A weekly update on the AFC West, to keep up with the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the division.
At about 3:45 EST Sunday, November 13, the Raiders were looking good to extend their AFC West lead while sipping cocktails and chasing their kids during their bye week.
About 10 minutes later the football gods cruelly pulled the rug out from the NFC South — and the Raiders first-place stranglehold — and the Broncos and Chiefs walked away with improbable victories. The Chiefs win vaulted them above the Raiders in the standings via tie-breaker. JBB’s editor Nick Hjeltness breaks it down nicely here.
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The AFC West and NFC East are emerging as the class divisions of the NFL. In both conferences the second and third place teams in those divisions occupy the current wild card positions. The Chargers are the only team of eight in the two divisions with a losing record.
The Dallas Cowboys are two games up on the Giants in the NFC East and looking fairly unstoppable. The Chiefs are tied with the Raiders and one game up on the Broncos, and the three teams look fairly evenly matched.
The schedule makers saw this coming. Three of the Raiders final four games are against the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers — all on the road. The Broncos and Raiders end the season in Denver. And the Chiefs also play three of their final four games against their divisional rivals, albeit they have two of those games at home.
It’s going to be a fun end to the season, and for the first time in a long time, the Raiders are right in the mix.
October 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tackle Donald Penn (72) blocks Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Frank Zombo (51) during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs
1st Place in AFC West
Record: 7-2 Last Game: defeated Panthers 20-17 in Carolina Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6)
The Chiefs are the Donald Trump of the NFL. They keep winning even when nobody expects it, even when the opposite is a foregone conclusion. No team is better at salvaging ugly wins than the Chiefs, and like Trump, don’t expect the Walrus, the players, or their fans to apologize for it anytime soon.
Winning is winning, and they’ve done it 18 of their last 20 regular season games.
The rest of the NFL universe is routinely left asking “How?” when they see an improbable Chiefs victory flash across the ticker as the clock reaches :00. But it’s time we all stop asking “Why?” as well.
The Chiefs, for all their bland Alex Smith-ness on offense, are extremely well coached and have a deep and talented defense, as well as a solid special teams. They rarely make mistakes, and routinely force other teams into mistakes at the most inopportune times.
That was on display again in Carolina, as the Panthers controlled the game for most of three quarters, but melted down in the fourth due to constant pressure from the Chiefs defense.
Marcus Peters ripping the ball right out of Kelvin Benjamin’s hands is a good metaphor for this game — the Chiefs usually win with toughness and Carolina’s has been questioned. So Peters said I’m tougher than you, gimme that ball, and the game turned decisively.
The Raiders and Broncos are also tough teams, and the Chiefs won’t find the same Raiders team they bullied in October when the two light up TNF in Kansas City on December 8th. The Chiefs have a very tough schedule down the stretch, with no gimme wins on the docket, save perhaps the Tampa game in Kansas City this weekend.
After that, they’re on the road against the Broncos and Falcons back-to-back, then come home for a three-game home stand against the Raiders, Titans, and Broncos before finishing out the season in San Diego against a Chargers team that likely will have nothing to lose and a ton of revenge on their minds.
That’s a brutal last seven games that could easily help decide the division. The Chiefs seem to have some kind of regular-season magic in that old silk hat they found, and they’ll need it all down the stretch.
October 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) passes the football against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
2nd Place in AFC West
Record: 7-2 Last Game: Bye Next Game: vs. Houston Texans (6-3), Monday, November 21, 8:30 EST — Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico
The Raiders went into their bye week after their most complete game of the season, a 30-20 dismantling of the Broncos where they imposed their will on the defending champions on both sides of the ball.
It was a great first half of the season for the Raiders. Better, frankly, than anyone could have expected. Now they can come out of the bye rested, healthy, and perhaps with some key pieces back on defense.
Stacy McGee has been an unsung and underrated Raider all season. With Dan Williams not the man he once was, and Jihad Ward and Justin “Jelly” Ellis struggling a bit, McGee, Denico Autry and UDFA Darius Latham are the Raiders best and most consistent interior lineman thus far.
There is also excitement for the return of Mario Edwards Jr. to help bolster the front seven. McGee practiced with the team recently, but Edwards remains sidelined with trainers. Just activated from IR, Edwards has a hip injury that is taking him longer than hoped to rehab. His versatility and pass-rush ability is sorely missed.
Aldon Smith has applied for reinstatement, though there has been no word as of yet. Regardless, a Raiders defense that has shown vast improvement over the past three weeks could potentially return at least one and as many as three key cogs in the defensive machine for the stretch run.
The Raiders non-divisional schedule is very winnable — the Texans, Panthers, Colts and Bills all at home, amidst tough road matchups against the Broncos and Chiefs. The Raiders are currently the first wild card team, and have a two-game lead for a wild card spot over the Dolphins and Titans.
Of the three division contenders, the Raiders have the softest non-divisional schedule remaining, and with three games in the last four weeks against divisional foes, control their own destiny.
As evident by their winning two-point conversion, OT walk-off TD, and multiple fourth quarter comebacks, they wouldn’t have it any other way, and have positioned themselves nicely for a stretch run to the divisional title.
Dec 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) runs the ball against Oakland Raiders cornerback David Amerson (29) during the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
3rd Place in AFC West
Record: 6-3 Last Game: defeated Saints 25-23 in New Orleans Next Game: Week 11 – BYE, Week 12 – home to Kansas City Chiefs (7-2), Sun, Nov 27 8:30 EST
Okay, come on. Will Parks stepped out of bounds. I don’t care if he played the black swan in his grade five ballet class, he didn’t tiptoe that line. He stepped out. White shoes or not, it was obvious to everyone except the three people who count.
Hence, the Saints lost a heartbreaker.
It was an amazing play by Denver’s rookie safety Justin Simmons, and great play by Parks to scoop the ball and take off. They practice that a lot, apparently. But Will, my man — ballet lessons or not — you didn’t stay in bounds.
Do you think Dean Blandino sees things like this and just wants to wall himself in a bunker and never speak to anyone again?
How many times can he give a BP-like disingenuous apology like “well we know it cost the team the game and there’s only sixteen and each count and now their chances of making the playoffs are demoed — sorry!”
Anyway, the Broncos won and that’s the bottom line. They shouldn’t have, but they did and that’s what counts. One thing is clear though — a week after the Raiders ran for over 200 yards against Denver, Drew Brees passed for over 300. Teams are not scared of this defense anymore, at least not without Aqib Talib, and good teams can run OR pass on them. That’s the takeaway here.
The Broncos need this bye week badly. Trevor Siemian isn’t 100% healthy, that’s obvious. It’s tough to stay healthy when he’s under pressure every time he drops back and smoked about half the time he throws.
The offensive line is a big problem. The Broncos haven’t averaged over 3 yards per rush in four weeks. Siemian is making a living closing his eyes and turning his back when he throws the ball.
With only the Jaguars left in their last seven games as a real true gimme game on paper — the Broncos play the Chiefs twice, the Raiders once and the Titans and Patriots in their other six — this team needs to right the ship quickly.
They look little like the bullies that started the season demolishing opponents and serving notice. They look more like a depleted team with little clue on offense. Their defense doesn’t seem quite good enough anymore to overcome those deficiencies.
The Chiefs and Raiders look very strong. The Broncos need a statement out of the bye or they risk being left behind in the division. Fortunately for them, they’re still one game up in the wild-card race.
Dec 24, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) carries the ball against San Diego Chargers cornerback Adrian Phillips (31) during the third quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Raiders defeated the San Diego Chargers 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
San Diego Chargers
4th Place in AFC West
Record: 4-6 Last Game: lost to Dolphins 31-24 at home Next Game: Week 11 bye, Week 12 at Houston Texans (6-3)
Oh, Philly Riv. Some weeks you win some, some weeks you lose some. On Sunday, you flat-out lost the game with four 4th quarter picks and some highly questionable play down the stretch.
The Chargers have had one of the stranger seasons in recent memory. If you’re not a Chargers fan it’s been high entertainment. If you are a Chargers fan — well, I’ve never met you because there aren’t many actual Chargers fans.
The Chargers have imploded out of the playoff picture despite having the easiest remaining schedule of any AFC West team. If they were within a game or two of the division lead you could make a case for them being favored, even.
The Chargers have three very winnable games remaining. They are home to the Bucs, and play the Panthers and Browns on the road. They do still have Houston on the road and the Raiders and Chiefs at home. But they have a favorable schedule compared to those of their AFC West rivals.
A historic first-week meltdown, botched field-goal snap and myriad picks at inopportune moments have made that redundant for playoff purposes. The Chargers will likely spend their remaining games trying out some new things and trying to play spoiler.
Even winning out would only give them 10 wins. At this point in the AFC is looking to be bare-minimum to grab the last wild card spot. Rivers may as well have another kid because he’s going to be home a lot this offseason.