How the West is won comes down to who is playing their best ball in December. The Broncos and Raiders are deadlocked in first place, while the Chargers are trying to make their typical late-season surge. The Chiefs aren’t mathematically out of it just yet. Let’s talk a look at what happened and what’s to come in the AFC West.
Denver Broncos (7-5):
Looking Back: The Broncos made it five straight wins with their 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It was the defense that picked up the offense in the first half, then it was offense that picked up the defense in the second half. Special teams picked everyone up off the ground as Matt Prater nailed the team’s final two field goals. He broke the tie when he hit a 26-yard field goal with 0:02 on the game clock. Tim Tebow showed that his arm is catching up to his legs. He went 10-for-15 for 202 yards and 2 TDs. He only ran the ball four times as this Broncos offense went away from the run option and looked more like an NFL-style offense than college offense. Tebow can’t be credited for the entire win, however. This was a team win, all three phases.
Looking Forward: This week’s game was marked on the calendars of many Broncos fans as soon as the schedule was released. It was Jay Cutler’s regular season return to the Mile High City. He, of course, won’t be playing, and Matt Forte is out this week as well with an MCL injury. The Bears (7-5) look like hurt cubs ready to hibernate for winter rather than claw their way towards the top of the division. They won’t reach No. 1 since the Packers have already clinched the NFL North, but this matchup against the Broncos has Wild Card implications for them. The Broncos will enter week 14 relatively healthy. Von Miller is expected to return.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-7):
Looking Back: The Chiefs just played the Bears and beat them 10-3 in Chicago. The most exciting play of the game came on one of the most unlikely Hail Mary’s you will ever see to close out the first half. Forget Tom Brady to Wes Welker, Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings, and Philip Rivers to Vincent Jackson. I’m talking a 38-yard pass from Tyler Palko to Dexter McCluster. Palko was yanked early in the game so that Kyle Orton could make his debut. All it took was one Orton pass, and Palko had to come back in. Orton left the game with an injury to his index finger. The Chiefs can credit the win on three Caleb Hanie interceptions, and the loss of Matt Forte. The defense was also able to sack Hanie 7 times.
Looking Forward: The Chiefs will hit Rex Ryan’s green carpet when they travel to play the 7-5 New York Jets. The Jets are coming off of a 34-19 win over the Redskins, so don’t expect them to put up a measly 3 points like the Bears did. Their offense is too potent and their team is too much in the media limelight to let one like this slip past them. The Chiefs had lost four in a row prior to the Bears game, and they now enter a part of their schedule that has them facing teams with a 33-15 record combined.
Oakland Raiders (7-5):
Looking Back: The Raiders lost to the suddenly deadly Miami Dolphins. It was a 34-14 loss, but the true dagger came in finding out that they are now tied with the Broncos atop the division. When the Dolphins win, they win big. By the start of the third quarter, it was 34-0. The Raiders couldn’t stop the ‘Phins on the ground, giving up 209 rushing yards. Carson Palmer kept pace with Matt Moore by putting 2 TDs on the board, but he also threw a pick-6 that put the game well out of reach before the third quarter ended. Michael Bush only had 18 yards on 10 carries.
Looking Forward: There is nothing to look forward to when you have to travel to Green Bay these days. The 12-0 Packers have had everyone’s number, and they plan on dialing this team from the dark side. The Raiders offense has sputtered as much as a 1925 Ford on a cold winter day. The Packers are ranked 13th in rush defense and 31st in pass defense, yet no one notices that when a team is undefeated 13 weeks in. The Raiders’ secondary will have their hands full with the best quarterback in the league and his 3rd ranked passing game. It’s a harsh way to begin the end of the season for the Raiders.
San Diego Chargers (5-7):
Looking Back: The Chargers got their first win in six weeks when they beat the Jaguars 38-14 on Monday Night Football. It was a must win, and really, they have to win from here on out if they have any shot at the playoffs. Philip Rivers had Philip Rivers-like numbers as he went 22-for-28 for 294 yards, 3 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Ryan Mathews added 112 yards and a touchdown on the ground as the Chargers could have played and won this one with their eyes closed.
Looking Forward: The Bolts will take on the 5-7 Bills at home next week. Like the Chargers, the Bills started the season on a high note, but they’ve lost their last six of seven. If the Chargers play like they did on Monday Night, they shouldn’t have any problem with the team from the north. Unfortunately for the Chargers, it may be too little, too late.