Warpaint Illustrated: AFC West Week #3 Preview

It's still early in the season as week three looms large for the Chiefs as they hope to get into the win column and with a little luck the Raiders hope they can get some September separation from the Chargers or Broncos.

In a week in which three AFC West teams have winnable games at home, the rest if of the NFL should find out what teams in the division want to contend for the West title. After this weekend the West could have only one team above .500, but could have as many as three teams below the halfway mark. This is truly a strange year for the AFC West.

Although San Diego looks to have a tough road game at Denver; the 0-2 Kansas City Chiefs appear the most desperate squad in the division in week three. They have a real snake pit in Arrowhead, as for the loser of Sunday's game with the winless Houston Texans will be 0 for September. The Chiefs defense has to play opportunistic and must capitalize on the turnovers. The Texans David Carr and Domanick Davis have accounted for seven turnovers in two games. Houston does boast the leagues 10th best offense so they have shown that they can move down the field when they can hold onto the ball.

Of course the biggest blow to the Chiefs is the loss of Priest Holmes. Listed as questionable, Holmes will likely sit out the game with a sprained ankle. The only other team in the league who seems to be as banged up as the Chiefs is the Texans. Between the two teams 24 players combined to make up the injury list. Neither team can afford to lose any more players this early in the season and this game might come down to the team that can keep their respective players healthy.

Starting the season with three consecutive loses by all means is not the end of the season for anybody; however, for both teams they have to feel that their backs are up against the wall especially the Chiefs who had hoped to be a Super Bowl contender. Both head coaches, Dick Vermeil and Dom Capers preached that it's not panic time, but with such high expectations one more loss could be demoralizing. Each team has lost winnable games so now they face an almost do or die situation.

Kansas City has been listed as an early 7-½ point favorite over the Texans. The Chiefs and Houston have their respective backs against the wall. But the teams that fights the hardest to survive an early season swoon that seems like a lot of points. This is a game of survival and it's still hard call to predict a winner as a case can be made for both teams, but the Chiefs home crowd does give them an edge.

Jon Gruden comes back to the "black hole" in a Sunday night match-up that is the showcase game in the AFC West. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into the Coliseum for a rematch of Super Bowl XVIII as they'll face the 1-1 Oakland Raiders. This will be the first visit to Oakland since Gruden left the Raiders for Tampa Bay and the Super Bowl winning coach should get a warm welcome from the hostile environment. Gruden's welcome will surely be more than light hearted as this game was circled by every Raider fan in the country.

It will also be the first time that Warren Sapp, Tim Brown and Charlie Garner will face off against their old teams. Of all the games listed on Sunday's card this game has the potential to be the dirtiest with the most trash talking and that means one entertaining game. Thus far both defenses have played good solid football. With nine sacks, tied for the league lead, the Raiders have the third best defense in the NFL. They get to feast on Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson, and if they're lucky Chris Simms who are the ring-leaders for the NFL's 30th ranked offense.

But the Raiders offense has not been impressive either. Last week the Raiders plethora of running backs managed a poultry 24 yards against the Bills last Sunday. Without a solid running game, the Raiders haven't been able to establish a back that can carry the offense and instead of have done it by committee. That means they've had to rely on the pass. Quarterback Rich Gannon may finally have found a new weapon of choice. Ex-Tar Heel quarterback Ronald Curry, a highly sought after prospect out of Hampton, Virginia, finally got his first pro touchdown last week and though he's listed low on the receivers depth chart, he can be explosive. Curry who hasn't lived up to expectations; was Michael Vick in Virginia, before Michael Vick was Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. He has the ability to stretch the defense and should still get a shot against a stingy Tampa Bay defense.

The Raiders come off as a 3-½ point favorite in what could be one of the lowest scoring games of the season and almost certainly week three. In a game in which a field has to be the deciding factor in this offensive struggle the underdog looks to be the pick again in a 9-6 or 13-10 game.

The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos will meet at Invesco field in one of the late games of the day. Both teams' stand 1-1 and the winner will keep pace at the top of the AFC West division. San Diego will start Drew Brees even after he left last week game against the Jets with a concussion late in the game. Denver comes off a 7-6 road loss at Jacksonville in a game that they feel that they should of won but came up short on the most important stat, the score.

LaDainian Tomlinson was completely shut down by the Broncos defense last year and he'll have to be successful for the Chargers to have a chance at a win. The Chargers have been pesky so far for a team that didn't get any pre-season respect. They marched into Houston and scored a win in week one and never stopped fighting back against the Jets after they took a big early lead. San Diego feels a win in Denver sets them up nicely after three games. If Brees can't start, Doug Flutie will likely get the helm over rookie Phillip Rivers.

The Broncos have to rebound from Quentin Griffin's late fumble that cost Denver a field goal opportunity and a chance for an road victory in Jacksonville. Even with just six points at Jacksonville, the Broncos have shown that they can move up and down the field with the seventh best offense while stopping the opponent with the fifth best defense.

In what could be a battle of two of the most exciting young running backs in the league both teams are likely to put up some points. The one with the most will yards rushing could secure second place in the West depending on the outcome of the Raiders game later in the evening. The Broncos at home are a heavy 10-point favorite over the Chargers. The home team looks to be the pick. Still if anyone can keep the Chargers close it will be LaDainian Tomlinson who can light up the Broncos defense for triple digit yardage both on the ground and in the air. If that happens they do have a shot at the upset.

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