AFC West: Falcons-Chargers will be a Main Event
So much for the AFC West being a balanced, competitive division this season. After 120 minutes of football the division belongs to the 2-0 San Diego Chargers while the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders look like they'd have a hard time winning a game in the SEC. The Denver Broncos are somewhere in between after mixed returns on the Peyton Manning project, but Week Three will sharpen the focus of the makeup of these four teams.
Here are Five Things to Watch:
1. AFC Championship rematch be damned, the game of the week is when the Atlanta Falcons visit the San Diego Chargers.
The Falcons and the Chargers come in just behind the Houston Texans at the top of our data-bolical Quality Stats Power Rankings. Atlanta has already beaten the Chiefs and the Broncos this season and head Falcon Mike Smith is 5-1 in his career against the AFC West (3-0 on the road). The Falcons rank first in CHFF's Scorability, Real Quarterback Rating, Offensive Passer Rating, Passer Rating Differential, and Negative Pass Play Percentage. Matt Ryan's six touchdowns (one rushing) and zero turnovers along with his 7.25 Real Passing Yards per Attempt are the reason why.
San Diego is off to it's first 2-0 under Norv Turner and has a chance to be 3-0 for the first time since 2004. The Chargers defense has led the way, with the second ranked Bendability Rating and have allowed just 83 rushing yards on 2.77 RY/A (6th) in the first two games against Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson. The Bolts' defense is also allowing opponents to convert on 1 of 4 third down attempts, good for third in the league.
The Chargers are hoping the return of Ryan Matthews will bolster their anemic 3.05 RY/A (27th) and take some of the pressure off of Philip Rivers. Rivers ranks in the top five in both Passer Rating and Real QBR while averaging 7.06 Real PY/A.
Whichever quarterback has the better day will likely lead his team to victory; teams with the higher Offensive Passer Rating are 30-2 (.937) after two weeks, as shown by CHFF's amazing Correlation To Victory metric.
2. The Denver Broncos must make "Mile High" a hard place to play again, because it hasn't been for a long time.
Since they lost the AFC Championship game to the Pittsburgh Steelers to end the 2005 season the Broncos are 25-25 at Invesco/Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, and just 8-14 at home after a road loss. To put that into proper historical context, Pat Bowlen bought the Denver Broncos in 1984. From 1984-2005 the Broncos were 148-43 (.775) at home in the regular season, and 57-15 (.792) when returning home after a road loss.
Including the Broncos, there are 11 teams with losing home records in those six seasons. They've combined for eight playoff appearances and just one playoff victory, Denver's Mile High Miracle against those same Steelers last season (and that took divine intervention).
The Houston Texans are looking to get over a hump of their own. Head Coach Gary Kubiak was Denver's offensive coordinator for that 2005 season and he parlayed the Broncos' success into the Texans gig the following year. His career record entering Sunday's game is 49-49, and he's never been above .500 as a coach.
As chronicled earlier this week on Sports Illustrated by head CHFF troll Kerry Byrne, the Texans finished 2011 as our top ranked team and find themselves atop our Quality Stats Power Rankings again after two games this season. The Broncos (15th) figure to be stiffer competition than the Texans' first two opponents, Miami (23rd overall) and Jacksonville (26th overall), but Houston has been the most complete football team in the league since the beginning of 2011.
3. The loser of the Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints can kiss their Super Bowl chances goodbye.
Since the NFL went to it's current 12 team playoff format in 1990, there have been three teams (1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions, 1998 Bills) that have started 0-3 and made the playoffs, or a Lloyd Christmas-like 1.13 percent. No team that lost it's first three games has ever appeared in a conference championship game, let alone the Super Bowl.
The Saints appear to be victims of their former defensive coordinator Greg William's rally cry; "Kill the head and the body will die". Quarterback Drew Brees is steering a rudderless ship without a head coach, or even an interim head coach. With as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns after two games, Brees has just a 71.56 Passer Rating and is completing just 54.4 percent of his throws. Luckily he'll be facing the team with the worst defensive passer rating (130.16) in the AFC, so if he's going to get back on track this would be the week to do it.
The Kansas City Chiefs are tired of hearing about their "potential" after having what looks like a very talented roster on paper, especially on defense. The Chiefs rank dead last in in Bendability, Defensive Negative Pass Play Percentage, Defensive Hog Index, and Relativity Index, while coming in ahead of only the Saints in Defensive Real PY/A, Defensive Passer Rating, and Passer Rating Differential. In other words, any Chiefs or Saints offensive player should be must-starts in your fantasy league, if you're into that sort of thing.
4. Dennis Allen "changing the culture" in Oakland: as easy as bringing democracy to the Middle East.
The Oakland Raiders are looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2006, when they finished 2-14. They'll have to do so against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that handily beat up on the New York Jets last week but are just 2-4 on the road against the AFC West in the Mike Tomlin era.
The Raiders got shellacked by the Miami Dolphins and Mr. Lauren Tannehill last week and one has to look no further than their Hogs to find out why. Oakland's Offensive Hogs are last in the league with just 2.0 RY/A and 22.33% 3rd Down conversion rate. The only thing keeping them from a worse overall Hog rating is "Captain Checkdown" Carson Palmer's impressive Negative Pass Play % of 4.12 (roughly 1 out of every 25 throws). Palmer is on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards while scoring less than 14 points a game, desecrating yet another statistical milestone in the live-ball era of the NFL.
Thier Raiders' Defensive Hogs are equally bad, forcing Negative Pass Plays just. 3.08% of the time (31st) while allowing 4.68 RY/A (25th) and a 46.67% 3rd Down conversion rate. Ben Roethlisberger is the master at 3rd down, and once again the Steelers are leading the league with a 55.88% conversion rate. Oakland will have to take risks and minimize Big Ben's improvisation time for any chance at the upset victory, but since 2003 the Raiders are just 7-15 at home when underdogs by 4 or more.
5. Playing defensive back in the NFL is a hard way to make a livin' these days.
Two games into the 2012 season and there are NINE teams that have a Defensive Passer Rating of 100 or more. Kansas City (130.16 DPR) travels to New Orleans (135.51 DPR) in a game that could produce 100 passing attempts and untold fantasy stats. Of the AFC West teams, only the San Diego Chargers have a positive Passer Rating Differential (+28.01, 7th) while the Broncos (-2.36), Raiders (-12.64) and Chiefs (-51.47) are all on the wrong side of passing efficiency, which spells doom for their championship hopes unless they find a remedy.
As is well chronicled at CHFF, 69 of the 72 NFL Champions since 1940 have finished in the top 10 in PRD, which is why we call it the "Mother of All Stats". Exactly half of the NFL's 32 teams have Offensive Passer Ratings of 90 or more after only nine finished above 90 in 2011.
Many are pointing at the replacement referees as being discriminatory against the secondary, but there have only been three more defensive pass interference /illegal contact penalties this season than there were after two weeks last year.