AFC West Breakdown: Week 9

There really has been a changing of the guard here in the AFC West. No longer are the Raiders and Chiefs at the bottom of the division. Their matchup last week was one of the more intriguing and entertaining games of the week. Meanwhile, the Broncos and Chargers have a lot of ground to make up to be contenders. At this point, no team is safe and no team is completely out of it. To recap and to look ahead, here’s your weekly breakdown of the AFC West.        

Denver Broncos (2-6):

Looking Back: The Broncos don’t want to look back on any of it. The four consecutive losses leading up to the bye week has put the team on edge. It’s now or never. The Broncos must essentially win out for there to be any hope at a post season berth. The first half of the season saw greatness from Kyle Orton and his receivers as well as from kicker Matt Prater. The weak points were in the rushing attack (ranked 32nd) and the run defense (ranked 31st). In order for Josh McDaniels to remain with the team after this season, much improvement needs to be seen in the next eight games.            

Looking Forward: It’s always a special day when the Kansas City Chiefs lace ‘em up in Denver. This is arguably one of the greatest rivalries in the league and players (new and old) know it. There’s always an extra pop in the pads and a bigger whop in the tackle. The Chiefs’ mere presence in Denver has the Broncos seeing red. The Broncos will try to avenge their last meeting in January that saw Jamaal Charles rush for 259 yards and 2 TDs. Things look even more grim for the Broncos’ run defense as they prepare themselves for Charles in Charge again and the league’s leading rusher from last season, Thomas Jones. Josh McDaniels has said that there may be some changes in the lineup. Here’s hoping that some simple tweaking can turn the season around.       

Kansas City Chiefs (5-3):

Looking Back: Sunday’s game against the AFC West’s 2nd ranked team may come back to haunt them. The Chiefs lost to the Raiders in a 23-20 overtime battle. Despite forcing three turnovers, the Chiefs’ defense could not stop the Raiders when it counted. The Raiders moved the ball down the field and into field goal range to force the overtime, and then they gave up a 47-yard pass play that put the Raiders in prime kicking range. Sebastian Janikowski sealed the deal and put the Raiders within a half a game of the Chiefs for first place in the AFC West. The Chiefs’ offense was fairly balanced which has been unusual this season. Matt Cassel went 20-for-35 for 216 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. Jamaal Charles put the rushing attack on his shoulders as he had 53 yards on 10 carries. Thomas Jones got more carries, but was not as productive going for 32 yards on 19 carries. This is one that the Chiefs want back.

Looking Forward: Coming off of a loss has a certain motivating factor, but traveling to the Mile High City brings that urge to win to a whole new level. There are so many weapons on this team that have the potential to cause the Broncos to implode. They have the #1 ranked rushing offense in the league, a powerful receiving core, and some talent on special teams. Their rookies have made a major impact from day one. The Chiefs have finally put all of the pieces in place. They’ve had a couple of very good offseasons in the free agent market and in the draft. This the time for them to hold on to their narrow lead and take the division crown, but a lot of that depends upon the arm and head of Matt Cassel.

Oakland Raiders (5-4):

Looking Back: Things aren’t so doom and gloom in the Black Hole anymore. The Raiders have won their last three games and they’re above .500 for the first time since 2004. Much of their last win can be credited to rookie Jacoby Ford. Ford’s two catches, one right at the end of regulation to set up overtime and the other a 47-yard grab to put the Raiders in field goal range, came at just the right time. Ford finished the day with 6 catches for 148 yards, and 4 kick returns for 158 yards and a score. If he wasn’t dead tired after that game, then sign him on to endorse Energizer. Jason Campbell went 19-for-33 for 229 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Darren McFadden had 89 yards on 17 carries and 1 fumble. For the first time in a long time, there is life in Oakland. Smiling faces, the gift of a win, and if the head coach had a white beard, one could be fooled into thinking that it was Christmas Day in the Black Hole.           

Looking Forward: The Raiders can relax a little during their bye week, but upon their return, they must travel to Pittsburgh. That’s a little analogous to going into the dentist for a root canal the day after your birthday. Despite the team’s three consecutive wins, there’s a question mark at quarterback. Does Tom Cable stick with the guy who helped him to the last three wins or does he go back to Bruce Gradkowski who was starting until he suffered a shoulder injury? Cable has two weeks to sort through his QB depth chart and to prepare for a playoff push.    

San Diego Chargers (4-5):

Looking Back: It’s November and look where the Chargers are: 3rd place in the AFC West. If they can make their patented late-season run, the division title is still up for grabs. They’ve won their last two against very solid opponents in the Titans and then the Texans. Last week, they beat Houston 29-23. The Texans have been having problems on defense since their bye week and Philip Rivers took full advantage of it even without primary targets, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. He went 17-for-23 for 295 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT. The Chargers’ defense gave up 127 yards and 2 rushing TDs to Arian Foster, but the Texans basically gift-wrapped the game for the Chargers. They couldn’t convert on two 4th down plays in the second half and players made fundamental mistakes down the stretch. Rivers is the kind of QB that will take advantage of the sloppy play and convert when it counts.

Looking Forward: The Chargers can go into their bye week feeling pretty good with two consecutive wins hovering over their heads. The bye is just what this team needs with all of the injuries they have. When they return to action, they will host Denver in the teams’ first matchup of the season. Will the Turner push rear its head once again or for the first time since 2005 will a different team take first in the AFC West?

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