The beauty of the National Football League is that things can change dramatically in just 1 week, especially when the team leading the division loses and all 3 of its pursuers win. Such was the case last Sunday and Monday night in the AFC West as Hue Jackson’s Raiders were pounded at Miami, while the Broncos got another nail-biting victory (this time at Minnesota), the battered Chiefs Hail-Maryed their way to a win at Soldier Field and the unpredictable Chargers snapped a 6-game losing streak courtesy of a rout of the Jaguars.
Hence, Denver and Oakland sit at 7-5 and Kansas City and San Diego are 2 games out at 5-7. And while the Broncos have won their last 5 games to put themselves in this position, it’s the final 4 weeks that will obviously decide things. What makes things even more interesting is that the 4 clubs have spent the season beating up on each other, Denver sitting at 3-2 within the division (winning all 3 road games and losing both home games), the Raiders and Chiefs both at 2-2 and the Bolts at 2-3. And while Norv Turner’s club has perhaps the toughest hole to dig out of tie-breaker wise, QB Philip Rivers and company have proven in the past that they are capable of catching fire down the stretch. In 2008, the Chargers were 4-8 and ran the table on the way to the AFC West title.
Perhaps the single most interesting statistic about the 4 teams is that each has been outscored on the season, with the Raiders (302), Broncos (292) and Chargers (289) all ranking in the bottom third of the league in points allowed. And while the Chiefs have given up the fewest points amongst the 4 clubs, they’ve also lost 4 games this season by 28 or more points.
So who is truly in the best position to win this thing? Conventional wisdom says QB Tim Tebow and the Broncos, who continue their magic carpet ride following that 1-4 start. The former Heisman winner is showing improvement as a passer, the running game is top notch and the defense gets after people. But John Fox’s club also gave up 489 total yards and 32 points last week at the Metrodome.
Is it the Raiders, who are more talented than some of their recent predecessors but QB Carson Palmer continues to have problems with turnovers? Do the Chiefs (who have scored a total of 35 points in their last 5 games) have enough offense to get the job done? Or despite that midseason lull, are Rivers and the Chargers primed for another late-season division-clinching run?
Your guess is as good as theirs.