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Sunday, 10 November 2013 16:37

Midseason Report Part 2: AFC West

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 With the New England Patriots on a bye, we'll be taking a timeout to look around the league and take stock of each division at the midway(ish) point of the season. Part one looked at the AFC East. Up next, the AFC West. 

How many story lines can one division hog? The AFC West boasts the teams with two best records in the entire league in the Chiefs and Broncos, along with a surprising turnaround from the Chargers. Oh, and the Raiders also play in this division.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) 1st in Division

PASSING YDS

RUSHING YDS

OPP PASSING YDS

OPP RUSHING YDS

27th (198.3)

 12th (119.0)  6th (208.3)  25th (118.6)

Has their ever been a better example of a coach’s ineptitude than Romeo Crennel’s 2-14 Chiefs sending six players to the 2012 Pro Bowl?  With virtually the same roster, new coach-quarterback duo Andy Reid and Alex Smith have the Chiefs undefeated through nine games and leading a division they share with the juggernaut that is the Denver Broncos.

 The Chiefs boast a ridiculous +102 point differential, second only to the Broncos and are third in the league against the pass, allowing just over 200 yards per game. Other than that though, they aren’t that great at anything. They can’t throw the ball (29th overall), they are decent at running (14th overall) and they can’t stop the run (24th overall).

 The Chiefs are a pretty good team that has benefitted enormously from an easy schedule. They’ve played just one team with a winning record, that being the schizophrenic Cowboys, whom they defeated by one point in the second week of the season. Other than that, the Chiefs have played the winless Jaguars, who, through nine weeks are one of the worst teams in the history of the league. In their seven other games, the Chiefs have played just two starting quarterbacks: Eli Manning of the stunningly bad Giants and Terrelle Pryor of the Raiders, and his 5:9 TD to INT ratio.

 According to Pro-Football-Reference, the Chiefs have played, by far, the easiest schedule of any team in the NFL. The only team even close is, you guessed it, the Denver Broncos.

 Of course, this isn’t Kansas City’s fault, it can only play the teams it’s scheduled to play. But the fact that the Chiefs have barely edged out their competition in many of these games, and the fact that they just aren’t that good at anything other than stopping the pass suggests this team is going to come back to earth down the stretch. Their final seven games include two against Denver, one against Indy and two against the frisky Chargers.

 

Denver Broncos (7-1) 2nd in Division

PASSING YDS

RUSHING YDS

OPP PASSING YDS

OPP RUSHING YDS

1st (358.5)

 20th (107.9)  30th (299.1)  4th (81.5)

The Broncos lead the league with a +125 pt. differential and are on pace to threaten dozens of scoring records. But like the Chiefs, they’ve benefited from an enormously easy schedule and actually lost to the only legitimate competition they’ve faced all season, (that of course, being the Colts).

With the weather getting colder – something Peyton Manning does not like, the schedule getting harder, and their coach being sidelined for at least several weeks after undergoing heart surgery, the Broncos suddenly appear to be something less than the no-brainer choice for AFC Champions they’ve been all season.

From where I sit, the problems are overstated and they remain the best team in the conference, if not the league, by a healthy margin. While I certainly don’t expect them to continue dominating teams in quite the same way as they have over the first half of the season, I fully expect them to overtake the Chiefs for the division lead and be the favorites to win the Conference come playoff time. That said, playoff Peyton Manning is a much different (read: worse) player than the regular season version and it would come as no surprise to see a team like the Colts or Patriots upset them.

 

San Diego Chargers (4-4) 3rd in Division

PASSING YDS

RUSHING YDS

OPP PASSING YDS

OPP RUSHING YDS

4th (300.0)

 19th (103.8)

28th  (275.4)

 20th (118.4)

 The Chargers have a new coach in Mike McCoy and a new quarterback in Phillip Rivers. Okay, so Rivers isn’t technically new but after two horrendous seasons under center, Rivers is finally looking like the four-time Pro Bowler that had his team in the playoffs every year from 2006 through 2009. 

 Some great offseason acquisitions like the criminally-underrated Danny Woodhead and solid draft picks like road-grating right tackle DJ Fluker have paid huge dividends for a Chargers team that looked thoroughly disinterested under former head coach Norv Turner.

They still lack the consistency necessary to be a serious contender and their defense needs a serious influx of talent but the Chargers are a resurgent team and are good enough to swing the entire playoff race by playing spoiler to division-rivals Denver or Kansas City down the stretch. 

 

Oakland Raiders (3-5) 4th in Division

PASSING YDS

RUSHING YDS

OPP PASSING YDS

OPP RUSHING YDS

31st (197.8)

 5th (147.8)  21st (262.6)  6th (94.6)

They can run (5th overall) and they can stop the run (6th overall). But they can’t pass (30th) and they can’t stop the other team from passing (25th). And perhaps you’ve heard, the NFL is a passing league.

 This team has had so much turmoil over the last two decades and given away or misused so many draft picks, such as the first round pick in 2012 and second round pick in 2013 for 24 underwhelming games from Carson Palmer, that digging out is going to take time. The problem is, Oakland has a notoriously short attention span when it comes to coaches. No Raiders coach has lasted five years since Art Shell from 1990-'94. (Even Jon Gruden lasted just four, from 1998 to 2001. No other coach has stuck around more than three years.) So here’s hoping Oakland gives it’s new head coach Dennis Allen a little breathing room. And in the meantime, well, Terrelle Pryor is fun to watch, right?