The AFC West playoff race is hotter than two rats making love inside of a wool sock. The Raiders sit atop the division while the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers are in a three way tie for second place. The division is starting to look like the armpit of the league with just one team above .500. Let’s take a look at the week that was, and what’s to come.
Denver Broncos (4-5):
Looking Back: The Broncos ran themselves back into the playoff hunt. For a team with what many would consider an armless quarterback, their game plans have been near flawless. The Broncos went into Arrowhead where they were previously 36-14 and beat the Chiefs 17-10. About 85% of the Broncos plays were running plays, yet the Chiefs couldn’t stop them. They amassed 244 yards on the ground, and Tim Tebow only needed one completion (out of two) to really win the game. His 56-yard TD pass to Eric Decker put the Broncos up by 10 with 6:44 left in the game. Because the run game was on fire, Denver’s defense got rest on the sidelines, and made plays when they were actually in the game. The team sacked Matt Cassel four times and forced the Chiefs to go 2-of-11 on third down. Running the football has never been so exciting.
Looking Forward: In a short week to prepare, the Broncos will take on the New York Jets (5-4) and try to deFEET Rex Ryan. The Jets are coming off of a hard loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night football. The Jets offense looks more like an Occupy Wall Street crowd than a team that made it to the Conference Championship last year. The Broncos can ransack Sanchez with the same type of pressure that they brought to the Chiefs game. The good thing here is the Broncos are riding a winning wave and don’t have to travel across the country on a short week.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-5):
Looking Back: The Jekyll and Hyde Chiefs reared their ugly side against the Broncos. Matt Cassel could miss the rest of the season with a hand injury suffered against a tornado-like defense. He went 13-of-28 for 93 yards and one touchdown. He threw the ball Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe only hitting him twice for 17 yards. Champ Bailey and the rest of the secondary did a tremendous job covering him while Denver’s front seven didn’t give Cassel much time in the pocket. Jackie Battle led the team in rushing (9 carries, 61 yards) while Dexter McCluster (6 catches, 48 yards) led the team in receiving. Ultimately though, it was a Mc-Cluster Fu*k for the Chiefs.
Looking Forward: The Chiefs went 1-2 in their three home games in a row. Now they have to go into arguably the toughest place to play. The Chiefs travel to the bowels of New England for a Monday Night game. Time for the Chiefs to
Beli-check their pulse because it doesn’t get much bigger than this. They are still in the playoff hunt, and this team will ride the back of backup QB Tyler Palko. Who? If you look on the the Chiefs IR, you will see Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki, and now possibly Cassel. That’s where their playoff hopes rested three months ago.
Oakland Raiders (5-4):
Looking Back: It feels like we have to look back to last year to see when the Raiders last played. They were part of the first Thursday Night game of the season when they went into San Diego and beat the Chargers by a touchdown. Carson Palmer is finding his niche and went 14-of-20 for 299 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. It didn’t matter that the team from the Dark Side was without Darren McFadden. Michael Bush had 157 yards on 30 carries and one TD. The Raiders defense spiked Philip Rivers into the ground six times and forced him to complete just 49% of his passes. Al Davis is smiling somewhere.
Looking Forward: Things are looking up for the Raiders despite leaving the comforts of Cali. They head to Minnesota to take on a 2-6 Vikings team. The Vikes thrive on the rush and drown in the pass game. Against the run, they are 6th in the league. Darren McFadden (foot) didn’t practice on Monday, so his status for Sunday is questionable. The team also has Jacoby Ford on watch with a foot injury. This is the kind of game where the Raiders can expose the Vikings weakness in the secondary with smart play. This one should be a walk in the park, but the Raiders have faltered big time in weeks past so nothing is guaranteed.
San Diego Chargers (4-5):
Looking Back: If you want to see what Philip Rivers’ hell looks like, rewind the game film. Rivers went 23-of-47 for 274 yards against the Raiders. He had 2 touchdowns and an interception, but he was sacked six times and hurried more than that. The Chargers never got their ground game off the ground with Mike Tolbert totaling 36 yards on just 7 carries. Vincent Brown led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Injuries hit them hard throughout the game and the losses have hit them like a ton of bricks too. This is usually a team that picks up a charge at the end of the season and bolts for the playoffs. They’ve now lost four in a row.
Looking Forward: Things don’t get any easier for the Chargers as they travel to Chicago. The Jay Cutler vs. Philip Rivers heated rivalry is as strong as the base of the Sears Tower. The Bears (6-3) are pulling a page out of the Chargers book as they have won five of their last six. If there were ever a game for Cutler to get up for, it’s this one. Red hot (Julius) Peppers has six sacks on the year and Rivers is third in number of sacks taken (25). This could be five straight losses for the Chargers and the game that tips the scales in favor of firing Norv Turner at the end of the season. The only thing that can save him now is a playoff berth.