Wild, Wild AFC West: Making Sense of the NFL’s Best Division

It doesn’t get much wilder than the tight AFC West in the 2016 NFL season. But as the league’s best division, how can we make sense of it?

It was a classic matchup under the lights in Week 9 of the NFL Season: Denver Broncos vs. the Oakland Raiders in the Oakland Coliseum. The nation hadn’t been treated to a Sunday Night Football game in Oakland in years, but it was well worth the wait.

Some in the Bay Area were concerned that their beloved Raiders would collapse under the pressure and lose, but the opposite was the case. The Raiders, a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002, came out guns blazing. Contrarily, it was the Super Bowl Champion Broncos who looked overwhelmed and outmatched. The Black Hole was in full force and the Raiders—with a 30-20 victory—took sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

Coming off a Raider-record 513 yards passing a week before, quarterback Derek Carr and the Raiders offense showed that they are not just one-dimensional, as they ran for 218 yards, including 114 yards and three touchdowns by starter Latavius Murray. Not to be outshined, the defense made plays all night long, holding the Broncos to just 13 first downs, 3-for-11 on third down, and 33 yards rushing. It was a team win for the Raiders, and with it, they quickly became the favorites to win the division.

But the three other teams aren’t out of it just yet either. The Raiders, Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Diego Chargers have combined for 23 wins, the most in any division through Week 9. The Raiders have won three games in a row, the Chiefs four in a row, the Chargers three of their last four, and prior to Sunday night, the Broncos had a two-game winning streak of their own. With eight weeks left to go in the NFL season, the division is still wide open and one has to wonder if the playoffs will have three teams coming out of it (one division winner, two Wild Card berths).

Each team has their strengths and weaknesses. The Raiders, as mentioned, have shown to have a complete team and are 5-0 on the road. However, their defense is still amongst the worst statistically in the league and the team only has a +22 point differential on the season. The Broncos defense is still an elite unit, but injuries are slowing starting to catch up with them. Quarterback Trevor Siemian has looked good at times and bad at other times. What’s more, the running game has struggled since C.J. Anderson was placed on injured reserve.

The Chiefs are 4-0 at home and 2-0 within the division. They have won games with Nick Foles at quarterback and without Pro Bowlers Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston. Coach Andy Reid has done a masterful job at getting his team ready to play each week, but there are still some concerns about the offense and if they have the ability to score enough points.

On the other hand, scoring enough points has not been an issue for the Chargers, but they’re allowing over 27 points per game and are decimated by injuries. They have lost four games by six points or less (including a one point loss to the New Orleans Saints and a three point loss to the Raiders) and are just 1-3 within the division. Needless to say, out of the four teams, the Chargers’ path to the playoffs seems a little more murky. But you can never count Philip Rivers out at any time.

Divisional games always have more weight than other games because of tie breakers and such, but these divisional games could truly decide if a team wins the division (or even makes the playoffs) or not. Week 12 (Chiefs at Broncos), Week 13 (Raiders at Chiefs), and Week 17 (Raiders at Broncos) could be the deciding factors at how this division plays out. You’d like to think that the 7-2 Oakland Raiders have the leg-up on their competition. But this is the NFL and anything can happen. Regardless, it’s been (and will be) great to watch all of it unfold in the truly crazy and wild AFC West!

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