As speculated in the off-season,the winner of the AFC West will most likely come down to who can put up the most points in the inner-division games. On Sunday that theory will be put to the test in Oakland and Denver.
In Oakland, Quarterback Kerry Collins practiced without any incident on Wednesday and Thursday. He appears ready to go into the Raiders home opener on Sunday night against Kansas City. With ten days to prepare for the Chiefs, the Raiders will get a good litmus test on where they stand heading into the meat of their season.
Wide Receiver Joey Porter says he is healthy and so is Ronald Curry who is looking to get the ball a little bit more on Sunday. That means the Raiders may be ready to open the flood gates even though Doug Gabriel is still a few weeks away from returning to the field. As good as the Chiefs looked on defense in their blowout win over the Jets, their pass defense still ranks last in the NFL. The Raiders call those numbers deceiving since the Jets were forced to go to the air once they found themselves down.
Still the Raiders have to be optimistic returning home to the "black hole" on Sunday night. The Raiders run defense looked pretty good against the Patriots in the season opener holding Corey Dillon mostly in check on big runs. They will need the same kind of effort against Dick Vermeil's double-headed monster of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. If Raider fans had any hope that Johnson's off the field incident might keep him from playing Sunday night, they can bury those hopes. Chiefs Head Coach Dick Vermeil made it very clear that Johnson would not be subject to any team suspension based on the incident in a local Kansas City bar last weekend.
On the Chiefs side of the coin, it's time to see if their defensive acquisitions will pay off against the Raiders. Last year they gave up plenty of big plays and against the Raiders, they'll be tested over and over again. The Chiefs secondary took a hit last week when Patrick Surtain suffered a concussion during a run back of a Chad Pennington interception and Dewayne Washington has been suffering back spasms. Surtain will be able to play on Sunday evening, but Washington's status is unknown. Offensively Willie Roaf is out but fullback Tony Richardson looks like he's ready to play.
Last year the two teams combined for 61-points in what became a pair of contests that came down to the final possession. Each time the Chiefs pulled out the victory despite the fact the Raiders led both games in the fourth quarter. In Oakland the Chiefs won 34-27 and then took the sweep at home a few weeks later with the 31-30 win. Points will almost certainly be put on the scoreboard again on Sunday. With a win the Chiefs will move to 2-0 and with the Raiders at 0-2 and the loser of the Chargers and Broncos game at 0-2, the Chiefs will be in great shape just two weeks into the season.
Speaking of San Diego the Chargers will visit Invesco Field on Sunday coming off what has to be a stomach churning loss at the hands of the Cowboys. The Chargers had four chances from the seven- yard line to go ahead of Dallas but Aaron Glenn sealed the Chargers fate when he picked off Drew Brees on fourth down with about a minute remaining in the game.
Tight end Antonio Gates will return to the line-up for San Diego after serving his one game suspension. General Manager A.J. Smith suspended Gates for passing their deadline for him to report to camp. Even though Gates might be the reason why the Chargers were not able to pull out the victory over the Cowboys, Smith doesn't regret the decision, not yet anyway or at least publicly. That might change if the Chargers start their defense of the AFC West with back to back losses.
The one thing the Chargers might have going for them on the road is the Denver crowd. If San Diego can jump out on Denver, the boo-birds are likely to come out especially if quarterback Jake Plummer has another poor performance. The Dolphins creamed the Broncos last week in Miami 34-10. Plummer received the kiss-of-death from his Head Coach Mike Shanahan who predicted Plummer would have a great season.
If the Broncos get off to a bad start it, the Broncos faithful will surely let team owner Pat Bowlen know their disgust. More so than any other start in Plummer's career in Denver, this game is of the utmost importance.
Running back Mike Anderson returned to practice so it looks like he may be ready to head back in the line-up. But the Broncos have yet to confirm that. Without Anderson potentially out and the jury still out on Tatum Bell, Denver is in trouble. Last week Bell's tip-toeing around the line of scrimmage prevented him from making an impact on the field.
Last season the two teams split, each of them winning at home. LaDainian Tomlinson was held in check in the 23-13 loss at Invesco field rushing for a human-like 60 yards. Knowing that, don't expect the Chargers to hold back with Tomlinson like they did a week ago against the Cowboys.
The loser of the game will drop to 0-2 on the season. Both teams hope that the Raiders have enough firepower to take the Chiefs down if not one team is really going to have an uphill battle to win division. Both games were low scoring last year between the Chargers and Broncos but don't necessarily expect that to happen this year.
AFC West Report: Chiefs Could Be in Drivers Seat
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