Broncos Grab Stranglehold on AFC West With Fifth Straight Win
by Nate Winkler (@natewinker)
CHFF Stagecoach Backseat Driver
Week 11 around the NFL was chock-full of exciting games that featured comebacks, overtimes, and last minute heroics. None of those games involved teams from the AFC West, as they were able to manage a couple of the day's biggest snoozers before providing a touch of drama with the lone division battle.
The Kansas City Chiefs fell at home 28-6 to the Cincinnati Bengals, marking their seventh double-digit loss this season and dropping them to 1-9 and in the driver's seat for first choice in next April's draft.
The Oakland Raiders were also blown out at home, falling to the New Orleans Saints 38-17 in a game where the Raiders filled the box score with nice (but meaningless) fantasy stats but never really threatened as the Saints rolled.
Finally, the Denver Broncos established themselves as the clear favorite to win the division after a convincing 30-23 win against the visiting San Diego Chargers, who now sit at 4-6 and a full three games behind the Broncos who improved to 7-3.
Here are 5 Things We Learned:
1. Peyton Manning has taken the Denver Broncos offense to heights it has never seen in it's 53 year history.
The Broncos have won five straight games, bookended by their first season sweep of the Chargers since 2005, which was the year before Philip Rivers became the starter in San Diego.
During the five game streak, the Broncos have scored 30+ points and gained 350+ yards in each contest. This marks the first time in franchise history (797 regular season games) that the Broncos have topped 30 points five game in a row.
If Denver tops 350 yards of offense next week in Kansas City it will tie a franchise record of six straight games set back in 1986. They reached the five game mark on three other occasions, twice in 1998 and again in 2002.
The Broncos are second in the NFL with 30.1 points per game and have outscored their opponents 122-37 in the fourth quarter this season. It's time for Manning and the Broncos to start focusing on a first-round bye and playoff positioning because the division is all but theirs.
2. If you happen to be an NFL coach and you find yourself being out-smarted by Marvin Lewis, you'd better dust off that Rolodex and start networking.
Just about everyone you'll come across in the NFL will tell you that Romeo Crennel is as good a man as you'll ever encounter, adding that they're sure rooting for him. I have an uncle like that, but I wouldn't leave him in charge of an ant farm, let alone an NFL franchise.
On the same drive alone in the first quarter of Sunday's game, Lewis' Bengals converted two fourth downs, one on a fake punt and another on a blatant "F-you" 4th & 7 just outside of field goal range. Cincinnati took the lead 7-3 at the end of that drive and never looked back as they cruised to a 28-6 victory.
Matt Cassel was benched in favor of Brady Quinn at halftime, but it was the Bengals' Andy Dalton who ruled the day. Dalton led the Bengals to 409 yards of total offense and had his second straight game without a turnover and posted a 109.8 Passer Rating on 18/29 (62%) passing for 230 yards. The Chiefs had no answer for A.J. Green who had six receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Kansas City is now 1-9 and assured of it's fifth losing season in the last six, and the fans showed where they stood by emptying the stands. Crennel and Cassel will both be employed elsewhere next season and the Chiefs should already be scouting as they appear to be a lock for a top three draft pick.
3. The Navy's "Top Gun" may reside in San Diego, but Philip Rivers has certainly lost that lovin' feeling.
Maybe it's his offensive line, even though they entered Week 11 a middling 17th in our Offensive Hog Index.
Maybe it's his soon-to-be-unemployed coach, who hasn't been an offensive genius since he was watching Troy Aikman throw 12 yard curls to Michael Irvin and hand off to Emmitt Smith, all three of whom are enshrined in Canton.
Maybe he's just developed a case of the quarterback yips, or Steve Sax Syndrome for football players.
Whatever it is, every time Philip Rivers puts that helmet on, he's dangerous, just like Maverick was when he was trying to out dog-fight his father's ghost.
The Chargers' ace had a rare frustrating day in Denver, going 24-40 (60%) for 258 yards and accounting for three turnovers (2 INT). He constantly looked rattled in the pocket and over or under threw receivers on multiple occasions.
The Chargers are just 21-20 since the start of the 2010 season. They've turned the ball over 2 or more times in 23 of those 41 games, winning just seven of those (.304).
Another season on the outside looking in at the post-season means the Spanos family will finally be hitting the eject button on Norv Turner's flat spin in San Diego.
4. Carson Palmer might be a level 60 warlock in fantasy land, but he's not the guy to carry a franchise on his back in the real world.
Drew Brees is single-handedly lifting the New Orleans Saints into relevancy with a combination of talent, leadership, and fearlessness.
On the other sideline at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday was the Raiders' Carson Palmer, who is comparatively lacking in all three of those categories.
Palmer threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns Sunday in another losing effort, but also threw two interceptions, one returned for a defensive touchdown, and compiled just a 76.2 Passer Rating compared to Brees' 134.6. Palmer now has 3,035 yards on the season along with 11 touchdown passes but your fantasy team probably has more than his three wins if you've been starting him.
As our CHFF Insiders know, teams that win the Passer Rating battle have won NFL games at a rate of 83.4% entering this weekend. Palmer has posted a higher rating than his opposing quarterback in one out of ten games this season. Ironically, the Raiders lost that game, 23-20 to the Atlanta Falcons.
Palmer can't be blamed entirely, as his defense entered the game 29th in the NFL with a 98.34 Defensive Passer Rating. They allowed three more passing touchdowns and another 150 yards on the ground to the Saints.
5. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are becoming the most-feared tandem in the Wild West since Frank and Jesse James.
J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans has been getting most of the publicity thus far but fellow sophomore Von Miller is nipping at his heels in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion.
Miller recorded three sacks against Philip Rivers on Sunday, giving him the NFL lead with 13. He now has 24.5 sacks in 25 regular season NFL games, a Derrick-Thomas like pace. The self-proclaimed Robin to Dumervil's Batman, Miller also forced two more fumbles against the Chargers, doubling his season total.
Dumervil already has the distinction of being an NFL Sack Champion when he led the league with 17 in 2009. He tacked on the fourth Broncos' sack on the final play of the game against the Chargers, stripping the ball from Rivers for his eight sack and sixth forced fumble of the season. Only Chicago's Charles Tillman (7) has forced more.
The Broncos dynamic pass rushing duo is tailor-made to compliment the Peyton Manning led offense, just as the Indianapolis Colts did with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. As a team, Denver now has 35 sacks in ten games after recording just 41 all of last season.
Denver also held San Diego to just 3-16 (.188) on 3rd down and 53 rushing yards on 2.3 RY/A, which will enable them to hang on to their #1 Defensive Hog ranking for another week.
With a visit to Kansas City next up on the agenda, where the Chiefs are 0-5 this season, the Broncos should continue to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield.
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