A weekly update on the AFC West, to keep up with the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the division.
Well, a week after it looked like the Chiefs would run away with the AFC West, they go into Dallas and drop a big one.
The Raiders, meanwhile, kept their vague postseason hopes on life-support with a much-needed win over the Dolphins.
The Broncos were decimated by the Eagles, who look like the best team in the NFL at the moment. Of course, that changes week to week.
And Corky Rivers and the Sunshine Gang? Well, they enjoyed a bye week to rest up and get ready to ride some positive momentum for the rest of the season. The Chargers, due to the sad state of the AFC overall, are still in this thing.
Without further ado, let’s check in on the teams fighting for the AFC West crown and a potential wild-care for the runner-up. Let’s round em’ up!
1st Place: Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)
Last Week: L 28-17 at Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
This Week: Bye
The Chiefs are actually limping a little into their bye, though few are talking about it. After starting the season 5-0 behind a potent and exciting offense, they’ve dropped three of their last four games.
This coincides with a drop-off in rookie RB sensation Kareem Hunt’s usage and production. Hunt went for over 100 scrimmage yards his first seven games. The Chiefs went 5-2. He hasn’t in their past two games, and they are 1-1.
Hunt hasn’t scored a TD since Week 3, making the Chiefs more dependent on Alex Smith than they’d like. Though he’s answered the bell this season, that’s not the game plan Andy Reid wants to run. Or is it?
Kareem Hunt got Andy Reid'd today. NINE carries for Hunt? Just 65% snap share? Totally bizarre. #Chiefs
— James Koh (@JamesDKoh) November 6, 2017
You’ve gotta think Hunt is the horse to ride the remainder of the year. But Andy Reid does some strange things. One thing he does as well — win after bye weeks. He has a 19-3 record in his career when he has an extra week to prepare, including playoffs. He’s pretty good at getting his teams ready.
Tamba Hali played well in limited duty in his return from PUP on Sunday, and another week of rest should bode well. The Chiefs line struggled without stalwart guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and he wasn’t 100% in his return against the Cowboys.
Bottom line, the Chiefs are still in excellent position to win the West, up two games with seven to play. But they’ve fallen off in recent weeks, and it’s a direct correlation to poor line play and a struggling running game. Expect the Chiefs to spend their bye week getting their offensive line healthy and cohesive again, resting up Hunt, Hali, and Houston for the stretch run, and game-planning to get their dynamic rookie back a lot more involved when they return to play the Giants in New York in Week 11.
2nd Place: Oakland Raiders (4-5)
Last Week: W 27-24 at Miami Dolphins (4-4)
This Week: Bye
The Raiders also have a bye this week, and they need it. Derek Carr is playing well but tentatively, possibly because his back is still hurting. A week off should do wonders for his physical and mental health.
Though the victory wasn’t as decisive on the scoreboard as Raider Nation would like, a win is a win and the Raiders needed that win desperately. With the Bills, Ravens, Broncos, and Chiefs all losing it was imperative the Raiders beat another AFC playoff contender in Miami on Sunday night.
Beast Mode returned from his one-game suspension with a vengeance. Being used sporadically as he has been all season, he produced 57 yards on 14 carries (4.1 YPC) and scored two touchdowns with his trademark toughness. He even caught two passes for six yards.
A lot of people have been tossing dirt on Marshawn’s NFL career this season, burying him prematurely. But some key stats show that he’s producing when he gets the ball — he just isn’t getting it that much, which is definitely by design.
Among RBs with 75+ carries this season, #Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch ranks 4th in forced missed tackles per attempt (0.209) and 5th in yards after contact per attempt (3.08).
He's still #good.
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) November 8, 2017
Lynch gets another week of rest, but most importantly, so does the Raiders defense.
Cory James is ailing. So is Marquel Lee. Obi Melifonwu looks healthy but another week of rest couldn’t hurt (although game reps matter). Reggie Nelson is old and slow. Sean Smith is too, but he’s regaining some confidence.
This secondary is poor. Jay Cutler threw for over 300 yards and 3 TDs. He hasn’t done that in three years. The Raiders also don’t have an interception through nine games, which is unprecedented in NFL history.
Will Gareon Conley play again this season? That’s the question of the bye week, as the staff is planning to evaluate him to determine whether to shut him down for 2017 or whether he can go the remainder of the year.
The offense has shown some life in their past two games — albeit they did go into full abandonment mode in Buffalo — and should build on that during the bye week. It’s no doubt Jack Del Rio, Todd Downing, and Derek Carr have all heard the incessant criticism of the 2017 offense and how stagnant it is at most times.
Getting a win going into the bye is nice, but things don’t get any easier coming out. In Week 11 the Raiders get the Patriots in Mexico City, followed by two very winnable home games against the Broncos and Giants. Then, it gets really tough.
In their final four games of the season, the Raiders are at Kansas City, home to the Cowboys, and finish with a double-dip on the road against the Eagles and the Chargers. Combined record of those four? 23-11 (.676).
Defensive adjustments in the passing game and offensive adjustments in the running game are the key cogs to getting this team back on track and playing their best football at the most important time of the year.
3rd Place: Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)
Last Week: Bye
This Week: at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3), 10:00 am PST, Sunday, November 12
Corky and the Gang come off their bye and head right into the heart of the NFL’s top scoring defense. The Jaguars are no joke. They lead the NFL in sacks (35). They’ve given up only four touchdown passes all season, and their 156.4 passing yards allowed is a full 20+ yards better than the next best team (Steelers — 180.0 YPG).
The Jags give up yardage on the ground. The Chargers have Melvin Gordon. Gordon is one of the best all-around backs in the NFL, and after a week off to rest his ailments should be ready to rock.
The Chargers played their way back into contention with a three-game winning streak prior to dropping to the Patriots 21-13 just before their bye. They had to be encouraged with the relative carnage in the AFC last weekend, and know they are still in this thing.
This game should be a battle of ground games and defenses, and the Chargers boast the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. The Jaguars still boast Blake Bortles. Leonard Fournette is pretty good — so expect the Jags to run the ball quite a bit.
The Chargers, like the Raiders, have a rough end-of-season schedule. They travel to Jacksonville this week, then host the Bills, are in Dallas to take on the Cowboys, get a reprieve in hosting the Browns, and then host the Redskins. Their final three games consist of two road games against the Chiefs and Jets before returning home for the season finale against the Raiders.
Although not as much of a gauntlet as the Raiders have to run, the Jags, Jets, Redskins, Cowboys, Chiefs and Raiders will all be fighting hard for playoff positions and seeding. Only the Browns look like an easy mark, and with Myles Garrett healthy and any given Sunday, who knows? That would certainly make Rivers mad, giving me an excuse to sneak in a Rivers gif:
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 29, 2017
The AFC playoff race is shaping up to be a good one that could come down to the final game between the Raiders and the Sunhine Gang in Week 17. How it should be.
4th Place: Denver Broncos (4-5)
Last Week: L 51-23 vs. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)
This Week: vs. New England Patriots (6-2), 5:00 pm PST, Sunday, November 12
With epic struggles in the run game and at the quarterback position, the Broncos defense has been largely responsible for keeping the team in games — or keeping games respectable.
The Broncos started 3-0 and surprised people with an efficient offense. Trevor Siemian played well and allowed defense and time of possession to dictate three wins to open the season.
The Bills embarrassed the Broncos in Buffalo in Week 4. But the Bills are 4-0 at home this season and have a stout defense. The Broncos bounced back with a hard-fought 16-10 victory at home over the Raiders — one they were lucky to escape with.
Since then they have lost four straight games, and the past two weren’t even competitive. Siemian melted down, throwing 8 picks in three games and was unceremoniously benched for Brock Osweiler last week.
That sentence says everything you need to know — the Broncos benched their QB for Brock Osweiler. Who couldn’t even win the Browns starting job. Yikes.
And he’s behind one of the worst lines in the NFL. That’s a recipe for disaster right there. A statue-still QB who takes a while to go through his progressions behind a leaky offensive line. Again, yikes. Fans are in agreement:
The Denver Broncos 2017 season… pic.twitter.com/qUgrbmLqls
— Leora*Broncos*Ruzin (@LeoraKitty78) November 5, 2017
The defense is still stout, but bleeding points. Over the past two games the Broncos have allowed 80 points. They allowed 51 points and 419 yards to the Eagles on 6.3 yards per play. This is with the Eagles up huge in the early 3rd quarter and scaling things back a bit.
The game before, the Chiefs hung 29 points on them — but this was due to turnovers. The defense gave up only 267 yards that game, and held the Chiefs to 18% 3rd-down efficiency. But that Philly game.
They come back off their worst performance in recent memory and face a rested and hungry Tom Brady-led Patriots team. Brady doesn’t play well against Denver, or in Denver. You can bet he wants to remedy that.
The Patriots will be mostly healthy as well, although they did just put D’Onta Hightower on IR. Expect the Patriots to come out and follow the Eagles pattern of running the ball early and taking some shots. Carson Wentz wasn’t afraid of Aqib Talib — you can bet Tom Brady won’t be either.
The AFC West isn’t guaranteed to Kansas City quite yet, though they are in good shape. All teams in the division have a shot at the playoffs depending on how the rest of the season shakes out. With the Chargers and Broncos playing other AFC playoff contenders it’s tough to say who the Chiefs and Raiders will be rooting for this weekend.
Regardless, they’ll be doing it while resting up for the stretch run.