The AFC West is becoming a proverbial "hard to call" division this season. What I'm seeing is the usual frontrunners; the Chargers are bolting backwards along with the former competitors known (in the Al Davis vernacular) as the "Raiduhs". The Broncos have an entire other set of issues not the least of which is a certain former SEC star who may or may not be a legit NFL quarterback. Only time will tell at a mile high.
Let's start with the Chiefs:
Kansas City is on a three-game tear that defies a certain degree of logic. For the loss of their assumed playmakers, the Chiefs have won every game since then. Being .500 in the division in the second quarter of the season, the appearance of an ascending team is very apparent. I still have concerns with game planning, coaching and play calling but I will reserve judgment until after the fright fest on Monday Night Football.
The Chiefs have to develop an identity pretty soon. If their identity becomes "those unpredictable Chiefs," then the fans have cause for concern. Being unpredictable for opposing teams is good in the case of game planning, but the issue becomes consistency. Can the Chiefs become consistent in what they do, yet be unpredictable as to when they do it? That's what I'm looking for. If Todd Haley and Scott Pioli want to tear a sheet out of the New England script, then they have to develop that offensive consistency that Bill Belichick craves and Tom Brady provides.
Making sure the right playmakers are at the right skill positions and the job is done. I'm sticking to concepts right now and I'll let the numbers nerds statistically analyze the potential. Remember, this is a game played by humans. There is always room for error.
Norv Turner is the enigma here. For as well as he prepares his teams for games, it still falls to the human factor. Why can't a top shelf quarterback like Philip Rivers put the game on his shoulders and just spank a team like, say, the Jets? The Jets have the ninth-ranked defense and the 30th-ranked offense. The Chargers have the fifth-ranked defense and the ninth-ranked offense. Seriously? Hmm, the Chargers are statistically superior on both sides of the ball yet they lose the game? The human factor.
Rex Ryan is an excellent motivator and, he too, prepares his team well for games. I think the difference is that Norv Turner is losing his audience. When you come into an organization with a plan and the plan is well executed but the results are underwhelming, you can only take the same medicine for so long before it doesn't work anymore.
I'll put Norv Turner firmly on the hot seat right now. If the Bolts don't take the division THIS YEAR, Turner is out.
What can I say that the Chiefs didn't expose last game? For as inconsistent in many areas as Kansas City has been, they certainly gave a playground lesson to the Raiders. I don't get Hue Jackson's insistence on running plays that have not been well rehearsed. Kyle Boller has been in this offense for a while now and the excuse of "I don't always practice with the first team" is baloney. Regardless of whether you are a benchwarmer or carry around a clipboard, at some point you figure things out. I'm not diminishing the need to get game speed experience but when you end up not progressing through your reads, the defensive pressure is building and you see someone waving their hand for the ball, why do you just chuck it into the air and hope a black jersey comes down with it?
The acquisition of Carson Palmer is another issue the Raiders have to deal with. He will have about one week of preparation and familiarity with the plays before he's called in to action. He will be behind the eight ball for the next few weeks and may indeed be supplanted by Jason Campbell, if and when he returns. If Palmer starts throwing picks on a regular basis because of whatever, watch the Raiders dive into their perennial spot that the Chiefs and Broncos kept warm for them this year.
Denver is the literal wild card in the AFC West this season. Now that Kyle Orton has been benched and Tim Tebow is the guy, anything can happen with this team. I really don't expect the Broncos to rise higher than 8-8 (if they even do that). What I see happening is this team is circling the wagons. John Fox is not known for being overly outgoing or forthcoming with anything more than cliché sound bites. He was that way with the Panthers and hasn't changed since climbing the mountains.
John Elway, on the other hand, was hired to be the face and the conscience of Denver. Pat Bowlen is a savvy businessman and he knows what Elway means to Denver. He also knows that Denver is used to winning. This is another instance of being unsure the right ingredients are in play for the Broncos. But if the city wants entertainment, they'll probably get it.
As far as the prospects for this team with these players, I'm not convinced they have or are capable of fielding enough skill position players to rise to the top of the division this year or next year. The Tim Tebow Train may fly right off the tracks before the end of the season. The fans have been clamoring for Tebow and there are some true believers with their heads quite literally above the clouds when it comes to number 15. Be careful what you wish for Denver.
As has been typical for the last 20 years, the west is still as wild as ever. With so many moving parts, this division can rise to the top of the NFL or become the trash can of the league. One never knows. This is how I see the division shaking out by the time the playoffs roll around:
Kansas City or San Diego will be the champions. Denver will be third and Oakland at the bottom. I occasionally will take to trending to project possible outcomes and here are the indicators.
Kansas City is ascending by most observations. Typically, ascending teams at or near the midpoint of the season tend to stay strong through the remainder. Now that doesn't foresee any major disruptions either player-wise or organization-wise. With 10 games to go and a bellwether game on Monday night, we'll see.
San Diego is as wishy-washy as ever in terms of level of play. They are sometimes elite and sometimes, Dolphin-esque. They might get it together in the second half of the season but it may be too late.
Denver is "working" on a work-in-progress. They are undergoing the fabled rebuilding process that many refuse to acknowledge. It will be a couple of years before the AFC West will have much to fear from Denver based on their current situation.
Oakland is Oakland. They have become so synonymous with dysfunction that there is no way they dig out of the cellar until they have a general manager that is willing to right the ship, post Al Davis. I have heard rumors of a certain former, well-known general manager (that is well-known to Chiefs fans) who may possibly end up in charge of the silver and black but personally, I think that's a long shot and wishful thinking, all at once. In other words, they've got a long way to go.
All in all, the AFC West will shape up to be an entertaining division and will, at the very least, keep the rest of the NFL honest.
Ride Around The West
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