AFC West: Manning, Rivers meet Brady and Brees
by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)
AFC West Pigskin Political Prognosticator
The days are getting shorter, the air is getting crisper, and the football games are taking on more importance as we enter the NFL's fifth week of the regular season. Last week saw the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos separate themselves from the pack with wins over division rivals Kansas City and Oakland, respectively.
Week Five finds San Diego and Denver involved in two of Sunday's marquee games when the 3-1 Chargers visit Drew Brees and the 0-4 New Orleans Saints in what will be another must win for "Who Dat" nation.
Meanwhile, the Broncos will head to Foxboro to renew the greatest quarterback rivalry in NFL History as Peyton Manning faces Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a pivotal swing game between the 2-2 teams.
The Kansas City Chiefs, now 1-3 and subject of a frothing quarterback controversy, will host the 3-1 Baltimore Ravens at Arrowhead, where the Chiefs are winless this season and just 3-7 in their last 10 games.
The Oakland Raiders greet the division's first bye week with open arms as there are questions abound for the Silver and Black after losing to hated rival Denver by the worst margin since 1962. They'll have to find answers quick as they travel to currently undefeated Atlanta in Week Six.
Here are Five Things to Watch in Week Five:
1. The quarterback situation in Kansas City has all the luster of this year's Presidential Election.
On one hand you have the incumbent, Matt Cassel. This is his fourth year in office in the City of Fountains and it's hard to say the Chiefs are better off than they were when he took over. Cassel is 19-24 (.431) as the Chiefs' starter and has never completed 60 percent of his passes. He leads the NFL this season with 10 turnovers (7 INT) and it's starting to look like defenses have figured out the Chiefs most successful play, "Chuck it to Bowe". Cassel's public approval rating is at an all time low and fans are even taking things into their own hands. Remember, there was a regime change in Denver last year shortly after billboards started going up.
On the other hand, you have the challenger, Brady Quinn. Admittedly he got a raw deal in Denver after he was brought in to backup and compete with Kyle Orton after the 2009 season only to watch Josh McDaniels draft Tim Tebow. Quinn, who's become known for the way he wears his uniform instead of the way he plays in it, hasn't taken a snap in a game that mattered since he was still with the Cleveland Browns, where he was also a victim of circumstance. He has a career Passer Rating of 66.8 in 353 pass attempts with 10 TD's to 9 INT's. His promise of hope and change sound all too familiar, but as we've seen with guys like Rich Gannon and Trent Green there are some quarterbacks who are late bloomers.
Either way, Chiefs Head Coach Romeo Crennel is stuck picking between these two bozos when it seems like there should be more qualified candidates out there. Sound familiar? Unfortunately for Crennel's Chiefs the Baltimore Ravens, 3rd overall in CHFF's Quality Stats Power Rankings, are headed to Kansas City with every intention of bring down the establishment.
2. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos must protect the football to avoid another Belichickian embarrassment.
Since the start of the 2009 season, the New England Patriots are 23-2 (.920) at home in the regular season. Their only losses came two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals and in Week nine of last season to the New York Giants.
Peyton Manning is just 2-6 in the regular season and 2-8 overall in Foxboro in his career, albeit with another breed of horse. More troubling is the minus 20 turnover differential Manning's teams have had in those ten games, averaging 3.2 turnovers per contest while forcing just 1.2.
Since taking over as the Patriots head coach in 2000, Bill Belichick's teams are a staggering 34-1 including the playoffs when forcing 3+ turnovers, so Peyton and the Broncos must win the turnover battle in order to turn the tide in this rivalry.
3. Nobody in the NFL wants to play the wounded pack of dogs in New Orleans until they win a game.
The San Diego Chargers don't want to be the first victim as they have the unenviable task of trying to push the New Orleans Saints' season to the brink of extinction with an 0-5 record. San Diego has the statistical advantage in virtually every CHFF Quality Stat except Rushing Yards Per Attempt, where the Saints average 0.67 more yards per rush led by their 3rd ranked Offensive Hogs.
Many people point to the suspensions of head coach Sean Payton and defensive leader Johnathan Vilma as a big reason for the Saints demise, but Drew Brees is trying to do it all and failing. His 86.07 Passer Rating is 19th in the NFL and his Real Quarterback Rating of 82.58 isn't much better at 17th yet he leads the league in pass attempts with 191 yet has just a 57.6% completion rate. Hardly the numbers one expects from the prolific Brees.
if the New Orleans' defense, which has been horrible (107.4 Defensive Passer Rating, 29th ranked Defensive Hogs), can play just a little bit better it's not a stretch to think the Saints can get on the board Sunday night. They did have a 24-6 lead against the Chiefs two weeks ago before completely pissing the bed, then gave the Green Bay Packers all they could handle last week in Lambeau. Don't dig that paper bag out of the closet just yet, Saints fans, a prime-time win against a very good Chargers team could catapult the Saints on the road to .500 and a middle of the road draft pick...
4. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks Sunday in Foxboro, but the winner will run their way to victory.
The team that rushed for more yards has won seven of the last 10 games in the Patriots - Broncos rivalry. The Denver Broncos were primarily a run-first team under former coach Mike Shannahan and were a run-only team last season, when the Broncos lost to the Patriots twice by a combined score of 86-33.
The Broncos have outgained their opponents on the ground 259 Yds to 131 Yds in their two victories but have been outgained 208 Yds to 177 Yds in their two losses. Denver's Offensive Hogs are tied for third-best in the NFL overall yet they're only 17th with 3.86 Rushing Yds/Attempt.
Likewise, the New England Patriots have won the rushing battle in their two victories by a margin of 409 Yds to 118 Yds but were outgained on the ground by a margin of 233 Yds to 167 in their two losses. The Patriots have the 2nd Ranked Offensive Hogs while averaging 4.2 RY/A (12th)
5. Optimism is warranted in San Diego but Bolts fans should beware of October.
Philip Rivers has only gotten off to a 4-1 start twice in his career. The first was his first year as a starter in 2006 when the Chargers went 14-2. Last year the Chargers started 4-1 only to lose six games in a row to finish .500 for the season. Head Coach Norv Turner has become known as a late bloomer during his time in San Diego, amassing a 31-12 (.721) record in regular season games played in November, December, and January. The problem is they've had to play good late because of their traditionally slow starts.
Norv's Chargers are just 20-20 in September and October, but have a record of just 3-7 (.300) in October road games. Interestingly enough, the Chargers have never lost (3-0) in New Orleans, and a win against the Saints would put the 4-1 Chargers in the early conversation of teams that might end up back on Bourbon Street in February.
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