Winners of five in a row and seven of their last eight, the San Diego Chargers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. The Chargers are on fire and with Drew Brees and his 108.0 passing rating their looks to be no signs of cooling down. The Chargers are coming off a 34-31 victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City in what was the biggest win for the franchise this decade. Sure Kansas City looks awful at 3-8, but the Chargers haven't won in Arrowhead in seven years.
Usually in the NFL there is one player in the league that comes out of nowhere to have a great season. Chargers Tight End Antonio Gates has to be that player in 2004. The former basketball player turned tight end added two more touchdowns to his season total giving him eleven and the Chargers record for touchdowns by a tight end held by Kellen Winslow. The Chargers are scoring a lot of points behind excellent play calling by Marty Schottenheimer and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. They will need to keep it up against a tough Broncos defense that surprisingly gave up 25 points to the Oakland Raiders last Sunday night in the snow.
The Broncos come into this Sunday's game with easily their worst loss of the season. Dropping a fourth quarter 12-point lead in the snow to one of the worst teams in the league has to be a disappointment to Mike Shanahan and his squad. Even the fact that the Raiders are the Broncos biggest rival adds a little extra sting to the loss. Denver has to win that game. Losing to a warm weather team in the elements late in November gives the Broncos that discouragement that could lead to a train wreck in December.
Both San Diego and Denver have the goods to take the AFC West and the winner of this week's game has to be the favorite to take the division with four games left to play. The Broncos s 5th ranked offense will go against the Chargers 12th ranked defense while the Chargers 7th ranked offense will battle against the Broncos 8th ranked defense. As close as these numbers are only three of the last ten meetings have been decided by single digits. The Chargers are an early three-point favorite.
Each teams schedule shows to be equally as difficult with games against Indianapolis and Kansas City who may thrive in the spoiler role before it's all said and done. San Diego will also get Tampa Bay at home and will travel to Cleveland. Denver will play Miami at home and they will go to Nashville to face the Titans who are a likely candidate for spoiler themselves.
Any debacle by the Broncos could lead to the end of the road for Mike Shanahan. Already rumored for the Florida Gators job and the Miami Dolphins job, any sort of late season collapse and even a poor showing in the playoffs, if they make it, will likely see the Broncos with a new coach next season. Mike Shanahan is one of the better coaches in the league and it would make little sense for the Broncos to want to rid themselves of him. With zero Super Bowls since the Elway era and the Denver faithful hungry to return to the big show then Shanahan most certainly will be the fall guy.
With a win against the Broncos last Sunday night the Oakland Raiders still feel like they have an outside shot at the playoffs if they can win out. That's a tall order for Norv Turners squad but they had one of the gutsiest performances by any team this year getting the win in Denver. The team could of fallen apart at the seems like they did last season but the Raiders refused to quit and took a win from their arch-rivals.
Ronald Curry made a spectacular one-handed catch in the back of the end zone to bring the Raiders within a score late in the game Sunday night. Joey Porter added two scores, including the game winner, torching Champ Bailey and that was enough to get the job done. The week before Curry was the goat when he dropped a pass from Kerry Collins that hit in the chest in stride on his way to the goal line late in the game against the Chargers. The Curry catch would have given the Raiders the lead in the final minutes and that would of put them one game below .500. It was not to be and now the Raiders must continue to fight for their lives every week from here on out.
The Raiders will look to stay in the hunt when they return home to the Oakland Coliseum this Sunday. Oakland will face a demoralized Kansas City team who will do whatever possible to ruin it for any of their division rivals, as they will face all of them again before seasons end. In addition to the Chiefs twice the Raiders will also get games at Atlanta and home against Tennessee and Jacksonville.
For the Chiefs it looks like Dick Vermeil will return for the final year of his contract next season. Vermeil with some needed additions still thinks his team has the core to go to a Super Bowl. The year before the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl under Vermeil, the Rams were horrible so he knows there can be a quick turnaround.
The Chiefs should get a top ten draft pick in the upcoming draft and their schedule next year should be favorable compared to the one this year. Before all that happens the Chiefs can make life difficult for the rest of the division and chances are they have enough firepower to disrupt one of the leaders along the way. There is no current line in the Raiders and Chiefs game for Sunday because of the injury to quarterback Trent Green.