A weekly update on the AFC West, to keep up with the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the division.
The AFC West continues to be very competitive, with the Raiders sitting on top at 9-2 and the Chiefs right behind at 8-3. The Chiefs beat the Raiders in Oakland back in October, but the Raiders will have their chance for revenge next Thursday in a pivotal meeting in Arrowhead.
The Broncos were the real losers out of last weekend, literally and figuratively. Because they played the Chiefs one of them had to lose (or did they? More on that later…) and Denver was on the wrong end of a 30-27 overtime defeat.
That leaves the Broncos at 7-4, two games out with five to play. They even lost their hold on the second wild-card spot to the Dolphins. The Chiefs currently occupy the first wild-card spot.
The Chargers won again as well and don’t seem to want to go quietly into that good night. Philip Rivers put turnovers behind him and the defense continued their improvement as the Chargers handed the Texans their first home loss in Houston, 21-13.
That put the Chargers at 5-6 and has them talking potential playoffs. While that’s a long shot with Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the other AFC West teams in the mix, it’s not as crazy as it sounded a couple of weeks ago.
Things are heating up and with a lot of divisional football left, the AFC West promises to remain one of the most intriguing and entertaining divisions in football.
Nov 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) throws as center Rodney Hudson (61) and offensive guard Kelechi Osemele (70) block against the Carolina Panthers during the second half at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
1st Place in AFC West
Record: 9-2 Previous Game: Defeated Carolina Panthers (3-8) 35-32 at home Next Game: vs. Buffalo Bills (5-6) Sun, Dec 4, 4:25 EST
Whatever you want to say about Derek Carr’s performance on Sunday, it all fits. The guy is tough and resilient. He’s a leader by word and example. He gets better every game.
Derek Carr is clutch.
And so is Khalil Mack.
After holding a comfortable 24-7 lead at halftime, Carr took a snap awkwardly early in the third quarter. And by awkwardly I mean it bent, cut and bruised his pinky into a dislocated mess. When a guy who has literally done a flip to get a first down runs away from the play, you know it’s serious.
Not as serious as it could’ve been, fortunately. Although he threw a pick shortly after returning, Carr and his silver & black glove showed no ill effects — amazingly — and came up clutch when needed. Like always.
Carolina mounted a furious rally in the third and early fourth, scoring 25 unanswered points while Carr was out of the game and after his early return.
But Carr and Mack wouldn’t let Carolina win this game. With the Raiders down 32-24, Carr marched the team downfield methodically for a TD. He hit Clive Walford for a key first down before hitting Walford with a TD laser in the back of the end zone.
This was a redemptive performance for Michael Crabtree, who’s been clutch all year but had fallen off in recent weeks. King Crab had an 8 catch, 115 yard performance that included a 49-yarder on the final drive. For that one he only fought off pass interference and lost his helmet, but still came up with the catch. No problem. He’s the man.
A couple plays later a Janikowski field goal had the Raiders back on top, 35-32. But Carolina had moved the ball at will and had time left on the clock for a game-tying field goal.
Enter Mack. Well, re-enter Mack. He’d already loudly announced his day with six tackles, one for loss, three QB hits and an absolutely gorgeous display of athleticism on a perfectly read screen pass that he jumped for a pick-six. He’d already been everywhere. And then…
With Carolina needing a play and down to their last gasp, Mack is who made one. He sloughed off a block and an attempted chip by the RB, grabbed Newton’s arm and then pounced on the loose ball. Strip-sack, recovery. Game over.
Mack received the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in three games (first was against Denver week 9) and was the best player on the field. He’s making a strong case for DPOY.
Just as Carr is making one for MVP. Carr’s finger is reportedly doing well and he’s looking good for Buffalo this weekend. Mack is seemingly getting better every week. The defense needs to tighten up the big plays, but their first half was a thing of beauty.
The Raiders are playing their best football at the most important time of the year. With Buffalo coming to town and boasting the NFL’s top rushing attack at 157 YPG, the Raiders need their 26th ranked run defense to step up.
Every game is important now as the Raiders continue to hold a one-game divisional lead. The Chiefs have a shiny new weapon and an old familiar face for the stretch run, and the Broncos certainly aren’t done yet.
With trips to Kansas City, Denver, and San Diego looming over the next five weeks the Raiders need to take care of business against Buffalo at home to make the road a little easier to travel.
Oct 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) carries the ball in front of Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen (49) during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs
2nd Place in AFC West
Record: 8-3 Previous Game: Defeated Denver Broncos (7-4) 30-27 in OT, in Denver Next Game: at Atlanta Falcons (7-4) Sun, Dec 4, 4:05 EST
Tyreek Hill is exciting, dynamic, fast and electrifying.
He is, unfortunately, exactly what the Chiefs needed to spark their moribund offense. Hey, they just put up 30 on the Broncos.
The Chiefs-Broncos game was a classic slugfest, and the defense played deserved better than the bloated final score. It was more like a 9-6 game really, but some big plays made the score fairly high.
Justin Houston reminded every one how good he is when he’s healthy. He had three sacks, ten tackles, and generally decimated the Broncos offense single-handedly, particularly in the first half.
Von Miller answered with three sack of his own and many big plays, including a tipped pass at a key time and a run-stuff. This was a day when the AFC West showed they have the three best edge players in the NFL.
But it was Hill who owned this game. He is the first player since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score a TD on a return, a rush, and a reception in the same game. The first since GALE SAYERS. This is trouble for the rest of the AFC West.
The Chiefs won through methodical offense and excellent defense, and not making mistakes. They rarely took chances or had players who could score from anywhere. Hill has shown the last few weeks that he changes all that, and adds a dimension to the Chiefs that makes them truly scary.
Alex Smith is a game manager but he can throw the ball when needed, and a weapon like Hill cannot be understated for a QB that’s rarely had one.
With Houston’s returning at a high level on defense and Dee Ford potentially healthy soon, this is rounding into a balanced and scary team at just the right time for them. And the wrong time for the rest of the West.
They’re in tough this week against Atlanta’s high-powered offense, who have a recently discovered weapon of their own. Taylor Gabriel gives the Falcons a vertical threat to add to their embarrassment of riches, and with the Bucs and Saints surging the Falcons need this win to maintain their hold on the NFC South.
This is a big game for both teams, and the second road game in a row for the Chiefs. That usually doesn’t mean good things for NFL teams, but the Chiefs are desperate to stay in the divisional hunt and suddenly have weapons new and old on both sides of the ball. With the Raiders set to come to Arrowhead next Thursday, the Chiefs would like nothing more for the division to be on the line.
Dec 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) runs with the ball against Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) during the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
3rd Place in AFC West
Record: 7-4 Last Game: lost to Chiefs 30-27 in OT at home Next Game: at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) Sun, Dec 4, 1 pm EST
Denver could be 8-3. They likely should be 7-3-1, along with the Chiefs. That would’ve been best case scenario for both the Broncos AND the Raiders.
Now, KC was moving the ball well, both defenses were tired and the Broncos weren’t guaranteed a stop. But the odds of making that 62-yard field goal were somewhere in the 1% range and it definitively gave the Chiefs a short field to exploit for the win. Which they did.
If the Broncos punt that ball and their defense forces a stop, the game is a tie. The Broncos are 7-3-1 and still hold the second wild card spot. The Chiefs are 7-3-1 and still hold the first wild card spot. The Raiders are 9-2 and 1.5 games up.
But Kubiak played to win — no fan of the Raiders is going to fault a coach with that philosophy — and it didn’t work out. So the Chiefs are 8-3 and one game out, while the Broncos are 7-4 and two games back. Worst case scenario for both the Broncos and the Raiders.
A bonus for the Chiefs and Dolphins.
The Broncos still need to find a running game, though Devontae Booker is running hard. He’s just had some really difficult matchups recently. This week’s opponent, the Jags, are 24th in the NFL in run defense, though they’ve been better recently.
The Broncos must begin playing the run game better on both sides of the ball if they want to stay in the race here. Their pass defense is still elite, though they did let Smith march down the field in the fourth and overtime for crucial drives to win the game.
Cracks are showing in Denver and though the Jags are 2-9 a 1:00pm start on the East Coast for a West Coast team is never easy. Particularly not when coming off a Sunday night battle that went late into the night and was as physical a contest as it gets.
The Broncos are favored in this game, as they should be, but there are intangible factors working against them here. A loss in Jacksonville would be disastrous, and if they can’t run the ball better a surprisingly decent Jacksonville secondary may make things difficult on Trevor Siemian.
October 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin (12) runs past Oakland Raiders cornerback David Amerson (29) during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Diego Chargers
4th Place in AFC West
Record: 5-6 Previous Game: defeated Houston Texans (6-5) 21-13 in Houston Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) Sun, Dec 4, 4:25 EST
The Chargers are now only two games out of the wild card spot with five to play, and Philip Rivers has already declared he thinks they can make the playoffs.
Insert Jim Mora voice here “Playoffs! Playoffs?!?” You go Philly Riv.
More games like the one in Houston must come for that to happen. The Chargers have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot, particularly in the fourth quarter, but they played a solid, relatively mistake-free game (Rivers with a pick, of course) and won the turnover battle to beat the Texans.
Even if the Chargers do run the table, they will be 10-6 and fighting many other teams that would be right around the same mark. The Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins, Bills, Ravens, Steelers, and even Titans and Colts all have a shot to finish with 10 wins.
Many have a better shot than the Chargers, but they surely won’t quit. It won’t be easy though.
They welcome the red-hot Bucs to Qualcomm this Sunday. The Bucs are fresh off a physical domination of perennial bully Seattle, and the week before they handed the Chiefs their first Arrowhead loss in 11 games.
The Bucs have playoff aspirations also and are now just a game behind the Falcons in the NFC South. Jameis Winston has played quality, mistake-free football the past few weeks. Mike Evans is a load to handle and Doug Martin is getting healthier. Combine that with an improving defense and this is a tough test for the Chargers.
They are the longest of shots to even position themselves for the playoffs. But with Rivers, Gordon and the defense they’re playing they can beat anyone. They can score 30 points in a hurry.
With games against the Raiders and Chiefs still left, the Chargers are still talented and have an opportunity to affect what happens in the AFC West regardless of their own playoff hopes.
You can bet the Chargers still relish the chance to beat the Raiders and Chiefs. Affecting one or both of their playoff hopes? Merry Christmas, Chargers.
December is here, and Christmas is coming. AFC West fans are getting everything they want and more for a divisional race under the tree this year.