The AFC West suitcases are packed and all four teams are heading east for Week Ten contests. Continue reading for my thoughts on all four match-ups.
Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers: Denver, the AFC West leaders through Week Nine, take their 5-3 record on the road for the second consecutive week as they face the 2-6 Carolina Panthers. Don’t let records fool you into thinking this will be a cakewalk for the Broncos. The Panthers have faced some of the upper tier teams in the NFL and have been close to winning most of those games; the only severe loss for Carolina came against the defending Super Bowl champions, New York Giants when they were beaten 36-7 at home in Week Three. The other five losses for Carolina have been by an average of less than four points. Because of those close games, and the quality of the teams that the Panthers have played, I suspect that Carolina will not be intimidated by the Broncos, and their three game winning streak. The Broncos have definitely improved their play over the last few weeks and must continue playing at this level in all three phases of the game. As winter approaches, it is reassuring to see the Broncos becoming more consistent. Considering the Broncos host the San Diego Chargers next week in Denver, a game which may ultimately decide the division, today’s game against the Panthers should be considered a must win. Other things from this contest that add to the entertainment value is the fact that Coach John Fox is returning to Carolina to face his previous employer, the battle of quarterbacks – Peyton Manning verse Cam Newton – the teacher and the student, and the first draft pick in 2011 (Cam Newton) verse the second draft pick in 2011 (Von Miller).
San Diego Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can the Chargers stop Doug Martin? The Minnesota Vikings (Week Eight) and the Oakland Raiders (Week Nine) haven’t had an answer for the impressive rookie running back as he has rushed for 386 yards and five touchdowns against these two teams. It will be interesting to see if San Diego can do what Minnesota and Oakland were unable to do. As mentioned previously, the Chargers head to Denver next week and already find themselves one game behind the Broncos so the Chargers must consider this a must win game. Both teams enter this game at 4-4 and the Chargers are coming off a long rest since they opened up Week Nine on Thursday night, easily beating the Kansas City Chiefs 31-13, giving them much needed confidence as they enter the last half of the season. Thanks to a two game winning streak, Tampa Bay will also have a high level of confidence. I have a feeling this game can go either way regarding who wins so, like most games in the NFL, it will come down to the play of the quarterback – Philip Rivers or Josh Freeman. For the sake of the Broncos, I hope the Josh Freeman and the Buc’s find a way to win this one!
Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens: The Raiders have not been a very good road team in 2012 with their only road win coming against the lowly Chiefs in Week Eight. The other three road games for Oakland included blowout losses to the Miami Dolphins and Denver, while the Atlanta Falcons narrowly beat the Raiders by a field goal. Baltimore has been perfect at home this season, winning each of the four games they have played there and I see that trend continuing today, even without Ray Lewis, the all-pro linebacker, and team leader.
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers: Monday Night Football producers at ESPN are probably cringing with the thought of this game as it has potential “laugher” written all over it. Sure, Romeo Crennel has demoted himself as the Chiefs Defensive Coordinator, but I don’t think that will be enough for the Chiefs to head back home with only their second win of the season. After all, we are talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming off an impressive win last week against the New York Giants. I wonder how motivated Todd Haley will be to steamroll the team that fired him last season. Upsets do happen though, and if the Chiefs find a way to win this game, it will have to be one of the biggest upsets to date this season. Hopefully, the Steelers will not overlook the Chiefs in anyway. On a personal note, Bronco fans living in Chiefs’ Country should savor this season. Not all Chief fans have given up, but a lot of them have written off the season, have turned their attention to the Kansas State Wildcats run at a national championship, and are hoping the Chiefs continue to spiral out of control, earning the first draft pick in 2013! Whatever happens, I know after eight games, the Broncos are 5-3 and the Chiefs are 1-7; two teams heading in opposite directions. If the losing continues in Kansas City, I would expect the cries of the die-hard Chief fans to start wanting the coaching staff to go, and I’m ok with that. If that happens, this may very well set the team back at least a season. It’s just not much fun to be Chief fan right now!