AFC West: At The Midpoint

With no Kansas City game to preview this weekend, the bye week presents the perfect opportunity to take a step back and look at the rest of the AFC West.

The Chiefs are off to a good start with a 2-0 record within the division, and lead the pack by a half game, but the title is still up for grabs. Can the Broncos, Chargers, or even the Raiders take the lead? Let's break it down.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS, 3-3

Media and fans alike were jumping off San Diego's bandwagon after a poor 1-3 start, but two straight wins have some of those same people ranking the Chargers above the Chiefs in the power rankings. You can't buy that kind of allegiance these days.

Are the Chargers closer to the 1-3 team that disappointed, are they as mediocre as their current record implies, or will they eventually leapfrog Kansas City? It's anyone's guess at this point, but we won't find out for at least another couple of weeks. San Diego is a sure bet to knock off Houston and Minnesota over the next two weeks, putting them at a respectable 5-3.

Then the litmus test begins. The Chargers will face Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Kansas City, Tennessee, Detroit and Denver over the next seven weeks. We'll find out everything we need to know about Norv Turner's squad during that brutal stretch.

The good news for San Diego is that their running game is back on track after a surprisingly slow start. After gashing the Broncos for over 200 yards in Week 5, LaDainian Tomlinson laid 198 on the Raiders a week later. San Diego's pass defense has rebounded after an awful start, also (even the Chiefs scorched them for 284 yards), and the Chargers' defense now appears much closer to what it was a year ago.

OUTLOOK - 10-6

The Chargers would be the easy favorite to win this division if it wasn't for their brutal second-half schedule. They'll still give Kansas City a run for their money, but it's going to be close.


DENVER BRONCOS, 3-3

What a difference a week makes. Before Denver's game this past week, it looked like their season was all but dead. With the way their defense had performed, sure losses appeared on the horizon with games against Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Detroit looming.

Sunday night's 31-28 victory over the Steelers showed everyone a Broncos team we haven't seen this year – they can actually play a smidge of defense. The Steelers still racked up almost 400 yards and 28 points, but Denver forced three fumbles and sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times, applying the kind of pressure that's been rare from their defense this season. Most importantly, they didn't get completely steamrolled against the run.

Here's the good news for the Broncos – they can probably beat the Packers this week, since Green Bay's major weakness is their rushing offense. The bad news, however, is really bad – Denver finishes up the season with six of nine games on the road, and that includes visits to Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago, and San Diego. That second-half schedule might be the league's most difficult.

Things won't get easier on offense, as it appears wide receiver Javon Walker will most likely miss the remainder of the regular season after his knee acted up last week, and who knows when running back Travis Henry's substance-abuse suspension will hit. The Broncos will have to hope for a miracle from their run defense, as they face Kevin Jones, Larry Johnson (twice), LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson in coming weeks.

OUTLOOK - 8-8

The Broncos just don't have the talent on defense to compete for the division this year, and the absence of their top playmaker on offense (Walker) will make life incredibly difficult on quarterback Jay Cutler, who has already thrown eight interceptions in six games.


OAKLAND RAIDERS, 2-4

Rumors of Oakland's resurgence were highly exaggerated. The Raiders are still the Raiders. Consider three amusing gaffes that took place during last week's Chiefs game:

1. Oakland tried to block defensive end Jared Allen with wide receiver Mike Williams on an important third-down play to begin the second half.

2. Raiders center Jeremy Newberry, apparently ignorant of the fact that his quarterback was standing in the shotgun formation, snapped the football right into his own posterior on another important third down, giving the Chiefs the football back at a key moment in the fourth quarter.

3. After Chiefs defensive end Turk McBride ran into punter Shane Lechler on a fourth-and-1 play deep inside Oakland territory, the Raiders appeared to have a first down. It was negated by a penalty on the Raiders – one of the gunners ran out of bounds. If that doesn't sound like the same old Raiders, I don't know what does.

It's not just a play here and a play there, however. The Raiders, after looking like a dominant running team early in the season, appear to have completely forgotten how to run on anyone. Oakland's offense is averaging exactly two yards per carry over the last two weeks, and the Chiefs weren't doing a great job against the run before they visited Oakland.

Daunte Culpepper played better in a losing effort against Kansas City, but rumors are already surfacing that we might see rookie JaMarcus Russell under center soon.

OUTLOOK – 6-10

Give credit to the Raiders for not playing like the worst team in the league this year, but don't let anyone tell you they'll challenge for the division title, or even a wild-card spot. Oakland faces Kansas City, Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and San Diego to end the season. See you next year, Al!

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