The Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos won crazy games on Sunday, and the AFC West is mounting a furious charge toward the finish.
The National Football League has eight divisions. Only one has three legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The AFC West continues to show its utter dominance over the rest of the NFL, with two top-flight units going east and showcasing classic grit and savvy.
Not to slight the San Diego Chargers, who have hung tough after getting into a 1-4 hole, this is about the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Denver was able to hang in against the New Orleans Saints, watching a 10-0 lead turn into a 17-10 deficit at the raucous Superdome. The Broncos would not yield, though, earning a 25-23 win on a wild blocked extra point that rookie safety Will Parks returned in the final two minutes for the winning pair of points.
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As wild as Denver’s win was, it has nothing on what Kansas City put forth in Charlotte. Against the desperate Carolina Panthers, the Chiefs fell behind 17-0 late in the second quarter and 17-3 going into the fourth. They were without Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston, Jeremy Maclin, Jaye Howard and Parker Ehinger for the whole game. Phillip Gaines, Derrick Johnson, and Spencer Ware missed chunks of the game. Still, Kansas City rallied to win 20-17 at the final gun, earning the victory on a 37-yard field goal by Cairo Santos.
Kansas City and Denver are two of the uglier teams in the league. Neither is going to earn a ton of style points, but the wins continue to mount. In what could be a can-you-top-this race all winter in the West, it continues to amaze how well-schooled these squads are.
Most teams would have crumbled in front of the Superdome crowd. Almost all would have packed it in down 17 point to Cam Newton, but the injured and battered Chiefs summoned up a courage not many knew they had. The comeback began on one of the greatest pick-6 plays you will ever see from Eric Berry. It was extended on an incredible theft by Marcus Peters in the final 30 seconds. It all ended with their third-year Brazilian kicker putting his fourth field goal of the day through the uprights.
With the dust finally settling, the Chiefs have moved into first place of the AFC West. At 7-2, Kansas City holds the tiebreaker over the also 7-2 Oakland Raiders, having beat the Silver and Black in Oakland in Week 6. Denver is 7-3 and with a bye week coming up, could pull into a tie with both Oakland and Kansas City should they lose this upcoming weekend.
Come January, all three will be in the postseason, slugging it out for a chance to take down the New England Patriots. Don’t sleep on any of them, especially the embattled duo that pulled out miracle wins on Sunday.
Top 10 quarterbacks of all-time
1. Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers 2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots 3. Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts 4. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins 5. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts 6. Sammy Baugh, Washington Redskins 7. John Elway, Denver Broncos 8. Otto Graham, Cleveland Browns 9. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers 10. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers
Alex Boone: "You can only say you played so tough for so long until it doesn’t count anymore. These are games you’ve got to win." #Vikings
– Minnesota Vikings guard Alex Boone after a 26-20 loss to the Washington Redskins
Boone has every right to be furious. The Vikings began the season 5-0 but have fallen to 5-4 and second place in the woeful NFC North behind the Detroit Lions. Minnesota is struggling to protect Sam Bradford and at this rate, look like a sure shot to miss the postseason.
Next week, the Arizona Cardinals come to U.S. Bank Stadium in a de facto elimination game.
The Browns are 87-195 since rejoining the NFL since 1999. The Patriots are 202-79 in that same span.
Info learned this week
1. Seahawks, Patriots author classic
The Seahawks and Patriots got together for the first time since Super Bowl XLIX, and it once again came down to a yard. New England was on the short end this time, falling to 7-2 on the year. With seven games to play, the Patriots, Raiders and Chiefs are all tied atop the AFC, while Seattle is comfortably in the NFC’s second slot.
It would surprise nobody if these two see each other again. The Seahawks have problems up front, but the defense remains legit and the offense can strike quickly. As for the Patriots, don’t let a loss fool you. This is still the best team in football, although the Seahawks can make an argument.
2. Head coaches on the hot seat
It might be time for a few teams to make drastic changes. The Green Bay Packers are 4-5 and falling apart after allowing 47 points to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in another loss. Mike McCarthy might not be the only reason for failure, but he’s chief among them. The offense is stagnant and the team looks to have quit.
Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars should clean house. Owner Shad Khan might wait until January considering the season is already lost, but moving on from Gus Bradley and his staff can’t come soon enough. Jacksonville needs to find a coach who can either fix Blake Bortles, or a general manager willing to move on from him.
Finally, when do the New York Jets start thinking about Todd Bowles? The team looks terrible, the tabloids are having a field day with their highest-paid star, and the misery has no end in sight.
3. NFC Wild Card race tightens
We continue to see the NFC muddle its playoff race. The Atlanta Falcons fell victim to the Philadelphia Eagles, who at 5-4 are only a half-game back of the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in the NFC East. New York and Washington would be the fifth and sixth seeds in the NFC playoff picture currently.
Minnesota lost to the Redskins, falling to 5-4 and eighth in the conference. We see the Arizona Cardinals in the ninth spot at 4-4-1, following their win over the San Francisco 49ers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved into the race by beating the Chicago Bears, sitting at 4-5. The Saints are also 4-5 alongside the Packers and Los Angeles Rams. Jeff Fisher’s team got there by winning an atrocious game, 9-6, over the New York Jets.
This is going to take all 17 weeks to sort out.
4. Titans making push for postseason
Everyone will talk about how bad the Packers are, but we don’t want to overlook the Titans. Tennessee scored 21 points in the first quarter and never looked back in a convincing 47-25 drubbing. At 5-5, the Titans are 1.5 games behind the Houston Texans in the AFC South, but play them again in Nashville later this year.
Marcus Mariota is starting to look like a star. The second-year man has 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions, despite not having a strong receiving corps. Tennessee has a real shot to win the South, because it may have the best quarterback in the division.
5. Cowboys, Steelers going opposite directions
The Steelers had every opportunity to win on Sunday and get back into a tie for first place in the AFC North. Instead, Pittsburgh allowed Dallas to come right down the field in the final minute, with the winning drive punctuated by a 32-yard touchdown from Ezekiel Elliott in the waning seconds.
The Cowboys look like the clear favorite to land home field advantage in the NFC at 8-1, owning the best record in the league. Dallas has all the components of a Super Bowl team, even without a star-studded defense.
Since the divisions were realigned in 2002, no division has seen three teams reach the Divisional round. The AFC West has that opportunity with the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs all slated to make the postseason and, currently, not face each other in the first round.
The last time a division was able to get a trio of teams that far? The 1997 playoffs when the Buccaneers, Packers and Vikings all showed up. The Detroit Lions also made the postseason, but lost 20-10 to Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round.
The AFC has some quality teams on the outside edge of the playoff picture, but all of them might be out of luck. The Indianapolis Colts would scare anybody with Andrew Luck, but at 4-5, they will need either a miracle of to win the AFC South for entrance into the postseason.
Speaking of 4-5, what to make of the Buffalo Bills? Buffalo has talent on both sides of the ball, but can Tyrod Taylor and Rex Ryan run the table? Doubtful, and that’s what it will take to make the playoffs. The same can be said of the Miami Dolphins, who can only make the postseason via the wild card.
Then there are the Baltimore Ravens, who are actually the No. 4 seed at the moment, but a brutal schedule lays ahead. Can the Ravens somehow hold off both the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals? Tough chore.