With a pair of teams at 6-3 and 3-6 the AFC West has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in the NFL. This weekend each team has their shot to step-up and set the tone for the rest of the season. Denver and San Diego share the first place honors and are favored to win on the road against an opponent each coming off a win.
Denver goes to New Orleans where the Saints sent the division rival Chiefs to their sixth loss, and headed them in the direction of a season ending tailspin last Sunday. With a win Denver puts the pressure on the shoulders of the Chargers who are sure to have an eye on the outcome before they kick-off later that afternoon.
The Broncos should be well rested after the bye last weekend. Confidence should play a factor as well after their 31-13 win over the Houston Texans killing any momentum they had for making a play-off run. On paper Denver comes in with a big advantage in all phases of the game. The Broncos have the third best defense in the league to go with the fifth best offense. The Saints fall closer to the bottom of the list going nineteenth on offense and dead last on defense.
Denver seems to be getting it done on the ground and through the air. Reuben Droughns enters the game with 678 yards since getting the starters role in early October. Jake Plummer may be the most underrated quarterback in the league with the media infatuation of Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper. Ashley Lelie seems to be having his breakout season and veteran Rod Smith is having a great year in the prime of his career.
The Saints at 4-5 trail their division by three games to Atlanta and are among nine teams fighting for two wild card spots so they have a lot on the line as well. Denver is 0-4 in their last four games with east cost kick-offs at 1:00. The game will actually start one hour earlier kicking off at noon in the "Big Easy" where the Broncos are a four-point favorite.
If Denver wins the Chargers will have to win in Oakland to keep pace a top the division. The Chargers hammered the Raiders three Sundays ago with a decisive 42-14 win in week eight. Both teams are coming off a bye and a win and this will be Oakland's last unofficial chance to have any shot at staying in the division hunt.
The Chargers have been the second best scoring offense in the league with the coming of Drew Brees and an array of talent to throw to. The team has seemed to take after the attitude of LaDainian Tomlinson and his die-hard Charger underdog role. The Chargers also boast the leagues best rushing defense and they look to give up little ground to Tyrone Wheatley and the Raiders 31st ranked rush offense. Both teams are fairly healthy so injuries shouldn't play a factor in the Oakland Coliseum.
For the Raiders it's either win or they will be forced to focus for next year. If that's the case Marques Tuiasosopo should see the most action at quarterback for the rest of the season. The Raiders hope that's not the case as they still think that can make a play-off run while getting a little revenge from their state rivals from the south this Sunday. With a game remaining against Denver that will help the cause for Oakland provided they win now and often. The Chargers are a four-point favorite in Oakland.
Kansas City, the biggest disappointment in the division, will get a shot at the New England Patriots in Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night. It's a tall order for the Chiefs who are coming off bad back-to-back losses to Tampa Bay and the Saints. Turnovers have burned the Chiefs in their last two contests and they will once again be without Priest Holmes against an opportunistic Patriots defense.
Quite opposite for the Chiefs, New England comes in rolling coming back strong nicely with wins against the Rams and the Bills after their blowout loss in Pittsburgh three Sundays ago. The Patriots have not won in Kansas City in forty years and for the Chiefs sake they need that stat to continue for at least one more if they hope to make a last minute run at the play-offs themselves.
Trent Green must be better at protecting the football in crunch time situations. Green threw interceptions in the Chiefs last drive of each of the last two losses. The picks prevented Kansas City from either winning or getting a tie in both cases. Even with good ball protection the defense will have to show up.
The Chiefs will face one of the better balanced attacks in the league behind two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. The Patriots come in with a host of weapons at every position on offense. More than likely the Chiefs will have to rely on a lot of points to keep pace with the champs. New England comes in as a field goal favorite.