Another typical week in the AFC West — the Broncos dominated, the Raiders and Chiefs fell and the Chargers took advantage of a weak opponent.
What we learned: Maybe it has something to do with that Peyton Manning fellow, but this team continues to avoid getting upset. The Broncos weren’t caught looking past the Browns or sitting comfortably in the No. 2 seed — and now the top seed is in reach if the Texans lose at Indianapolis. Against a solid Browns pass defense, Manning threw for a season-high 339 yards and three touchdowns. More impressively, the Broncos’ O-line, which has been formidable all season long, held Cleveland without a sack. Demaryius Thomas (9-102-1) had success against standout CB Joe Haden, and the defense harassed Browns QBs Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy. Von Miller had 1½ sacks to up his season total to 17½ sacks, a franchise record. Elvis Dumervil, Derek Wolfe and Wesley Woodyard all pitched in, as the Broncos had six sacks. Trent Richardson had some room to run (5.9-yard average) but he had only nine carries. The defense stood tall on third down as well. With a 10-game win streak, the Broncos remain the hottest team in football at the perfect time.
What’s in store next: Some have pegged the Broncos as the best team in the league, and they’ll face arguably the worst team in the league in the finale against the Chiefs. A win, and the Broncos clinch a first-round bye. A win and a Texans loss, and Denver gets the No. 1 seed, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs ran the ball well vs. Denver when the teams met in Week 12 (148 yards on 31 carries), and had 352 rushing yards in a Week 16 loss to the Colts. Romeo Crennel has shown in the past that he knows how to stifle Manning, and the Chiefs’ defense did well to slow him down early in their previous meeting, so Sunday won’t be a cakewalk.
What the heck? CB Tracy Porter returned to action for the first time since Week Five, and promptly left the game with a reported concussion after a collision. What was curious about Porter being active was that the Broncos held Tony Carter out. Carter has 11 passes defensed and has made big plays as the team’s No. 3 corner. Instead, rookie Omar Bolden was the fourth corner, likely for his play on special teams.
What we learned: The Chiefs will be picking first or second in the NFL draft. They need the help. The Chiefs rushed for 352 yards, accumulated 507 yards of offense and still lost to the Colts, 20-13. There was little doubt which team was the better club, even with it being a close game. The Colts were composed and clutch. The Chiefs undid themselves with mistakes — three turnovers after appearing to curb that problem — and couldn’t score touchdowns. It could cost the coaching staff and some of the front office its jobs.
What’s in store next: The Chiefs will travel to Denver to face the Broncos, who are fighting for the top seed in the AFC. It was a close game when these teams met in Week 12, a 17-9 Broncos win, but the Broncos will be highly motivated and Peyton Manning typically can dissect a defense in his second time facing it.
What the heck? Jamaal Charles deserves All-Pro mention. He has been a terrific runner on a horribly bad team, and considering the QB play and sometimes ridiculous play-calling, his accomplishments are that much more impressive. He rushed for 226 yards on 22 carries with an 86-yard score. How good a running day was it? Even Peyton Hillis ran for 101. The Chiefs gained eight yards per carry and struggled to throw the ball consistently (10-of-22 passing), and yet offensive coordinator Brian Daboll still passed up chances to get Charles and Hillis the ball. It, frankly, was inexcusable with Brady Quinn at QB, Dwayne Bowe on I.R., Tony Moeaki inactive and Jon Baldwin and Jamar Newsome starting at receiver.
What we learned: There was not much doubt left about it, but Sunday’s game was the clearest and strongest signal yet that head coach Dennis Allen does not trust QB Terrelle Pryor to run the offense. When starting QB Carson Palmer suffered an injury to his ribs late in the first quarter Sunday at Carolina, Allen had a chance to give Pryor a shot, but he chose to play Matt Leinart instead. Pryor was on the field for just a few plays Sunday. Allen obviously thinks that Leinart, who had a passer rating of 45.7 Sunday, gives the team a better chance to win than Pryor, which either does not say much for Pryor’s development or Allen’s evaluation of his personnel. Either way, it’s not a good sign for the 4-11 Raiders — who have not scored a touchdown in their past eight quarters — that their head coach does not want to give the one player that might be able to spark the offense a real opportunity to do so.
What’s in store next: The Raiders will end the season how they started it — lined up across from the AFC West-rival Chargers. San Diego (6-9) will host Oakland Sunday after recording 11 sacks in a 27-17 road win over the Jets in Week 16. The Chargers have been a better road team this season and have actually lost five of their past six home games. They have won 15 of their last 18 games against the Raiders, though, and will be looking to send their head coach, Norv Turner — who is not expected to be retained — out on a high note.
What the heck? A month ago, FB Marcel Reece was one of the few good things the Raiders’ offense had going for it. They were losing, yes, but Reece was very productive as the featured back with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson sidelined. However, with McFadden and Goodson back in the lineup, Reece has not had a single carry in the past two games. McFadden and Goodson certainly were not doing much with their opportunities Sunday (21 carries for 45 yards combined). Why not give Reece at least a few rushes, especially when nothing else seems to be working? He has touched the ball only five times (five catches) in the past two games.
What we learned: The best part of this year’s Chargers team has been the play of their front seven on defense, and we saw that in full force in a 27-17 win over the Jets. San Diego notched 11 sacks and 16 QB hits in an astounding display against a solid Jets O-line. Rookie Kendall Reyes led the way with 3½ sacks, and second-year DE Corey Liuget added two sacks, showing what a bright future the D-line has. The pressure kept the Jets’ passing game from doing much, and the Chargers bottled up a Jets running game that had been productive over the last month. On offense, Danario Alexander continued his strong play, with three catches for 69 yards, including his sixth touchdown catch of the season. Antonio Gates made his 82nd career TD catch, the most in Chargers history. The O-line continued to have its issues, but Philip Rivers was turnover-free (three straight games without an interception). Former backup Corey Lynch, filling in at a depleted safety position, had a key interception.
What’s in store next: The Chargers have a very good opportunity to finish a disappointing season on a high note, with a home matchup with the Raiders in the season finale. San Diego beat Oakland 22-14 in the season opener. The Raiders are 4-11 and might be without starting QB Carson Palmer (rib injury). A key matchup will be the Chargers’ defensive front vs. Darren McFadden. He had only 32 yards rushing in Week One, but did catch 13 passes for 86 yards.
What the heck? It could be the sparse crowds at home don’t provide much of an advantage, but the Chargers have had some success on the road this season. They will finish 2012 with a 4-4 record on the road, and their worst losses (27-3 to Atlanta, 31-7 to Carolina) both came at home. For the third time this season, the Chargers followed up a bad home loss with a solid road victory.