The AFC West is an absolute mess right now, both on the field and off.
The Raiders have been perennial disappointments and may have put up their worst performance of the season against the Patriots in Mexico on Sunday. Fresh from their bye, no less. So, good-bye Ken Norton Jr. More on that later.
The division leading Chiefs have lost four of five, the last to the woeful Giants even as KC was fresh from THEIR bye.
The Broncos are in full free-fall and desperate enough to try the Paxton Lynch experiment again. They’ve lost six games in a row. So good-bye Mike McCoy. More on that later as well.
The LA Chargers, despite being 4-6, are playing the best football in the division and look to be the most dangerous team in the West right now.
What a wild season in the NFL, and it’s shown us that the AFC West is not a great division. The AFC is not a great conference. That means that everyone still has a chance. What a year. Let’s round ‘em up!
1st Place – Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)
Last Game – lost at NY Giants (2-8) 12-9 in OT
Next Game – home to Buffalo Bills (5-5), Sunday, Nov 25, 10 am PST
As I mentioned, the once 5-0 Chiefs have dropped four of their last five and are now 6-4. Their only win in that time is against a Broncos team that is in the midst of a six game free-fall.
Andy Reid was 16-2 coming off a bye in his career in the regular season. The Chiefs were an offensive juggernaut the first five weeks. The bye week and the reeling 1-8 Giants were just what they needed to get back on track.
Then, they inexplicably gave rookie sensation Kareem Hunt four touches in the first half. That led to offensive stagnation, which they couldn’t overcome all day. The Chiefs mustered three field goals against a team that had given up 82 points in their past two games. And won one game all year.
Alex Smith threw two more picks after zero in his first eight games. At least the defense showed up in this one, but they were playing the Giants.
All this has led to the Chiefs allowing the Chargers (4-6) and Raiders (4-6) to hang around within striking distance of the division title. Nobody seems to deserve it right now, but the Chiefs are doing everything they can to give it away.
Fortunately for them, they get a Bills team that has been an absolute disaster since beating the Raiders in Week 8. They’ve dropped three in a row, and a once stout defense has allowed 135 points (45 ppg!!!) in those games. They’ve mustered 55, so they’ve been outscored by 80 points in their last three games.
The Chiefs would do very well to ride Hunt into the ground in this game. During their skid, the Bills have allowed 194 yards on 41 carries (4.7 ypc) to the Jets; 298 yards on 48 carries (6.2 ypc) to the Saints; and 146 yards on 35 carries (4.2 ypc) to the Chargers. That’s a combined 638 yards on 124 carries (5.14 ypc) in three games, or an average of 212.7 ypg on 41 carries.
Hunt, despite his recent struggles, is still averaging over 5 ypc and has 873 yards on the season. It’s baffling that the Chiefs, after Hunt’s early success, have gone further away from him in recent weeks and more to Charcandrick West on passing downs. While West is a better blocker, Hunt showed in the first four games that he is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands.
Expect him to get it a lot more this weekend, and the Chiefs to continue the Bills recent woes. This one will be closer than people may expect, with Tyrod Taylor back starting for the Bills and looking to prove some things. Both teams are desperate in the hunt for the playoffs, but the Chiefs are desperate to right their season and Alex Smith desperate to keep Pat Mahomes on the bench at least one more week.
2nd Place – LA Chargers (4-6)
Last Game – defeated the Buffalo Bills (5-5) 54-24 at home
Next Game – at Dallas Cowboys (5-5), Thursday, Nov 23, 1:30 pm PST
Corky Rivers and his Sunshine Gang are the only team in the division trending upward, having won four of their last six. The last game was, as mentioned, in convincing fashion against the Bills, when they hung 54 points on the visitors.
For whatever reason the Bills thought it smart to start a rookie QB in the midst of a playoff push. After Nathan Peterman had three interceptions in his first six throws, you’d think coach Sean McDermott would admit his mistake and go back to Tyrod Taylor.
But nope. The coach stuck with the rook to the Chargers delight, and they picked him off twice more in the first half. Five interceptions in one half. Coaches can be stubborn.
Taylor came in and promptly fumbled away a ball that was returned for a touchdown but otherwise played a decent garbage-time game. The Chargers dominated this one in all facets and have now only lost to the Jags and Patriots in recent weeks.
This team is getting healthy and dangerous. Keenan Allen exploded against the Bills, with 12 catches for 159 yards and 2 TDs. Rookie Mike Williams got his feet wet with 5 catches for 38 yards, and undrafted rookie Austin Ekeler continued his stellar backup running back duties, netting another 58 scrimmage yards and scoring a TD for the fourth consecutive week.
This is all without mentioning a defense that, with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa off the edge, is stifling and scary. Kory Toomer is making the Raiders wish they kept him. Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman are stout in the middle. Tre Boston and Casey Heyward are locking down the back end. The run defense needs some work, but the pass defense is solid if not excellent.
Add this to a return of form of new/old kicker Nick Novak and this team is humming along, at least better than anyone else in the division. The Chargers have one of the easier remaining schedules of AFC playoff contenders. Only the Chiefs have a winning record amongst their last six opponents.
The time to strike is now for the Chargers, as they travel to a shell-shocked Cowboys team who have been destroyed in their past two games without Ezekiel Elliott and left tackle Tyron Smith.
Dak Prescott has been sacked 11 times, and looks like a shell of himself. Bosa and Ingram have a combined 19 sacks and 20 TFL this season. Smith practiced this week, but with a short turn-around for the Thanksgiving game it’s a big ask from a big man to be mobile enough to block these edge rushers.
All this points to the Chargers having an excellent chance to make it five of seven, and put the pressure squarely on the Chiefs and Raiders to hold serve on the weekend while they enjoy their turkey dinner.
3rd Place – Oakland Raiders (4-6)
Last Game – lost to New England Patriots (8-2) 33-8 in Mexico City
Next Game – home to Denver Broncos (3-7), Sunday, Nov 25, 1:25 pm PST
Yet another golden opportunity wasted. Mind you the Raiders were playing the Patriots, and the Patriots have been much more Patriot-like since the beginning of October. However, after the Bills, Chiefs and Titans all lost, the Raiders had a great chance to jump into the wild-card race – and get one game back of the Chiefs for the division title.
Instead, they put up a performance for the ages. A putrid, awful, embarrassing performance for the ages. Tom Brady completed his first 12 passes. You could almost see him laughing at the Raiders in the first half, as they mustered little resistance to any Patriots play-calling.
The Raiders were actually in this game and battling for a while. Dropped passes and Seth Roberts – not mutually exclusive, either – are what turned the tide in this game.
After dropping a pass that would’ve given the Raiders a first down on an earlier drive, the Raiders were mounting something. Down 14-0, the Raiders rode a Beast-like Marshawn Lynch to a late second-quarter drive. Down inside the red zone on third down, Carr hit Roberts at the five. First down.
Only Roberts starting waving the ball around like a free Thanksgiving turkey, it popped free and bam! Patriots recover, march, Stephen Gostkowski kicks a career long field goal (of course he does) and instead of 14-7, it’s 17-0. Game over, Raiders shell-shocked and recoil in horror.
After the game Jack Del Rio stubbornly clung to his belief the offense is fine, and that the team can right the ship on 95.7 The Game with Damon Bruce. At least he said he should be to blame. Finally taking some accounta…oh, wait.
Nope. Instead, he fired Ken Norton Jr. on Tuesday. Nice.
Make no mistake, leading a defense that is last in the NFL in sacks and has set an NFL record for futility in intercepting passes doesn’t merit keeping your job. But the timing, and the frustration evident from Del Rio on The Game and with Bruce’s line of questioning, makes this seem an awful lot like Norton is taking the bullet here.
Todd Downing can do no wrong in Del Rio’s eyes, but Raider Nation and even Derek Carr know better. Tony Romo pointed it out during the broadcast.
They had camera on Carr & Downing … Carr refused to even look at Downing while he was talking, even turned away shaking his head. Romo was talking about the disconnection basically
— hiSEAN808 (@Oahu_Raider808) November 20, 2017
Norton needed to go, but this timing is odd. Del Rio is losing this team and Raider Nation, and can feel it. So he made a move – one that is warranted based on performance but still stinks from the head down.
This team needs a spark, and with winnable home games against the Broncos and Giants the next two weeks (a combined 5-15 record), the Raiders can stay right in the playoff hunt in the weak AFC.
But they need to bring a spark to the field, actually look like they’re interested in playing football and win the games they should – particularly against an unproven quarterback in their home stadium.
4th Place – Denver Broncos (3-7)
Last Game – lost to Cincinnati Bengals (4-6) 20-17 at home
Next Game – at Oakland Raiders (4-6), Sun, Nov 25, 1:25 pm PST
Everyone knew the Broncos offense was weak, but their defense is still elite. Right?
Not so much lately. They’ve given up 141 points in their last four games, and 181 in the six games they’ve lost in a row. That’s roughly 30 ppg, after allowing less than 15 in their first four games.
All the while, they’ve scored 85 points in that time. Giving up 30, averaging 14. That will lose you six in a row.
Things have gotten so bad, they’re switching to their third quarterback of the season. Second year man Paxton Lynch, who hasn’t played all year while rehabbing a shoulder injury, will get his third career start.
Why not? The Broncos may be out of even the wide-open AFC playoff race, and why not see what they have in Lynch and young RB Devontae Booker at this point?
Plus, the Raiders haven’t picked off a pass all season. The Broncos just fired OC Mike McCoy and promoted Bill Musgrave. Musgrave knows the Raiders inside and out. He piloted them to the #6 overall offense in 2016. He’ll have some tricks up his sleeve and have the youngster prepared for what the Raiders have to offer.
The Broncos have little to lose in this one. They’re on the road, starting an inexperienced quarterback with a new offensive coordinator mid-week. Nobody expects them to win.
The Raiders need a win to stay in the playoff hunt. Tension is mounting amongst players and coaches, they just fired their defensive coordinator and embarrassed themselves in Mexico. All the pressure is on the Raiders in this one, giving the Broncos a chance to play loose and sweep the season series.
This division is a dumpster fire right now. The Chargers look to be the only team without a gasoline-soaked jumpsuit on. The Chargers play on Thanksgiving. What happens in their game will dictate the tone for the rest of the West on Sunday.
This division is still up for grabs, though the Chiefs two-game lead is solid if they regain form. With the AFC wide open, expect a lot of intensity and pressure this weekend. Let’s see who can handle it best.