Headed into the 2014 season, the AFC West was expected to be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, and through ten weeks, it has lived up to its preseason hype. There have been standout players, underachieving players, and even a coach fired. The AFC West has had it all, so let’s break down each team, from the bottom up in the standings:
Place in division: Last
Projected record: 1-15
Somebody forgot to tell the Raiders their motto isn’t “Just lose baby”, because that is what their 0-9 record reflects. Despite their poor record, the Raiders have not been as bad as you’d expect of an 0-9 team who has had an interim coach since week four. Not counting Oakland’s blowout losses to Denver and Miami, the raiders have lost the other eight games they have played by an average of 8.125 points per game. Teams that the Raiders faced in those eight games include the Chargers (lost by 3 and 7), the Cardinals (lost by 11), Browns (10), the Patriots (7), and the Seahawks (6) (Also please note that I am boldly picking the Raiders to defeat the Chiefs. The match up looks bad, but as i just stated, the Raiders have been close in many games, and will eventually break through). Several of these close games are thanks in part to strong performances by rookie quarterback Derek Carr, who despite posting shaky seasonal stats (passer rating below 80 and QBR below 50), has shown his potential to be potential franchise quarterback, especially in his 4 touchdown afternoon against a Chargers team that at the time was one of the hottest teams in the AFC. So why are the Raiders in such a bad situation despite having a quarterback who has shown that he can give his team a good chance to win? That blame can be placed on GM Reggie McKenzie. Despite going into the last two years knowing that the Raiders were in rebuilding mode, McKenzie has repeatedly given older players non cap friendly contracts, instead of trying to latch onto more young and talented players in an attempt to establish a better future for the team. The Oakland Raiders have the NFL’s oldest roster, something that is unacceptable for a team that is in full rebuild mode. Despite Oakland’s struggles of developing, or even finding youth, they have made some strides over the last two years in the draft with the selections of DJ Hayden, Khalil Mack, and Carr. However, these selections are only baby steps towards developing a successful team, and the Raiders will have to change their ways fast, or else this crop of talent will go to waste, not just for this season, but throughout the future.
San Diego Chargers
Place in Division 3rd
Not too long ago, the San Diego Chargers were 5-1, headed into a key divisional clash with the then 2-3 Kansas City Chiefs. Everything was starting to come together for the Chargers. Phillip Rivers was establishing himself as an MVP candidate, Branden Oliver was convincing people he was indeed a Darren Sproles clone, and the defense was doing its job of shutting down their opponents. Then, something happened. With just over two minutes left, Nick Novak nailed a 48 yard field goal to tie the game up. The game appeared destined for OT, except it wasn’t. Alex Smith led the Chiefs on a two minute drive to the Chargers 30 yard line, and with 26 seconds remaining, Cairo Santos nailed a 48 yard field goal, a kick which would send each team in opposite directions. The Chargers went into Denver four days later, and while showing some signs of life, lost by fourteen points. Then, they went into Miami, and promptly lost 37-0. It was confirmation of what some had been previously thinking, that the Chargers maybe weren’t who we thought they were. The Chargers have a brutally tough schedule to close out this season, as after this week’s match up with the Rams, all of their opponents currently have a record better than or equal to theirs. If the Charges continue their recent way of playing, their season could turn out to be a lost cause. However, if they revert back to the sound defensive and efficient offense they played with in the first month and a half, a wild card could still be in sight.
Kansas City Chiefs
Place in Division: 2nd
Projected Record: 10-6
I hope you enjoyed talking about the Chiefs week seven game with the Chargers, because we are going to do it again. Since Cairo Santos nailed that 48 yarder, the Chargers have won one game, while the Chiefs haven’t lost once. The Chiefs had the looks late last year and early this year of a team that just wasn’t ready to be elite. If you start after the Chiefs win in Buffalo last year that made them 9-0, and calculate their record through week five of this season (including their embarrassing playoff loss) they have a record of 3-9. Since week five, as i just mentioned, they haven’t lost. Despite a schedule that does not look daunting, they still defeated the Chargers on the road, Seattle, as well as the Bills and the Rams. While none of those teams have been great this year, there are still some solid wins against some solid teams. So what changed? They got back to running the offense through their running backs (a concept Andy Reid seems to have finally grasped), and their defense has returned to where it was when they were playing terrible teams last season, and the schedule this year is actually difficult. The schedule from here on out will not be as kind. Besides two games against Oakland (one of which they will lose tonight), they must play the Broncos, Cardinals, Steelers, and Chargers. One thing that leans in their favor is that both divisional games are at home, as well as the fact that the Steelers have been extremely inconsistent. Will the Chiefs close out like the end of 2013, or play like they have the last five games? Realistically, it’s somewhere in the middle.
Place in Division: 1st
Projected Record: 12-4
Just a couple weeks ago, the Broncos were already being deemed the favorites to come out of the AFC. Now, they have lost two of three and face the threat of having to play a road playoff game. This past week against the Rams, Denver came up awfully short, there is no way around it. The offense failed to get any drives going, and the defense failed to get off the field against an offense lead by Suan Hill, who was last seen getting shutout in the first half of the first game by the Minnesota Vikings. The only thing the Broncos can do is go into the film room, correct their mistakes, and get ready to play a hot Miami squad, while possibly being without their two biggest offensive weapons, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas. Thomas isn’t expected to play and Sanders is going through the NFL’s concussion protocol. Regardless of what Denver does this week, their biggest game of the rest off the season will be next week against the Chiefs in Kansas City. In all likelihood, the winner of that game will move into first place in the NFC West and position themselves for a first round bye. With a better quarterback, a less superior running game, and defenses who have been fairly even, it should come down to the wire, and the team who can cash in on most of their chances. That team should be the Broncos.
The AFC West has been jam packed this season with everything a division can possibly feature. Depending on how things shape out, they could have anything from one to three playoff teams. The best thing for us to do is simply to watch, and enjoy the action as the division, and the entire NFL, unfolds.