I know this dates me, but I actually remember when the AFC West was a somewhat respectable NFL division.
Amazingly, the division that’s responsible for the league’s only powder blue uniforms, the Black Hole, Hank Stram’s legendary sports jacket and this incredible John Elway poster was once — I know this sounds crazy, NFL fans under the age of 30 — among the league’s finest.
It has since been reduced to rubble. The 2012 version of the AFC West is a complete and utter embarrassment.
Peyton Manning must have known what he was doing when he signed with Denver last offseason. He’ll play 10 games against real NFL opponents this season. He’ll have seven bye weeks — the one the league gives him and the six games against his divisional opponents.
Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego are a combined 4-17 since Week 4. Only one of those wins — a 26-23 Raiders overtime win over the 1-9 Jaguars — came against an opponent outside the division.
The Chiefs have lost seven straight games. They’re 0-5 at home. The Raiders, meanwhile, have given up 135 points in their past three contests. The Chargers? Phil Rivers summed up the season best when he — with the chance to still toss a final Hail Mary against the Broncos with a few seconds left on the clock in a seven-point game — briskly jogged off the field and shook Denver coach John Fox’s hand on the sideline instead of taking another snap. Denver forced San Diego into 10 straight three-and-outs at one point Sunday. The Chargers defense played well. It was all for naught. Again.
San Diego’s gone from being a 3-1 team in September to one of the worst squads in all of football. The epic collapse at home against the Broncos gets all the attention, but were the Chargers frauds all along? Better yet, does it even matter?
The Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2002, so failure’s nothing new to their long-suffering fan base. But how sad is it that an entire generation of young Oakland fans have never seen a playoff game? Mark Davis mentioned “the Raiders way” in his postgame comments after Sunday’s embarrassing 38-17 loss to the Saints. What does that even mean anymore? A 30-year-old Raiders fan spent his 20s watching the following poo-poo (not a typo) platter of quarterbacks: Rick Mirer, Marques Tuiasosopo, Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper, Jamarcus Russell, Charlie Frye, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer.
To put that in perspective, the New England Patriots have started just two quarterbacks — Tom Brady and Matt Cassel — in that same decade’s worth of games.
The Raiders’ quarterback situation isn’t what’s ailing them, though. Carson Palmer is by no means lighting it up, but he has no help. Across the field, there’s a dearth of talent on Oakland’s roster. With Darren McFadden and Richard Seymour currently out of the lineup with injuries, you could make a legitimate case that the Raiders do not have a top-10 talent at any position on the field outside of punter and kicker. This is not an acceptable NFL roster.
But it’s not just the players. When first-year GM Reggie McKenzie hired Dennis Allen as the team’s head coach this offseason, defensive expertise was the reason why. If you had to subtly nod your head and do a quick Google search for “Dennis Allen” when he got the gig, you’re not alone. There was some head-scratching around the league with the hire of the former Broncos defensive backs coach.
Eleven weeks in, you can’t blame the fans if their patience is wearing thin. The Raiders have been the league’s worst second-half team. The third quarter — the time when a team is supposed to react to halftime adjustments and the things coaches spot on film — has been a nightmare. They’ve given up 56 points in the third quarter of the last three games alone. On the year, they’ve been outscored in the third quarter by more points than any other team in any quarter this season. Having watched a lot of Carolina Panthers fourth-quarter collapses this year, that’s saying something.
And then there are the Chiefs. I can take a stab at detailing their 2012 woes in a tight paragraph or two, but it’d pale in comparison to anything Bill Reiter or Jason Whitlock have written on the team over the past three months. Scott Pioli needs to go. Romeo Crennel needs to go. The quarterbacks both have to go. It’s Thanksgiving and the season’s already been over for two months.
It’s late November and Denver’s already got the division wrapped up. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Manning knew what he was doing signing there. Looking at the Broncos’ opponents, I have no doubt that this team could have won the AFC West with Tim Tebow at the helm this year.
Hell, they could have done it with Charlie Frye. Or Marques Tuiasosopo. Or … well, you get the point.
This Thanksgiving weekend, take a moment to remember the AFC West, a once-proud division that’s fallen on very hard times.
I’d love to say it’ll be back soon enough, but I really can’t do that with any sort of confidence.
Week 11 record: 8-6
2012 overall record: 91-68-1
WEEK 12 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK:
Though it wasn’t pretty, the Falcons beat the Cardinals in Atlanta on Sunday. Matt Ryan improved to 30-4 all-time at home. In the Super Bowl era (1970-now), four other quarterbacks have won 30 of their first 35 games at home. Who are they?
See below for answer
Week 12 Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Pickup: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis, WR
THANKSGIVING DAY GAMES
Houston at Detroit: Heading into Week 11 with a 4-5 record and playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Detroit squandered an early lead and let a Packers team playing without starters Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Bryan Bulaga and Greg Jennings beat them in their own building. That’s all I needed to see from the 2012 Detroit Lions. I have no reason to believe they’ll suddenly shake off the rust and beat a sound Houston team. Calvin Johnson may be the best wide receiver in football, but Andre Johnson is awfully dangerous when he’s 100 percent healthy. Look for the latter to steal the show from the former on Thursday.
The Pick: Texans 34, Lions 20
Washington at Dallas: Coming off a week in which he completed 93.3 percent of his passes (the highest percentage by a QB with four passing touchdowns since 1994), Robert Griffin III is making his first home start in his home state of Texas in front of a national television audience on Thursday afternoon. Knowing the way RG3 has risen to the occasion when the bright lights have been on him in the past (See: 2011 Alamo Bowl), it’s awfully tempting to take Washington. But even with the hideous win over the Browns still fresh in my memory, I’m riding this Cowboys train I boarded last week … and I’m riding it until the very end. At 5-0 all-time in Thanksgiving games, give me Tony Romo over the kid in all of the adorable Subway ads.
The Pick: Cowboys 33, Redskins 21
New England at New York Jets: Watching the all-22 film this week of their 59-24 win over the Colts last Sunday, I’m pretty sure the 2012 Patriots are New England’s best team since the 18-1 squad of 2007. The Jets’ home crowd will be nice and loose — in a Brad Keselowski kind of way — on Thursday. Expect the boo birds to come out in full force if this one gets out of hand early. The Pats D is significantly better now than it was when these two teams played in October. They made red-hot Andrew Luck look average last week. What will they do to Mark Sanchez?
The Pick: Patriots 38, Jets 20
SUNDAY EARLY GAMES
Minnesota at Chicago: The Bears were 7-3 last season when Jay Cutler went down with an injured wrist. They finished the year 1-5 in their final six games without him, missed the playoffs by one win, and wondered about what could have been. Rinse and repeat in 2012? It appears that might be the case. I thought Jason Campbell was a significant upgrade from Caleb Hanie. I was wrong. If anything, the past two seasons should shed some light on just how terrific a quarterback Cutler really is. The fact that Chicago — with that offensive line — has two wins, let alone seven, is incredible.
The Pick: Vikings 20, Bears 17 Oakland at Cincinnati: The Carson Palmer Bowl! I was tempted to write the Bengals off after losing four straight games to AFC opponents to close out the first half of their season. Naturally, they’ve since rattled off two straight wins and have games against Oakland, San Diego and Philadelphia in three of their next four weeks. Looking for your second wild-card team in the AFC? The Bengals are screaming, “Me! Me! Me!” An above-average junior varsity high school squad might be able to put up 30 on this Raiders defense. Cincy should have no problem doubling them up.
The Pick: Bengals 41, Raiders 17
Pittsburgh at Cleveland: I woke up Monday and read Charlie Batch was starting for Pittsburgh and they were working out Plaxico Burress. I immediately went to Google and searched the names Amos Zereoue, Willie Parker and Duce Staley to see which mid-2000’s Steelers contributor was next to join the party. Charlie Batch, Tommy Maddox or Kordell Stewart — I don’t care who’s playing quarterback for the Steelers on Sunday — I’ll always take a Mike Tomlin-coached team over a Pat Shurmur one. Always.
The Pick: Steelers 19, Browns 10
Buffalo at Indianapolis: Watch out for Buffalo. The high-priced defense — absent for most of the season — showed us some life against Miami last week, they’ve had 10 days to prepare for a young Indianapolis squad, and they’ve got a very manageable schedule from here on out. Buffalo’s next six games are at Indianapolis, vs. Jacksonville, vs. St. Louis, vs. Seattle, at Miami and at New York Jets. Did I just advise you to pencil the Bengals in for that second AFC wild-card spot a second ago? Grab your eraser. Switch that to Buffalo.
The Pick: Buffalo 27, Indianapolis 21
Denver at Kansas City: Hahahahahaha. Oh, you’re serious? You really need me to pick this one? C’mon. One fun stat to think about while watching this blowout on Sunday: Von Miller has 13 sacks with six games left to go. Michael Strahan’s all-time single-season sack record is 22.5. Miller had three sacks last week against the Chargers. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but I’m saying there’s a chance …
The Pick: Broncos 34, Chiefs 14
Seattle at Miami: Seattle’s 5-0 at home, but just 1-4 on the road. That’d usually be a giant red flag. Not in this case. Whatever Ryan Tannehill had going on in the season’s first half, defensive coordinators have identified his weaknesses and adjusted to them. He’s been downright awful in Miami’s last two games. The uber-talented Seattle defense — coming off a bye week to prepare and scheme for the rookie QB — will be foaming at the mouth come Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Sorry, Ryan.
The Pick: Seahawks 23, Dolphins 9
Atlanta at Tampa Bay: Has there ever been a 9-1 team with less positive buzz surrounding them than the 2012 Atlanta Falcons? With Sunday’s “meh” 23-19 win over Arizona, the Falcons have now been very fortunate to escape scares at home from the lowly Raiders, Panthers and Cardinals — three teams with a combined road record of 3-11 and a trio that certainly won’t be confused for the ’85 Bears, ’76 Steelers, and ’99 Rams anytime soon. Once in a while, a young squad comes along that just has a magic glow. The Bucs had no right even being within a score of the Panthers late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game in Carolina, and of course, they found a way to not only tie the game at the end of regulation, but win in overtime. Gut pick, here. Give me Tampa Bay. I’m not sure how, but they’ll find a way.
The Pick: Buccaneers 30, Falcons 27 (OT)
Tennessee at Jacksonville: It’s amazing what having a real NFL quarterback can do for a receiver, isn’t it? Labeled a “draft bust” all season long, Justin Blackmon erupted for seven catches, 236 yards and a touchdown once Chad Henne entered last Sunday’s shootout with the Texans. He had 250 receiving yards combined in the nine games prior. Tennessee shouldn’t lose this one, but I’m feeling an upset. Who needs Montana to Rice when you’ve got Henne to Blackmon?!
The Pick: Jaguars 27, Titans 23
SUNDAY AFTERNOON GAMES
Baltimore at San Diego: Ed Reed’s suspension appeal was a success on Tuesday, but the $50,000 hit to the wallet still isn’t exactly chump change. The Ravens will have their star safety in the lineup this weekend, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered much if he wasn’t, anyway. Baltimore could trot out a bunch of second- and third-stringers against this anemic Chargers offense and be just fine. In the past five years, the Chargers have opted not to re-sign Michael Turner, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson. Philip Rivers could use every single one of them now.
The Pick: Ravens 27, Chargers 16
San Francisco at New Orleans: Minimize the Excel spreadsheet on your computer right now. Kick back. Put your feet up on your desk. Grab a cold soft drink. And enjoy this montage of “>Aldon Smith’s 5.5-sack night from Week 11. Awesome. As for the suddenly fascinating quarterback situation in San Francisco? I’m biased. I thought Colin Kaepernick was worthy of a first-round pick in 2011 and had him rated higher than Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker on my draft board that April. I would have started him as a rookie last year. The dude’s the real deal. Alex Smith, I fear, still has the tendency to be “just a guy.” Ride the hot hand. Fear the ostrich! Whether it’s Smith or Kaepernick under center come Sunday, I like the 49ers to get the best of the Saints in New Orleans.
The Pick: 49ers 31, Saints 27
St. Louis at Arizona: No one ever questions Ken Whisenhunt, but I was baffled by his handling of Arizona’s quarterbacks on Sunday. Coming off a bye week, Whisenhunt benched starter John Skelton after just seven pass attempts and replaced him with rookie Ryan Lindley early in the first half. I have no problem benching Skelton if he’s not playing well, but why not just start Lindley? Name him the starter after Week 9, give him an entire bye week to walk around the facility as the team’s starter and let him be the man from the get go. I don’t know. I just feel bad for Larry Fitzgerald. He deserves better than this, whatever “this” is.
The Pick: Rams 20, Cardinals 17
Green Bay Packers at New York Giants: After two straight weeks of listening to the “Is Eli elite?” debate all over again on New York’s sports TV and radio stations, I’m thrilled there’s actual football to discuss this Sunday. Aaron Rodgers’ running backs, tight ends and receivers dropped eight passes in last year’s divisional round loss to the Giants. I’m sure he’s watched the tape of that one a few times since the loss and I’m sure he wants this one. It hasn’t been as pretty as his 2011 campaign, but Rodgers is certainly in a bit of a groove right now. He’ll hand the Giants their third straight loss, complicating things in the NFC East quite a bit, on Sunday night.
The Pick: Packers 34, Giants 21
Carolina at Philadelphia: I have just one word to describe this game: Gross. Has there ever been a worse fourth-quarter team than the 2012 Carolina Panthers? Besides the 2011 Carolina Panthers? This one should just be named the Jon Gruden Bowl. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you ask), he’ll be calling it. If Cam Newton can do half of what Robert Griffin III did against this Philly defense, this shouldn’t be a problem for Carolina.
The Pick: Panthers 31, Eagles 16
OH, AND BY THE WAY …
1. Saw “Argo” over the weekend. Loved that the actors who played Eric Taylor (“Friday Night Lights”) and Henry Francis (“Mad Men”) were both in it. Yep, that was my big takeaway. There’s a reason I get a vote for the Heisman and not the Academy Awards.
2. Every time I read a 5,000-word puff piece on Chip Kelly’s “unstoppable” offense, a college defense steps right up and shuts it down. Auburn did it two years ago in the BCS championship game. Les Miles did it last season. Stanford did it last weekend in Eugene. This is not a very popular sentiment in league circles, but I’m just as intrigued by Stanford head coach David Shaw as I am with Kelly in terms of NFL head coaching gigs.
3. I attended my first Brooklyn Nets game last Thursday night. Fun experience. Only complaint? A little too much “Dance Cam” for my liking. I can’t spend an entire game scared that I’ll be on a Jumbotron every time there’s a stoppage of play. The cameras came way too close to my torso way too many times.
4. Basketball writer and noted ATLien Lang Whitaker had the line of the week in regards to the Steelers’ throwback uniforms: “More NFL teams should wear khaki pants.” Couldn’t agree more.
5. Oh, and Gronk shouldn’t have been in the game.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
WEEK 12 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER: Matt Ryan joins elite company: Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Brett Favre and Joe Flacco.