A weekly update on the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the AFC West.
And now there are two. Two teams tied for the AFC West lead, that is, in the Chiefs and Chargers. They play each other this weekend in a game that will go a long way in determining the course of the AFC playoff race.
The Raiders are likely out of the picture now. After blowing a golden opportunity against the Chiefs last weekend, the Raiders are now 6-7 and behind the Bills, Chiefs, Chargers and Ravens in the playoff race. They’ve lost to all four of those teams.
There are some ways the Raiders could still get in – but they have to be MUCH better than they’ve been. And they need help. Not often you cheer for the Chargers – but that’s where Raider Nation is at right now. The best chance is the Chargers beating the Chiefs tonight, and the Raiders winning out.
The Broncos have put together a two game winning streak – but they’re done. It’s pretty much the Chiefs and the Chargers now – with Saturday’s game the biggest of the season.
This division started out looking strong but each team has had a major lull this season. As a result it’s a messy, sloppy division that is now the surging Chargers for the taking.
Disappointing for the Raiders and Broncos to say the least. Interesting for the Chargers and the Chiefs, to be sure. Without further ado, let’s round ’em up!
1st Place – Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)
Last Game – beat Oakland Raiders (6-7) 26-15 at home
Next Game – at home to LA Chargers (7-6) Sat Dec 16, 5:30 PST
The Chiefs got a huge victory at home against the Raiders last weekend to remain in the driver’s seat in the AFC West. With one win over the Chargers already, a win Saturday would give them the head-to-head tie-breaker and a one game lead with two games left.
Kareem Hunt got back to his main man role against Oakland, and the Chiefs won the game. That makes them
4-0 when Hunt rushes for over 100 yards, and 7-1 when he is over 100 scrimmage yards. Suffice it to say, their success is tied to him.
The Chiefs pounced on a listless and uninspired Raider team to seize a 26-0 lead that proved insurmountable. The Raiders didn’t score until the fourth quarter and the final score was much closer than the actual game.
The Chiefs dominated from opening snap on both sides of the ball, controlling the time of possession with Hunt and making plays over the top to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. They looked far more like the team that started 5-0 than the one that lost 6 of 7 games, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The win basically sunk the Raiders playoff chances while enabling the Chiefs to keep pace with the surging Chargers for first place. Now they play each other in the most important game of the season.
Alex Smith has been less dynamic recently, and the Chargers pass defense is second to none in both rush and coverage. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are animals, while safety Desmond King has proven a versatile rusher/coverage man recently. Casey Heyward is one of the most underrated corners in the NFL – the Chiefs would do well to ride Hunt again, particularly on the ground, and have his talents open up the underneath and middle passing games.
Without that, the Chargers can control the clock with their own ground game and let Philip Rivers feast on a suspect KC pass defense. The Chiefs are at home and Arrowhead is a big factor – but the Chargers are playing better football recently.
It will be interesting to see the game plan the Chiefs approach this game with but if it doesn’t involve a heavy dose of Kareem Hunt they’ll likely be looking up at Corky and the Gang when this one is all over.
2nd Place – Los Angeles Chargers (7-6)
Last Game – beat Cleveland Browns (0-13) 19-10 at home
Next Game – at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6), Sat Dec 16, 5:30 PST
Corky Rivers and the Sunshine Gang are on a roll. Granted, they’ve played bad teams or teams playing badly at the time (Bills, Browns, Cowboys) but they’ve still won four in row.
They’ve done it with the passing game on both sides. As mentioned, their pass rush and pass defense is ferocious. They’re #3 in the NFL (200.3 ypg) in pass defense, and tied for 5th in sacks with 37.
On offense, Rivers has been a machine. During the four-game win streak, Rivers has thrown for 1348 yards (337 ypg) with 8 TDs, no INTs and has only been sacked four times. He is playing some of the best football of his career, and with a finally healthy Keenan Allen and emergent Hunter Henry replacing Antonio Gates at TE, he has weapons all over the field.
The Chargers are a dangerous team – they always have been, but they seem to find ways to beat themselves. They aren’t doing that lately, and teams can’t seem to beat them without that self-destruction. With Melvin Gordon running hard, Rivers throwing impeccably and the defense rolling, this is a scary team right now.
The Chiefs have the same elements, but their passing offense and defense lag behind that of the Chargers. Saturday’s epic game for the division lead will come down to who can impose their will, gameplan, and control time of possession. The AFC is still wide-open and a loss won’t kill either team – but a win would make either feel a lot better.
With their offensive versatility and defensive stoutness in recent weeks, the Chargers are likely to walk out of Arrowhead the division leaders unless KC can keep the ball out away from Rivers – and the Chargers secondary.
3rd Place – Oakland Raiders (6-7)
Last Game – lost to Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) 26-15 in Kansas City
Next Game – home to Dallas Cowboys (7-6), Sun Dec 17, 5:30 PST
The stars aligned for the Raiders – and they still blew it. The Chiefs kept losing and opening the door. Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension was upheld, taking him out of the Cowboys game. Carson Wentz – unfortunately – got injured. Stars aligned.
The Raiders were in Kansas City last weekend with still more breaks going their way. Marcus Peters had a team suspension. Key Chiefs were injured for the game. What a chance to seize an opportunity.
So of course the Raiders didn’t show up for the first 45 minutes. Oh they did show urgency for about five minutes. But it was already over. It was painful to watch, embarrassing and downright discouraging. With everything on the line and a chance to vault into a great position going forward they played disgustingly passionless and uninspired football.
Derek Carr was terrible, a paltry 24/41 (58%) with one TD and two picks. But that didn’t tell the story – he was skittish, tentative, frightened and unwilling to throw downfield. Whether play-calling or Carr’s play, it was pitiful. It’s been sad to watch this once proud QB playing like a shell of himself so often this season.
Marshawn Lynch was again in Beast Mode – as he has been for the past few weeks – but the game script only allowed him seven carries. He still turned those carries into 61 yards and a touchdown, but it was far too little on a day when the passing game was non-existent.
The defense put up little resistance as the Chiefs put up 26 points in the first three quarters and scored at will. Although statistics say the pass defense played decently, the Chiefs passed effectively when needed and then just ran it down their throats (33 carries, 165 yards, 5 ypc) the rest of the time.
The Raiders season isn’t officially over – but it does feel that way. They’re playing a Cowboys team that has learned how to win without Elliott the last two weeks, and who got back Sean Lee and are playing for their own playoff lives. Alfred Morris is still a good running back, and Rod Smith is a dangerous weapon they’re learning to use. The Raiders are in trouble in prime-time on Sunday.
They also trail the Chargers, Chiefs, Ravens and Bills by a game – and have lost to each.
This team, based on the way they’ve played and the lack of accountability from Jack Del Rio in his own failings, do not deserve to make the playoffs. Del Rio has coached the most games in NFL history (184) without winning a division title.
This is a dubious record to hold, as he’s had talented teams in Jacksonville and now Oakland. Yet nothing ever seems to be his fault, as he fires coaches at an alarming rate.
Now, CB Breon Borders has been claimed from the practice squad – and put squarely on the Bills 53-man roster. It’s rumoured they may lose DE Fadol Brown as well. Two promising rookies, plucked away while the secondary struggles and Jihad Ward still occupies a roster spot. Baffling.
Couple that with season destroying injuries to Oakland’s first 2017 picks (CB Gareon Conley and S Obi Melifonwu) and a lot of people aren’t happy with Reggie McKenzie’s management at the moment either. This team was supposed to contend, and instead has mostly been just plain bad since Week 2.
Things are messy in Oakland, beyond anything loyal fans could expect after seeming to emerge from over a decade of darkness. Yet here we are, with the Raiders at 6-7, a difficult schedule remaining and all tie-breaker scenarios working against them. Derek Carr is angry and frustrated – Todd Downing is a middling fool – Jack Del Rio is a glad-handing snake-oil salesman with a deflector shield – and Reggie McKenzie is coasting on the tails of a great 2014 draft and some deserved yet now expired praise garnered from it.
It all adds up to a disappointing season for a team that was supposed to be much, much better than this. Yet the AFC is so poor overall and the AFC West so unsettled they still have a chance. Can they rediscover themselves in time?
4th Place – Denver Broncos (5-9)
Last Game – beat Indianapolis Colts (3-11) 25-13
Next Game – at Washington Redskins (5-8) Sun Dec 24, 10 am PST
How frustrating are the Broncos? Trevor Siemian looks like the truth through four games, then forgets how to throw the ball. So they re-acquire former shame Brock Osweiler, who lasts two terrible games before Paxton Lynch gets his shot.
Lynch has one awful half against the Raiders, then injures his ankle. Siemian comes back in and plays well. He starts the next game – the Broncos win! He starts against the Colts, plays terribly – and injures himself.
Osweiler comes back in – and looks every bit the second-round pick he was originally intended to be, going 12/17 (70%) for two TDs and no INTs and confidently leading multiple scoring drives in a victory.
During all this the Broncos defense loses their identity for a few games, and the team suffers an eight-game losing streak. This is while the Raiders, Chiefs, and Chargers all stumble around and leave the division wide open.
They still have the #1 overall defense in the NFL. With even passable quarterback play on a consistent basis, they could easily be contending for the division title. Instead, it’s who are we drafting to play QB in 2018?
The Broncos do play the Chiefs in Week 17, so they can still impact the divisional race. Their Week 14 game against Indy is in the books. They play only the Chiefs, and in Week 16 they’re in Washington for a meaningless game. Well, unless you have Broncos or ‘Skins in the fantasy championships.
So and then there were two. Two teams still playing relevant football in Week 15 and beyond in the AFC West. They just happen to play each other Saturday too, in prime-time. NFL schedule makers are happy – Raider and Bronco fans are not.