AFC West Report: Playing the Big Boys Sunday

Each team in the AFC West will have to face an opponent with a record better than .500 this weekend as week four is upon us. San Diego travels to the Gillette Stadium to play the defending champion Patriots, Denver heads east to Jacksonville for an early kick-off, the Raiders host the Cowboys in the "black hole" and the Chiefs host the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles at Arrowhead Stadium.

Chargers vs. Patriots
This Sunday promises to be a very interesting afternoon as far as the state of the AFC West Division is concerned. The San Diego Chargers will make their first of four trips to the east coast this Sunday when they head to Foxboro, Mass., to face the New England Patriots.

The Chargers have a lot going against them and only a few things in their favor. First they must face a Patriot team that has an all time record of 25-3 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots also haven't lost at home since December in 2002. The Chargers haven't beaten the Patriots on the road since 1970 and have never won in Foxboro. One last stat against the Chargers is the fact that the Patriots have won three of the last four Super Bowls.

With all that said, the Chargers may be facing the most vulnerable Patriots team in a long time. One never wants to call the champs vulnerable, but they have a bad case of injuries and other things keeping players off the field. Besides linebacker Teddy Bruschi taking a year off because of the mild stroke he suffered after the Super Bowl, the Patriots lost some big name players last week. All-pro and former Charger safety Rodney Harrison is out for the rest of the season after tearing three ligaments in his knee. Tackle Matt Light is out after surgeries to repair a broken bone below his knee, and Kevin Faulk is out with a foot injury for the next five or six games.

The Chargers were impressive in their 45-13 win last week over the Giants. With the three touchdowns last week, LaDainian Tomlinson should get a hefty load this week.

Marty Schottenheimer couldn't get Tomlinson the ball enough in the first two games, and it cost the Chargers two losses. Don't look for the Chargers to make that mistake again.

Antonio Gates looks like he's ready to start busting out plays as well with a solid game against the Giants. Drew Brees should be looking for him to try to exploit the untested Patriots middle-of-the-field defense.

The thing the Chargers will need to really be aware of is that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is well aware of Tomlinson and Gates, as well as Keenan McCardell. The defense can expect Corey Dillon to get the ball a lot, as he is due for a lot of yards. Kick-off will be at 1:00 EST.

Broncos vs. Jaguars
Denver will have to go to Jacksonville where they suffered a low scoring loss at the beginning of last season against the Jaguars. They will have virtually the same test as last year, except the Jags may be much more improved. Jack Del Rio and his squad are 2-1 so far on the season, coming off a big win in overtime over the New York Jets in the Meadowlands.

Byron Leftwich is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, and he appears to be getting better all the time. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer looked as efficient as he ever has in his pro career last week in the Monday night victory over the Chiefs. The Jaguars defense is pretty good, though, and they should be able to present a little bit more resistance than the Chiefs did. Jacksonville currently has the second best defense in the league.

Look for the Broncos to try to match the Jags with defense. The Broncos' defense has been their strength so far and, with ball control and a strong defensive showing, they have a good chance at a win.

What the Broncos will have to forget is their trip to Florida where they were blown out in Miami 34-10. Many of the Broncos suffered from heat-related problems that game in what was a very humid Miami. Sunday's forecast has the game time temperatures at 88 degrees, feeling like 94 degrees. It might be a little hard for the Broncos to forget their last trip to Florida when they fly there again just three weeks later. Opening kick will be at 1:00 EST.

Raiders vs. Cowboys
The Raiders will host the Cowboys in Oakland 1:00 PST in the "black hole" this Sunday. Since the Raiders and the Cowboys both like to play close games, chances are that this game will go down to the wire.

The Cowboys will come in at 2-1 with their only loss coming off a disappointing game against the Redskins in week two at home. The Cowboys led that game until the final moments when they gave up two bombs to the combination of Mark Brunell and Santana Moss. That may be good news for the Raiders who have gotten Randy Moss the football on deep plays.

The Raiders may have a little bit of the Tomlinson sickness. If they can't get Randy Moss the football more then they have, they must be sick. Look for the Raiders to air it out on Sunday against a Dallas team that is strong up front.

If Norv Turner doesn't get the ball to Randy Moss more, then rumblings about his job will should get louder than what they have been. Oakland has a bye next week, so 0-4 will not look good for two weeks even with the tough schedule.

The Raiders will need to apply pressure to Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Raiders haven't generated any kind of pass rush so far this year, but they will need that to change on Sunday. The last time Bledsoe came to Oakland he played for Buffalo and the Raiders were able to get to him seven times in a huge win.

Chiefs vs. Eagles
The Kansas City Chiefs may be getting the Philadelphia Eagles at a good time with the injury situation there as well as in New England. Donovan McNabb was told he needed surgery to repair the chest problems he has suffered since week one. A true warrior, McNabb will continue to try to play through the pain. The man also has injuries to his groin and abdomen.

Don't look for the Chiefs defense to have no sorrow for the Eagles quarterback after getting embarrassed in Denver last week. The Chiefs will be a slight favorite at home, and a win on Sunday while their top division rivals are on the road will help their cause now that everybody's in October.

This Sunday Trent Green will try to get off the slide as well, as he's been in the lower to middle tier of quarterbacks thus far in 2005. What he really needs is for one of his receivers to step up and be the number one guy that being Eddie Kennison, Sammy Knight or Marc Boerigter. The big three of Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and Tony Gonzalez can only do so much. The Chiefs and Eagles will kick-off at 3:15 CST.

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