AFC West: Denver gains ground as Oakland and San Diego lose
by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)
CHFF Resident Leatherneck
The AFC West traveled East in Week 10, with all four teams on the road in the eastern time zone with mixed results. The Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers all had games with 1:00pm (EST) kickoff times while the Kansas City Chiefs will play on Monday night for the first time this year.
The Denver Broncos gained a little breathing room in the race for the AFC West on Sunday. With their 36-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers, the Broncos won their fourth straight game to improve to 6-3. The Broncos (-4) were the only team in the division that was favored this week.
The San Diego Chargers lost to the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-24, falling to 4-5 and two full games back in the division race. The fate of the Chargers' season now hangs in the balance with a trip to Denver up next on the agenda.
Finally, the Oakland Raiders were routed by the Baltimore Ravens to the tune of 55-20, which represents the highest point total scored in Ravens' history and ties the franchise record for most points allowed in Raiders history. Oakland now sits at 3-6 and the boat is taking on water fast.
Here are 5 Things we learned:
1. The Denver Broncos aren't just a one trick-pony.
For the first time in franchise history, the Broncos scored an offensive touchdown, a defensive touchdown, a special teams touchdown, and a safety in the same game. That's what we call winning in all phases, folks.
Denver's defense held the Carolina Cams to just 250 yards of total offense and the Panthers failed to convert a third down all day (0-12). The Broncos jumped seven spots to take over as our #1 ranked Defensive Hog unit as a result of their dominating performance against John Fox's former employer.
Waiver-wire gem Trindon Holliday scored on a 76 yard punt return in the first half after setting a Broncos' record with a 105 yard kickoff return last week in Cincinnati and rookie running back Ronnie Hillman scored his first career touchdown on a game-icing drive late in the fourth quarter.
Oh yeah, as for that other guy, Peyton Manning, he had just another ho-hum day at the office, completing 71% of his passes (27-38) for 301 yards and a touchdown to Brandon Stokley. Manning has a 119.9 Passer Rating in his last six games. He's completing 75% of his passes and has thrown 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions in that span in which the Broncos are 5-1.
2. Giving up 55 points on the road is not the type of change the Oakland Raiders were looking for when they hired Dennis Allen.
It's been said that a man's true character is shown when things get tough. If that's the case, we're about to find out what these Oakland Raiders are made of. The Raiders talked all week about how this game was an opportunity to make a statement, but allowing 50+ points for just the fourth time in franchise history wasn't what they had in mind.
The Raiders are now 29th in our Quality Stats Power Rankings, ahead of only Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Kansas City. Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie knew they were inheriting a talent-starved team, but you have to wonder if the players they do have are beginning to check out after allowing 97 points and 934 yards of offense in the last two weeks.
Oakland is allowing 31.6 points per game (31st) and a point differential of -93 (29th). The Raiders are also -3 in turnover differential and 31st with just 11 defensive sacks. That doesn't leave a whole lot of room for optimism for a team that thought they were getting a defensive genius when they hired Allen.
3. Philip Rivers is playing like a quarterback who wants a new head coach.
Despite throwing for 337 yards and three touchdowns, Rivers found another way to choke on Sunday, throwing both of his interceptions in the fourth quarter. He's now 18th in the NFL in Real Quarterback Rating, a far cry from his elite status of seasons past.
The first pick, which was returned 87 yards for a touchdown by Leonard Johnson, was as bad as an interception as you'll see all season. Rivers was running out of bounds and appeared to be just throwing the ball away when it hit Johnson right between the numbers. The Chargers were down by just three at the time and easily in field goal range.
San Diego's defense allowed less than 300 yards of offense for just the third time this season, and held rookie phenom Doug Martin to just 68 yards on 19 carries (3.8 RY/A). The Chargers did not force a turnover for the second time in the last three games, and they are now 6-16 under Norv Turner when failing to do so.
4. Carson Palmer always comes up big when the stakes are at their lowest.
Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown must get chuckle every time he sees highlights of Palmer's Raiders on the news. Brown swindled Oakland for a 2012 first round pick (CB Dre Kirkpatrick) and will get what appears to be a high second round pick in next April's draft for the rights to Palmer after Jason Campbell went down for the then first place Raiders last season.
Since the trade, Palmer has played in 19 games and averaged 288.2 passing yards per game while compiling just a 7-11 record as a starter. He's thrown for 28 touchdowns and 25 interceptions and lost four fumbles. He's surely won many a fantasy game in that time, but the real-life Oakland Raiders are in no better shape than they were before Palmer's arrival and his future as the team's quarterback is certainly being questioned.
5. The AFC West is living proof that Passer Rating Differential reigns supreme as the "Mother of All Statistics".
While the Kansas City Chiefs still have to play their Week 10 game tonight, there's nothing Matt Cassel or the Chiefs' pass defense will be able to do to get them out of the NFL's Passer Rating Differential cellar. At -41.41, the Chiefs are in last place by nearly 35 points, which makes it no surprise that they have just one win to their credit at this point of the season.
Conversely, the Denver Broncos currently have the best PRD in the AFC at +24.82, and trail only Green Bay and San Francisco overall. As Peyton Manning has continued to improve, so has the Broncos' defense as they become more comfortable under Jack Del Rio's scheme. At 6-3 and with the meat of their schedule largely behind them, the Broncos are in position to build a lot of momentum entering the playoffs.
In the middle we have the San Diego Chargers (-2.22, 13th) and the Oakland Raiders (-11.79, 27th). Neither team has been able to get any consistency out of their passing game, and as a result both find themselves on the brink of having their seasons end in dissapointment yet again. Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer were once considered in the cut just below the Tom Brady's and Peyton Manning's of the world, but it's becoming clear both need better supporting casts to win consistently.
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