with a little over a minute left. The team thought they saw the last of LaDanian Tomlinson after he left San Diego, but LT ran the ball straight into the endzone to put the Jets up 24-20. That was the last score of the game, and all the Broncos can do is hang their hats on the fact that they were very competitive with arguably the best team in the league. The running game was brought to life by new blood. Tim Tebow took 8 snaps, rushing for 23 yards on 6 carries, and crossing the goal line for his first NFL touchdown. The Broncos can come up for air after almost drowning in the deep end of the pool that consisted of four consecutive games against the best teams in the league - Indy, Tennessee, Baltimore, and NYJ.
Looking Forward: The Raiders bring the dark clouds into the Mile High City. Owner Pat Bowlen loves to hate the Raiders and Josh McDaniels is getting there too. The Raiders have beat the Broncos the last two times that they’ve played at Invesco. The Broncos are one of two teams left that have not faced a divisional opponent yet (The Giants are the other team), so this team will be amped to get things going in a positive direction. The Crypt Keeper himself (a.k.a. Al Davis) has seen good and bad from his team this year, and one thing that has remained consistent is the Raiders’ troubles at quarterback. Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski are injured, and it’s unknown if either will play on Sunday or if third-stringer, Kyle Boller, will get the call. This is just the type of game that the Broncos need right now.
Kansas City Chiefs (3-2):
Looking Back: Still seated in first place, the Chiefs have dropped two straight to two very good teams in Indy and Houston. The Chiefs gave up a 10 point lead with 7 minutes left to play against the Texans. It looked like the Chiefs were in control of the game, scoring on their first possession of the game as well as their first three possessions of the second half. The offense was on fire. Matt Cassel had his best performance of the season going 20-29 for 201 yards and 3 TDs. Dwayne Bowe was his main target with 6 catches for 108 yards. Thomas Jones (19 carries for 100 yards, 1 TD) and Jamaal Charles (16 carries for 93 yards) both had incredible days as well. The loss boiled down to the defense’s inability to stop Arian Foster, Matt Schaub, and Andre Johnson down the stretch. Despite the loss, this is a changed team – one that can compete week in and week out with the best in the league.
Looking Forward: The Chiefs will look forward to returning home to host a depleted and defeated Jacksonville Jaguar (3-3) team. Just as their record indicates, the Jags are the Jekyll and Hyde team of the NFL. They beat the Broncos and the Colts, but lost in convincing fashion to the Chargers, Eagles, and Titans. In their losses, the Jags have lost by an average of 25.6 points per game. They are winning games by less than a touchdown (6.6 points) per game. The Chiefs’ 5th ranked rush defense and 27th ranked pass defense matches up well against the Jags’ 6th ranked rushing offense and 26th ranked passing defense. As long as the defense can contain Maurice Jones-Drew (77.2 yards/game) and continue to be successful at getting into the endzone, then the Chiefs shouldn’t have trouble picking up their fourth win of the season on Sunday.
Oakland Raiders (2-4):
Looking Back: The Raiders had to travel across the Bay Bridge to face a very deadly San Francisco 49er team. The 49ers may have been 0-5, but that’s what made them so dangerous. They were desperate for a win, and they got it by beating the Raiders 17-9. There were no earth shattering plays or ground breaking highlights on the day that marked the 21st anniversary of the Bay Area earthquake. Jason Campbell went 8-for-21 for 83 yards and 2 INTs. Michael Bush was held to just 47 yards on 20 carries with a long of 5. All of the Raiders’ points came from field goals. That’s the kind of offensive production or lack thereof that stood in the foreground of a rainy scene. After such a thrilling win against San Diego the week before, this was the ultimate crash for Tom Cable who is simply trying to keep his job at this point.
Looking Forward: When the Raiders take on the Broncos at Invesco, they will be met by plenty of Raider haters. The city still holds a Mike Shanahan induced grudge over the team. There are question marks surrounding the starting QB’s spot, but the Raiders have the 10th best rushing game in the league. Michael Bush and Darren McFadden will challenge the Broncos’ front seven by pounding the ball and trying to control the clock. For the Raiders to win, they will need to rely on their running game because their passing game has been inefficient all season. They’ve given up 12 sacks on the year and their QBs are prone to fumbling the ball. No matter what the roster looks like, the Raiders always bring their A-game to the Mile High. It’s tradition, culture, and probably law in Oakland.
San Diego Chargers (2-4):
Looking Back: When the Chargers look back on the season, they will see the previous two games as daggers to the heart. First the team loses to the Raiders and then they lose to the St. Louis Rams. Before both games were played, football analysts had picked the Chargers to handedly win both games. Against the Rams, the Chargers were playing catch up after a 17-3 halftime score. The Rams weren’t able to get many points on the board in the second half, and Philip Rivers had his chances. However, both Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd went down with injuries forcing Rivers’ to make do with what he had. He still went 22-for-37 for 249 yards, with 1 TD, and 1 INT. Patrick Crayton emerged as the team’s leading receiver with 6 catches for 117 yards. The team’s road games have been lost by 6.5 points per game while their wins have been by 28 points per game. When they’re hot, they’re hot, but when they’re not, all things lead to a giant flop.
Looking Forward: Things never get easier when the New England Patriots (4-1) come to town. In the quarterback dual, Philip Rivers will have to keep pace with Tom Brady’s top ranked offense. That could happen considering San Diego has the top ranked pass defense. This will be one helluva game to watch, and should the Chargers find their way out of the fiery pits and win the game, it would be a huge momentum shifter. Beating the Patriots has to be on every coach’s bucket list. Who doesn’t like to see an even more sour Belichick face than the one that’s already on display? Now that we’re nearing the end of October, the Chargers should shift into another gear and bolt to the top of the AFC West. Let’s see if history repeats itself.
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