AFC West Report: Who Can Step Up?

With ten games left, the AFC West is becoming one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL. Denver leads San Diego by one game and Kansas City by two. Each team has shown signs that they may have what it takes to win the division.

The Oakland Raiders (1-5) look like they are finally getting over the drama-filled months that saw Joey Porter suspended, Randy Moss complaining and Art Shell looking confused. The old adage "Winning cures everything" is as true as any other. The Raiders grabbed their first victory of the season last week, beating Arizona 22-9.

Andrew Walter and Randy Moss connected seven times for 129 yards and a touchdown in the win. Walter hit 17 of 30 passes for 263 yards. The passing game needed to carry the Raiders in the absence of LaMont Jordan, who sat out with a back injury. Oakland also had to overcome five turnovers, which makes Arizona seem even more inept.

The Raiders are completely flying below the radar with the NFL's fifth-ranked defense. With a two-sack performance against Arizona, defensive end Derrick Burgess is shaping into mid-season form. Rookie Michael Huff also chipped in with a sack and safety of Matt Leinart.

If Oakland's defense can continue to perform well, maybe the Raiders can climb back into the division race. They face the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) on Sunday at McAfee Coliseum.

Ben Roethlisberger is questionable with a concussion and the Steelers are banged up across the board. Kick-off is at 1:15 PST on Sunday where temperatures are expected to be around 69 degrees with sunny skies.

The Denver Broncos (5-1) may have to rely solely on Tatum Bell to deliver a victory on Sunday afternoon when the Indianapolis Colts (6-0) come to Invesco Field for a 2:15 MST kick-off. Denver's offense is 31st in the NFL in scoring. Trying to match Peyton Manning's offense will be a tough task.

Bell may see his biggest load of the season against the Colts. The Broncos will need to keep Manning off the field in order to win. Ball control and time of possession will be important. The Colts have been horrible against the run, allowing 158 yards a game, 31st in the NFL.

Although the Broncos have only allowed two touchdowns all year they can hardly expect to keep the Colts off the scoreboard. This weekend will be a true test for Denver's fourth-ranked defense, and the outcome may determine how good they can be for the rest of the season. Shutting down the Colts will strike fear in opposing offenses that still consider the Broncos a paper tiger.

Don't look for Mike Shanahan to copy Bill Parcells by inserting Jay Cutler if Jake Plummer struggles. Shanahan says he's committed to Plummer for the Indianapolis game. That leads to speculation that he could make a move before next week's game at Pittsburgh if Plummer's 60.4 quarterback rating doesn't improve.

Forecast for Denver is sunny skies with temperatures approaching 70 degrees.

The San Diego Chargers (4-2) saw a late rally fall short in Kansas City last week. Even more damaging was the loss of Shawne Merriman to a four-game steroid suspension.

This is just what Marty Schottenheimer didn't need, especially after Police shot Steve Foley three times and Terrence Keil was arrested for drugs earlier in the season. Throw in injuries to Shaun Phillips and Igor Olshansky, and the No. 1 defense appears to be in trouble.

Merriman appealed his suspension and will get to play the next two games before his hearing. Merriman's attorney has said that his client failed a test due to a tainted supplement, but don't expect the NFL to waive the suspension.

The Chargers will look to their offense to carry the load when they host the St. Louis Rams (4-2) this week.

Both the Chargers and Rams are in the top 10 in scoring. St. Louis can rack up the yards through the air with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, but they also have a very reliable back in Stephen Jackson. This game has all the makings of a shoot-out.

Kick-off in Qualcomm Stadium is slated for 1:05 PST with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper 60's

The Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) have won three out of four after an 0-2 start. They play a Seattle team (4-2) that is ripe for the picking after Matt Hasselbeck went down with a knee injury last week. Running back Shaun Alexander is also out, as is wide receiver Bobby Engram and offensive tackle Sean Locklear.

A crippled Seahawks team looked like an easy matchup before Damon Huard injured his groin Thursday in practice. Rookie Brodie Croyle took all of the snaps in Friday's practice and will get the start if Huard can't go. Trent Green has been cleared to start practicing but his return has been pushed back until the middle of November.

The Chiefs defense has dropped to 11th overall while the Seahawks have the 14th-ranked unit. If Croyle and Seneca Wallace both start Sunday's game, defense will likely determine the outcome. The first team to get the slightest hint of an offense should have a distinct advantage.

Kick-off is set for 12:00 CST. The forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 60's.

Update: The Quest for 7,000

Injury could prevent this goal from being reached. LaMont Jordan missed last week's game with a back injury. AFC West running backs have combined for 2,156 yards through six games, on pace for 5,735 yards by season's end.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories