A weekly update on the AFC West, to keep up with the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the division.
Well so much for the Chiefs running away with the division. While they still have a decent lead in the AFC West thanks to the Broncos ineptitude, two losses in a row for KC have certainly tightened things up.
What an epic game the Raiders and Chiefs waged last Thursday night. This game had everything you could want and more. And in the end, a Raiders victory kept them in the hunt and kept KC within striking distance for the rest of the division.
The division standings haven’t changed, but the overall momentum sure has. Corky Rivers and his Sunshine Gang are shining, winning their last three games. The Raiders offense woke back up, and NaVorro Bowman looks to be a key piece on defense. Players are getting healthy.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have lost two games in a row to AFC rivals, their running game has somewhat stalled in those games, and their defense is bleeding yardage. The Broncos? Well, Trevor Siemian is doing Siemian-like things that are too much for the defense to overcome. Particularly when C.J. Anderson can’t run the ball.
That’s in part because they “stole” Menelik Watson from the Raiders. That’s like stealing a lady from some dude, only to wind up with herpes. You can keep him, thanks.
The AFC West is shaping up to be competitive once again — teams are regressing to the mean. The Broncos aren’t good. The Chargers are better than people thought. The Raiders — Jekyll/Hyde right now. The Chiefs, though, are imminently beatable — their aura of invincibility now gone.
With a little over half the season left things are gonna get interesting — let’s round ’em up!
1st Place: Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
Last Game: L 31-30 at Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Next Game: vs. Denver Broncos (3-3) – Monday, October 30, 5:30pm PST
That’s two in a row now, and the Chiefs really need to shore up their defense. The Raiders put up over 500 yards of offense and KC’s usually bend-don’t-break defense broke multiple times. Mostly in the hands of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, with some support from Jared Cook.
Cooper went for 11 catches, 211 yards and two TDs. Cook was over 100 yards. Carr threw for 417 and 3 TDs.
This is a week removed from LeVeon Bell gashing them for 179 rushing yards. Oh, and Antonio Brown also went off on the Chiefs secondary with an 8-catch, 155 yd, 1 TD performance. If you’re counting at home that’s a combined 19 catches for 366 yards and 3 TDs in two weeks to top receivers.
The game in Oakland was epic. The Chiefs had multiple chances to salt it away in the fourth, but couldn’t get the stops when they needed them. The Raiders had multiple chances to win at the end due to some penalties on both sides — and finally capitalized.
If you are a fan of either of these teams your heart was simply exploding under nerves of glass. It was unbelievable, and a very fitting battle between bitter rivals with top-tier talent.
Kareem Hunt, after rushing for over 100 yards in each of his first five games, has failed to reach 100 in his past two. The Chiefs have lost both games. Though Alex Smith is playing MVP-caliber ball this season, both these losses clearly show that though he can beat teams, the Chiefs are far better off when he doesn’t have to.
The Chiefs had a stranglehold on the top seed in the AFC with a head-to-head win over New England in their pocket. They now find themselves behind Pittsburgh with that head-to-head loss. They just cannot beat the Steelers in the Mike Tomlin era. Since his hiring in 2008, the Chiefs are 2-6 against the Steelers, including playoffs. Yikes.
This team really needs to figure out how to stop opposing receivers. For all his hype and antics — and love from Marshawn Lynch — Marcus Peters has been decidedly un-Pro Bowl like this season. He’s been burned multiple times in multiple games for big games and plenty of “tugs”.
Fortunately, since their bye, the Broncos are the cure for what ails sagging pass defenses. This is a very important game for the division. If the Broncos win this game they are a mere half game back of KC for the division lead, with a head-to-head win in hand. If the Chiefs win, the Broncos fall further back and risk falling behind both the Raiders and Chargers if those teams win as well.
2nd Place: Denver Broncos (3-3)
Last Game: L 21-0 at LA Chargers (3-4)
Next Game: at Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) – Monday, October 30, 5:30pm PST
As many thought before the season began, the Broncos are now struggling on offense. Granted it took longer than expected, but here we are. To the tune of being shut out in a soccer stadium by the rival Chargers.
Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are monsters, so it’s no surprise that the Chargers defense is stout. But shutout stout? Maybe if you employ a terrible offensive line, inept running game and game-manager type QB that…oh, right.
The Broncos are reeling right now. After beating the Raiders at home to head into their bye, they were feeling pretty good. Those halcyon days are long gone. As is a long-standing streak the Broncos wore with pride:
The Broncos' NFL-best 394-game scoring streak has ended. Shutout for the first time since November 1992.
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) October 22, 2017
Since the bye, the Broncos are 0-2 and have scored 10 points. They lost to a winless Giants team in ugly fashion, and then looked overmatched everywhere against the Chargers. This defense is still excellent, but not good enough to overcome the kind of offensive ineptitude on display the past two weeks.
What kind? How about a combined 8/31 (26%) on third-down, along with a total of 115 rushing yards on 36 attempts, for 3.2 ypc. Throw in a couple of lost fumbles and three combined picks for Siemian and you have 5 points per game and two losses.
The offensive line is putrid. Watson has a horrendous Pro Football Focus rating of 38.7, one of the lowest in the league. He doesn’t discriminate, being equally bad in both run and pass blocking. Rookie Garett Bolles showed promise early but has regressed. Things have gotten bad in Denver…
— Mike DelliVeneri (@mikeDELLI) October 22, 2017
However Vance Joseph confirmed Siemian is the unquestioned starter. Okay then. Have fun scoring points against the Chiefs, who will be angry, at home, and ready to stomp a division rival after last week’s craziness.
3rd Place: Los Angeles Chargers (3-4)
Last Game: W 21-20 vs. Denver Broncos (3-3)
Next Game: at New England Patriots (5-2)- Sunday, October 29, 10:00am PST
The Chargers are rolling right now, and it’s in large part due to their defense as well. However unlike the Broncos, the Chargers have a decent QB in Philip Rivers, and despite multiple injuries their offensive line is actually playing decently.
Melvin Gordon is in the midst of a break-out season as a pass catcher, and wants the ball more. Bosa and Ingram are edge animals, leaving the middle open for Jatvous Brown and others to capitalize and stay clean off blocks.
This is a team putting it all together at the right time and riding the momentum of a three game winning streak, two of which came against divisional rivals. After being so ugly for the first month in LA, life is pretty good for Corky and the Gang right now.
A heavyweight tilt with the Patriots in Foxborough awaits on Sunday. This will be a true test to see if the Chargers are ready to enter the playoff hunt — or if they’re just on a nice little surge. Expecting a win in New England is a tall task but the Chargers have just the players and style to do it.
If Bosa and Ingram can get consistent pressure without having to blitz, Brady will get flustered. It just happens. Then feed Gordon the rock and watch the Patriots subpar rush defense try to defend him and Austin Ekeler. Play ball control, force at least one turnover, and limit big plays. Boom!
That would take the Chargers to 4-4 and in the thick of the wild-card hunt. Jacksonville is idle this week. The Ravens and Dolphins play each other. So do the Raiders and Bills. There are plenty of AFC playoff implication games this weekend and another Chargers win would keep pace in the division and could jump them up a few spots in the hunt.
4th Place: Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Last Game: W 31-30 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
Next Game: at Buffalo Bills (4-2) – Sunday, October 29, 10:00am PST
Four minutes left, and the Raiders kick to Tyreek Hill. They’ve just blown a chance to put points on the board in a one-score game and time is running out.
Cordarrelle Patterson makes a textbook tackle on Hill. No gain. Raiders defense, led by newcomer NaVorro Bowman in the middle and the monster Khalil Mack on the edge, stuff the Chiefs and force a quick punt.
Raiders get the ball back with a little over two minutes left, down six, one timeout left. Cue Derek Carr and what he does best — fire darts in winning time.
Biggest play of the drive is a 4th down conversion to Jared Cook, who is a revelation on this night.
HUGE throw and catch of 4th down. pic.twitter.com/aBRYeilYrH
— Evan Groat (@Egroat5) October 21, 2017
Shortly thereafter Carr floats a beautiful fade down the left sideline. Cook leaps higher than a man that size should be able to and high points the ball, coming down in the end zone with clear control. Touchdown Raiders!! Game over!
Nope. Cook is short of the goal-line by about a foot. There’s 18 seconds left — only, because the Cook play needed review, there’s a 10-second run-off. So the Raiders have a chance to win, 8 seconds left (on a running clock) on the one-foot line. Carr throws a strike to Michael Crabtree. Touchdown Raiders! Game over!
Nope. Offensive pass interference (ehhh….could’ve gone either way) on Crabs. Now it’s 1st and Goal from the 11-yard line — 3 seconds left. Ball snapped, Carr to Cook — he’s open! He…let’s it sail through his hands. Game over. Raiders lose.
Nope. Defensive holding (clearly was). Raiders 1st & Goal from the 60yard line, no time on the clock. Untimed down. Ball snapped. Carr rolls around a bit, sees Patterson back of the end zone. Fires a strike, Patterson catches it — touchdown Raiders! Game over!!
Nope. Patterson catches the ball out of bounds. Time over. Raiders lose.
Nope. ANOTHER defensive holding call (a little more questionable than the first — but still legit). Another untimed down. 3-yard line. Ball snapped. Carr rolls out, strike to Crab right at the left pylon. Touchdown Raiders!! Game over!!
For really real this time. It’s confirmed. What a finish and what a game. Saved the season for this team.
"I am so proud of this group of men."
Coach Del Rio breaks it down in Thursday night's victory speech. pic.twitter.com/44D03W2FTk
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) October 20, 2017
Now on to Buffalo, against a stout defense and a team playing with sky-high confidence. LeSean McCoy got on track last week. The young secondary is fantastic — although Jordan Poyer may be out for this game.
The Raiders need this game, badly. They are in much the same boat as the Chargers in that 3-5 is far worse than 4-4, and with the Chargers, Dolphins, Jaguars and Texans all playing top-tier football recently it’s imperative to keep pace not only with divisional opponents but wild-card competitors as well.
They’ll be without Lynch, and a homecoming to Buffalo would’ve been fun. But Lynch was rightfully suspended for charging onto the field from the bench and making contact with an official. Elijah Hood was activated to take his spot for this game and he’ll combine with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to run the ball. The Raiders would be really wise to have Jamize Olawale get involved in the run and pass game out of the backfield as well.
And free Shalom Luani. It’s time. We need a spark. Nelson is too slow, McGill can’t catch. Free Shalom.
Living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, I get few opportunities to actually go to a Raiders game live. But I’ll be there Sunday in full regalia, screaming my face off and pushing the Raiders toward a key victory to keep hopes alive.
It’s gotta happen.