Week 11 AFC West Roundup

A weekly update on the AFC West, to keep up with the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the division.

It’s Monday night in Mexico City. The first Monday night football game ever played outside of the United States. Denver is on a bye and Kansas City just lost. The Raiders have a golden opportunity to seize back sole possession of the AFC West lead.

And they do just that.

Typical excellent play in winning time from QB Derek Carr — coupled with controversial calls that atypically went in their favor — helped the Raiders beat Houston to move to 8-2 and regain sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

The Chargers had a bye — Rivers threw two picks in his kid’s high school scrimmage — and they aren’t really in the mix for the division title anyway. However, with games left against the Raiders and Chiefs, and other AFC playoff hopeful Texans, they can easily play spoiler.

With the division still playing each other and the Broncos and Chiefs still in the two wild card spots, high drama is about to ensue. The Raiders have positioned themselves well to not only garner their first winning season since 2002, but to contend for the #1 seed in the AFC. It won’t be easy, and they’re still very young, but they’ve put themselves in great position.

The road won’t be easy for any of the top three, but they’re in the best possible position they could be in at the moment.

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) congratulates running back Latavius Murray (28) after Murray rushed for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) congratulates running back Latavius Murray (28) after Murray rushed for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders

1st Place in AFC West

Record: 8-2
Last Game: defeated Houston (6-4) 27-20 in Mexico City
Next Game: vs. Carolina Panthers (4-6) Sunday, November 27th at 4:25pm EST

The Raiders got just enough offense when it counted from Derek Carr and Amari Cooper to pull the Monday night game out in Houston.

Did Akeem Hunt get the first down? The call on field was no. Replay review said no. It’s one of those plays that if it’s called the other way, you can’t really argue. But it wasn’t. So advantage Raiders.

Any controversy aside, the defense again deserves praise for coming up with a key stop when it counted. They’ve been doing that a lot recently.

Did Nuk Hopkins step out of bounds? Again, if they let it go it’s too close to overturn and you can’t argue. But they didn’t. There are pictures around that show his foot seemingly out. There is video where he appears in-bounds the entire time.

You can only play the game in front of you and the Raiders should make no apologies for benefitting from two close calls. We all know enough calls have gone the other way in Oakland’s history. The point is, this team made the most of gifts they were given.

A well-travelled and vocal Raider Nation loved every second of it. After years of suffering this fan base isn’t apologizing for anything and loving every minute of it.

Again Carr showed he’s clutch, and again the Raiders showed they can win any type of game. This was a fairly sloppy affair, the Raiders getting stopped in the run game while allowing some yardage on the ground to Lamar Miller.

One game removed from 218 tough yards against a good Broncos defense, the Raiders couldn’t muster 50 — they had 35 — and were largely one-dimensional. With some runs called at questionable times and down and distance, this was not Bill Musgrave’s greatest game of 2016.

Jadeveon Clowney is turning into the player the Texans hoped for when they drafted him #1 overall. He was a game-wrecker from the first play from scrimmage, when he dropped Jalen Richard for a loss. Donald Penn struggled for the first time this season as Clowney manhandled him much of the night, and was the main reason the Raiders couldn’t run the ball.

This weekend, the Raiders get a Panthers team coming off long rest and a tight win over New Orleans. Carolina’s defense has greatly improved since their week 8 bye, but they may be without their most important piece.

Luke Kuechly is still in concussion protocol, and as of this writing there is no timetable for his return. Kuechly is one of the best — if not the best — and most versatile linebackers in football, and definitely the heart of the Panthers defense.

They will still have their soul in Thomas Davis, an ageless wonder who is apparently getting better as time wears on. But without Kuechly the Raiders should re-establish their running game and assert some early will.

That is important, because despite their 4-6 record Carolina is a dangerous team with Cam Newton leading the charge and a stout defense even without Kuechly in the middle. The Raiders need this game to maintain or increase their lead. With Denver and KC playing each other, it’s all the more important.

Oct 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (32) is brought down by Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Cory James (57) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (32) is brought down by Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Cory James (57) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs

2nd Place in AFC West

Record: 7-3
Last Game: lost at home to Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) 19-17
Next Game: at Denver Broncos (7-3) Sun, Nov 27, 8:30 EST

The Chiefs-Broncos game got flexed into the Sunday night slot because it means a lot to a lot of teams right now. These two teams currently sit one game behind the Raiders for the AFC West lead. The Chiefs occupy the first wild card spot. The Broncos occupy the second.

The Dolphins, Titans, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, and other AFC playoff hopefuls will be tuning in with a watchful eye. As will the Raiders, of course.

The Chiefs finally lost a game they deserved to lose. After doing just enough to win at the right times basically all season — except for a blowout loss to Pittsburgh and a blowout win over the Raiders — they couldn’t muster enough magic late to beat the Bucs in Arrowhead without Marcus Peters.

They’d won 18 of 20 regular season games. 14 in a row at Arrowhead. They were, at the time, in first place in the AFC West. Yet it always seemed like the other shoe was about to drop.

And Roberto Aguayo’s right one did, to the tune of a Cairo Santos-like four field goals for the win.

I wish I could remember who said it, but the best quote of the weekend, from the funny because it’s true column: “the Bucs out-Chiefed the Chiefs.”

They sure did. They comfortably won time of possession, had excellent third-down efficiency and played sound defense. When they did drive the ball, they mostly stalled but their kicker came through. They got a key turnover at a key time.

They out-Chiefed the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have talent, and they are well coached. But as long as Andy Reid and Alex Smith play it safe until they’re forced not to they keep weaker teams in the game. That they won 18 of 20 games is, frankly, a miracle. Not even the Patriots can do that and they’re routinely the gold standard.

Some credit is due, but the curtain got pulled back and Oz is not so great and powerful. We shall see what they have to bring against the Broncos, who will be well-rested and prepared for the Chiefs in a very important divisional tilt.

Whoever loses this game could fall two games behind the Raiders if Oakland wins. Whoever wins could be tied for first if Oakland loses. The divisional race has one game separating three teams. The wild card race has at least six other teams with a stake in this outcome.

The Chiefs are going to have to do a bit more than they have been in recent weeks to win this one.

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

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

Denver Broncos

3rd Place in AFC West

Record: 7-3
Last Game: Bye
Next Game: vs. Kansas City Chiefs (7-3)

The Broncos bye week came at an ideal time, with QB Trevor Siemian needing to rest a bad shoulder and all-world corner Aqib Talib recovering from injury.

Talib and stout DT Derek Wolfe are both back at full strength, and the Broncos defense is as full and healthy as it’s been all season.  That’s bad news for a Chiefs team who struggled to move the ball against a Bucs defense that hasn’t been great. The Bucs are 26th in total defense. The Broncos are 4th.

If the Broncos didn’t find a running game and Siemian’s shoulder is still wonky, it may not really matter.

Paxton Lynch showed he wasn’t ready in his only start against the Falcons earlier this season, and though Siemian is no — ahem — Derek Carr, the Broncos are 7-2 with him at the helm and he’s been mostly effective.

He’s surely not the long-term answer but if Devontae Booker and the Broncos running game improve he can manage the game well enough. The Broncos got manhandled by the Raiders and nearly lost to the Saints due to their inability to run the ball or stop the run effectively.

Spencer Ware is dangerous for the Chiefs. Latavius Murray and company showed in Week 9 the Broncos are vulnerable on the ground. Expect the Chiefs to take the air out, especially with Talib back, and depend heavily on Ware.

With Charcandrick West in concussion protocol and Jamaal Charles unfortunately unable to heal, Ware is pretty much it in the backfield. Conversely, expect the Broncos to load the box and force Smith to air it out to beat them.

If they wish to back up recent talk from John Elway about a return to the Super Bowl, the Broncos need to play better on offense and they need this game. Losing and falling behind the Chiefs and Raiders wouldn’t bode well in a deep AFC West.

Oct 25, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; (Editors note: Caption correction) Oakland Raider wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) runs for a touchdown after making a second quarter catch as San Diego Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget (94) and cornerback Jason Verrett (22) give chase at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 25, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; (Editors note: Caption correction) Oakland Raider wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) runs for a touchdown after making a second quarter catch as San Diego Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget (94) and cornerback Jason Verrett (22) give chase at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego Chargers

4th Place in AFC West

Record: 3-7
Last Game: Bye
Next Game: at Houston Texans (6-4)

There’s not much to say about the Chargers this week. They had a bye last week. They don’t play an AFC West rival this week. Rivers still threw two picks.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about them right now is where they may end up playing next year, and that Houston is clinging to a slim lead in their own division and needs this win badly.

You can only write “team screws themselves” so many times, so many ways. You would think the English language would allow for more descriptors — but the Chargers have been that self-destructive.

A few things they can take away from this season: Hunter Henry, Jatavis Brown, and Tyrell Williams are ballers. Joey Bosa is already becoming a game-wrecker. There are some really nice pieces here.

Melvin Gordon is as advertised and runs hard and tough, and scores lots of touchdowns.

Philip Rivers will lose you as many games as he will win you at this point, because he’s trying to do it all himself. Is it time to package Rivers to a QB-needy team for some picks while/if they can still get something for him?

The Chargers may rightly feel Rivers didn’t have a fair shake with so many injuries to key players. One more season to see what a fully healthy roster can do may be in the cards.

It’s fairly remarkable how well they’ve played considering the pieces they’ve lost, and it’s worth exploring this roster one more time before blowing it up.

Either way this game will be entertaining for people who like uninspiring quarterback play on one side against over-the-top competitiveness on the other. Who will throw more picks? Who will win the game? Will Osweiler’s traveling laser show be there?

The Chargers are flying across the country for a 1 pm start. They’re playing a desperate team who needs a win to stave off surging division rivals. The Texans just lost a tough one on some rough calls in Mexico.

Good luck, San Diego. Stay classy.

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