A weekly update to keep tabs on the Oakland Raiders and the rest of the AFC West.
Not much to say about the AFC West at this point, as the Chiefs have it all wrapped up. They’re celebrating their second straight division title by starting Patrick Mahomes and resting some starters against the Broncos.
The Raiders travel to Los Angeles to play a Chargers team still alive in the wild-card hunt. Raider Nation will likely crowd the tiny StubHub Centre and make yet another Chargers home game into a defacto Raiders home game.
The entire division disappointed in 2017. Aside from the Chargers there was a hot start, but each team had a four-game losing streak this year. Lauded as the best and toughest division from top to bottom by many coming into the season, by Week 8 that notion was sinking and by Week 12 was downright hilarious.
At one point the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders were all 6-6 and had a shot. Since then the Chiefs beat the Raiders and Chargers to take a stranglehold on the division, and the Chargers are still faintly alive in the hunt. The Raiders? Next season cannot come fast enough.
Even though there have been major struggles for each team, the division could still possibly get two teams in the playoffs. The Chiefs will definitely host a wild-card game in the first week. The Chargers are still alive.
So, for the penultimate time this season – let’s round ’em up!
1st Place – Kansas City Chiefs (9-6)
Last Game – beat Miami Dolphins (6-9) 29-13 at home
Next Game – at Denver Broncos (5-10), Sun Dec 31, 1:25 PST
This division has fallen so far from the beginning of the season it’s about to be won by a team that lost consecutive games to the Giants, Bills and Jets.
The Chiefs surged to a great start, floundered badly, and won when it counted against division rivals to earn their crown. A 4-1 record in the division put them over the top. Winning when it mattered gets them a wild-card home game.
Now, we get to see Patrick Mahomes fling the rock. The kid is very talented, has a bit of a gunslinger mentality and is pretty fun to watch. Should be an interesting and entertaining first test against a Denver secondary who haven’t played up to their usual standards and likely want to end on a good note.
It’s really the only reason to watch this game, particularly if you’re a Raider fan and heavily despise both of these teams.
Expect to see a lot of Akeem Hunt. No, not Kareem Hunt – his backup, Akeem Hunt. Charcandrick West may see some field too, but likely on passing downs and likely not as often as usual. Tyreek Hill may play a few snaps, as may Travis Kelce, but things are trending toward the Chiefs resting many players with nothing on the line in this one.
The Chiefs, after losing four games in a row in fairly sad fashion, will win the division. They may even get gifted the baffling Tennessee Titans – who are not good but somehow may make the playoffs – as their first-round opponent.
Life is good in Kansas City right now – and potentially in Los Angeles.
2nd Place – Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)
Last Game – beat NY Jets (5-10) 14-7 in New York
Next Game – host Oakland Raiders (6-9), Sun Dec 31, 1:25 PST
Corky Rivers and the Sunshine Gang have played well enough – and been gifted some poor competition – down the stretch to stay in the hunt. The AFC has been weakly inconsistent, so although slightly surprising it’s not amazing that an 8-7 team that’s been decimated by injuries and shot themselves in the foot multiple times still has a shot.
A slim shot, but a shot. Both AFC wild-cards are in play with the Ravens in the best position to get one of them. Then, there’s the Titans, Chargers and Bills fighting as well. Not exactly a group of juggernauts.
The Raiders have played all of these teams, and despite getting shellacked in Buffalo and Baltimore the Chargers are definitely the best of this bunch when healthy. However, Melvin Gordon is nursing an injury and could be out Sunday. Austin Ekeler is already injured. That leaves leave Khalil Mack’s former college roommate, Branden Oliver, as the only real option at HB.
Oliver is small and shifty, quick and explosive, but hasn’t played a significant backfield role in three seasons. The Raiders are actually running a top-5 defense since John Pagano took over as coordiantor and getting some serious pressure on the QB. They just held a potent Eagles offense – Foles threw four TDs the previous week – to their lowest offensive output of the season.
Now they face a desperate Chargers team where Rivers doesn’t have Hunter Henry and may not have Gordon either. Not great in a must-win game, but Rivers is known for making chicken salad. Antonio Gates turns back the clock when needed too. Keenan Allen is still healthy and Tyrell Williams can threaten over the top. This team still has weapons.
The Chargers need to win this game to stay alive, and even then they need some help. They need to win, have the Ravens win (and get the 5th seed) and have the Titans lose. They cannot go higher than the 6th seed, so if they make it they’ll travel to Jacksonville to face the 3rd seeded Jags regardless of what else happens.
First, they have to beat their hated division rival at home in a stadium likely to have more Silver & Black than powder blue.
3rd Place – Oakland Raiders (6-9)
Last Game – lost at home to Philadelphia Eagles (12-3) 19-10
Next Game – at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7), Sun Dec 31, 1:25 PST
Mercifully the Raiders 2017 season will end on Sunday in Los Angeles. With a win or loss is anybody’s guess, but at least it will be over.
As a long time Raider fan who greatly respects honesty and taking accountability this season has been very difficult. I’m with Derek Carr when he says it’s feels like his rookie year, it’s that bad.
After clearly playing over their heads to a 12-4 record in 2016, expectations were understandably high for the Raiders and Carr in particular. He signed a $125M contract in the off-season to become at the time the highest-paid player in the game. Certain things are expected of you in that situation.
He hasn’t met those expectations. In fact, he looks like a lost puppy half the time – upset and confused one moment, angry and lashing out the next. The calm, smiling confident leader present in 2016 has disappeared. Instead of talking about taking it to teams as he did in 2016, he’s talking like this:
Carr on not taking more shots downfield: "One we hit the first one (to Cooper), Eagles weren't going to let us have another one."
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) December 26, 2017
It’s likely due to a combination of factors. First, an offensive coordinator that has shackled him and refuses to call play-action or really any plays that work. Or travel further than 5-8 yards in the air. Or give him the freedom at the line he promised before the season.
The Downing experiment in the off-season looked on paper to be potentially magical. Carr would have a lot more freedom. They’d utilize their weapons and their strengths. They’d incorporate the new talent in Lynch, Patterson and Cook that they’d acquired. A potent offense would be even better.
Except it’s been stagnant and painful. Downing took away the power running game, a major strength of the team last year, in favour of a more zone-based scheme. This has caused issues on – and apparently off – the field. Mike Tice is now being viewed as a “divisive force” in the locker room, and one can only surmise it’s because he’s called Downing out for his garbage reversals of what was working.
Downing refuses to make in-game adjustments, frustratingly attempting the same curl routes or five-yard outs over and over again. This, when the team is in position to march for a game-tying field goal:
Down 3 points with 17 seconds to go, this play was called twice. (no one deep) pic.twitter.com/2PtCvrwyFg
— Ted Nguyen (@RaidersAnalysis) December 27, 2017
But Carr hasn’t always hit it when it’s there either, a testament to the fact that his head just isn’t right in 2017:
Oh well. One more game and he’s gone. But what about Carr? Can he regain his confidence and play like the leader and star he was last season? Or have the injuries and struggles overwhelmed him? Is that why he passed up plays like this?
Gannon-style Pump on the out and up freezes Revis. Holton gets even ("if he's even, he's leavin' " ) but Derek feels phantom pressure and doesn't pull the trigger. Perfect play call should've been a TD pic.twitter.com/ujgoGx2hSE
— GipsySafety (@GipsySafety) December 13, 2017
A player who overcomes starting his career 0-10 to become one of the top players over the next two seasons is mentally strong, and he’ll bounce back. He has to, or this team is in serious trouble going forward with that much money committed to him.
The defense has turned into another story. Mack is still an animal, Irvin and Smith have thrived under Pagano and NaVorro Bowman still has the skills to pay the bills. With Conley and Obi coming back next year, it’s important that the Raiders not take these last five games as wrote and continue to build talent and depth at all three levels. But the play under Pagano is encouraging and there’s no reason he shouldn’t return after success with the Chargers and a quick turnaround in Oakland.
The Raiders can play spoiler against the hated Chargers on Sunday. Beat them, and Corky and the Gang are golfing with everyone else. The Raiders can do it – they lost their first meeting by one point. However, the Raiders have little to play for other than pride while the Chargers have their season on the line.
Considering Jack Del Rio can’t get this team fired up for games that actually matter, it’s a stretch to think they’ll play hard in one that doesn’t. However, they did against Philly which was impressive and frustrating at the same time.
Downing is done. And with his glad-handing lack of personal accountability, JDR deserves to go with him. JDR’s extension likely saves him. But if they lay a complete egg against the Chargers after squandering a great defensive effort against Philly and basically giving up when the game was still in reach, then what more do you need?
Starting over isn’t always the best option but sometimes it’s the only one.
4th Place – Denver Broncos (5-10)
Last Game – lost to Washington Redskins (7-8) 27-11
Next Game – host Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) Sun, Dec 31, 1:25 PST
And mercifully for Broncos fans 2017 will end on Sunday as well. With Paxton Lynch again starting at QB. Lynch vs. Mahomes – the reckoning!
At one time this could’ve been a serious glimpse into the future of the QB position in the AFC West. But after seeing them both play, gotta feel only Mahomes will be part of that future. Lynch just seems lost and overwhelmed. He appears to have no clue when to throw, run, or how to do either in the NFL.
Broncos fans have gotta be frustrated, thinking if they could’ve just channeled Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler’s few good performances in to an overall passable one for 16 games, they too may have a shot at the wide-open AFC.
But instead neither QB could remember how to play from week to week and thus would give glimpses of greatness followed by massive bouts of incompetence. Baffling but true.
The Broncos defense is still solid all around. Early in the year with a modicum of offensive support they were the 2nd best run defense in the NFL. And still had the no-fly zone mostly in effect. Yet an utter lack of offensive consistency and competence doomed them to a very disappointing finish.
Now they play the Chiefs to finish things off and play out the string. The only thing interesting in this game is the QB matchup. And, perhaps where the Broncos may finish in the draft order. After riding Peyton Manning in to the sunset, John Elway failed to line up a successor. That’s exposed his failings in other areas such as free agency and the draft.
Between that, his endorsement of Trump under the Broncos banner, and his controlling ego and personality, things aren’t as rosy for the franchise legend as they once were.
The Chiefs seized the day and got the wins that counted. The Chargers have a tall task. The Titans (resting Jags) and Bills (Dolphins) have very winnable games. The Chargers also have to beat a Raider team who is rightfully ashamed of themselves and playing a lot better on defense.
If football karma has anything to do with it the Ravens and Bills get in. The Titans don’t deserve to even be in the hunt but somehow are. This disappointing division does NOT deserve two playoff teams.
There’s a playoff spot to play for and an exciting rookie QB to evaluate. Despite the disappointment the AFC West games in Week 17 still have some intrigue to offer.