The rest of the division should be worried after watching the Broncos dominate on Sunday night, routing the Saints 34-14. Denver has an extremely easy schedule the rest of the way and could run away with the AFC West if they keep it up. The Chargers could not rebound coming off a bye, and the Chiefs continue to be plagued by turnovers. The Raiders made their case for being the second-best in the division, but outside Denver, nothing is pretty in the AFC West.
What we learned: The defense can be good enough to be a perfect complement to Peyton Manning and what has become an explosive offense. Sunday night’s game against Drew Brees and the Saints was supposed to be a shootout, but no one told Jack Del Rio’s crew, which made things difficult all night or Brees and company. The Broncos’ defensive backs were active, recording a total of 13 passes defensed on the night and the Saints converted only one third down. On offense, Manning put on yet another show, leading long touchdown drives and throwing three scores. The run game also looked superb, with Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman combining for 208 rushing yards, giving this team another dynamic to stop. On this night, the Broncos looked like not only the top team in the division, but one of the best in the conference, as the defense stood up to a big test.
What’s in store next: The Broncos are hitting their stride at the right time — only one team on their schedule currently holds a winning record, the Ravens. In Week Nine, they travel to Cincinnati to face a Bengals team coming off a bye. The Bengals have struggled this season, but their defensive front could cause problems for Manning, so it will be a test for Denver’s O-line. Champ Bailey vs. A.J. Green, the veteran corner vs. the young hotshot wideout, will be an entertaining matchup to watch.
What the heck? The Broncos got off to another relatively slow start, though they kept the Saints at bay and didn’t need a giant comeback, but they are becoming quite the second-half squad. Willis McGahee’s touchdown run was only the team’s second first-quarter touchdown all season. Denver has scored double digits in the fourth quarter now in five of seven games after scoring 10 in the final stanza on Sunday evening.
— Kevin Fishbain
What we learned: With an NFL-high 25 turnovers, the Chiefs continued their careless ways in a mostly listless 26-16 loss to the Raiders that dropped the Chiefs’ home mark to 0-4 this season, turning up the anger with fans in Kansas City. Brady Quinn started but came out when he suffered a head injury (feared to be a concussion) and was replaced by Matt Cassel. The difference was hardly noticed with either QB. The Chiefs’ run game was mostly shut down (Cassel and Quinn scrambled for 53 of the 102 ground yards), and Jamaal Charles was mostly ignored after being held to 10 total yards on eight touches.
What’s in store next: With an appearance on Thursday against the Chargers in San Diego, the Chiefs will have little time to feel badly for themselves or come up with a new plan to end their losing streak, which has now stretched to four. It’s hard to imagine that the game will have much of a crowd, considering the Chargers just lost to the Browns, so maybe the Chiefs can steal one on the road. Then again, there’s little they have shown of late to suggest they are capable of that.
What the heck? The Chiefs have not led this season, their one victory coming in the sudden-death portion of overtime. So through more than 428 minutes of Chiefs football this season, not one second has ticked with them ahead. That hasn’t happened to any NFL team through seven games since the 1940 season, when the late founder and owner of the Chiefs, Lamar Hunt, was only eight years old. The Chiefs’ ineptitude doesn’t stop there: They have not scored a touchdown on their opening series all the way back to the start of last season, an incredible streak of starting poorly. No wonder they are tied for the worst record in the NFL.
— Eric Edholm
What we learned: The Raiders are winning the games they are supposed to, and that’s enough to make them legitimate players in the AFC West for now. After beating arguably the worst two teams in the league — the Jaguars and Chiefs — in consecutive weeks, Oakland is a game out of first place in the AFC West. The Raiders have played very solid football for most of the time since their Week Five bye, which is a significant improvement from their showing in the first quarter of the season.
What’s in store next: Oakland returns home to host a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVII. The Buccaneers, who, like the Raiders, are 3-4, will make the trip across the country after notching a big road win in convincing fashion against a Vikings team that had won five of its first seven games. Tampa Bay has averaged 34 points per game in its last three outings, so the Raiders’ defense is in for a tough test.
What the heck? Is it too soon to start thinking about a contract extension for SLB Philip Wheeler? He was credited a team-high 11 tackles (all solo) on Sunday and recorded his first sack of the season and he’s been a great bargain find for the Raiders, who signed him to a one-year, $700,000 deal in the offseason. Wheeler leads the team in tackles (59), is tied for the lead in QB hits (seven), tied for second in passes defensed (four) and is the only Raiders player with multiple forced fumbles (two). He also became the team’s defensive play caller a few weeks ago after Rolando McClain was stripped of those duties.
— Dan Parr
What we learned: If the bye week was productive for San Diego, you couldn’t tell by watching the Chargers’ performance in Cleveland on Sunday. Granted, it’s not easy to win on the road, and the weather was brutal, but the Chargers did not seem to have much of a plan to attack the Browns’ defense. Philip Rivers completed 18-of-34 passes for only 154 yards. Ryan Mathews lost another fumble and the run defense, which was one of the league’s best coming in, struggled against Trent Richardson. Despite all the problems, the Chargers had a good chance to set up a game-winning field goal, but Rivers threw four straight incomplete passes, and they turned it over on downs. The Monday-night debacle against the Broncos put Norv Turner squarely in a place he’s familiar, the hot seat, but the loss to Cleveland coming off a bye was yet another indictment — one that was maybe worse — on Turner’s coaching and Rivers’ quarterbacking.
What’s in store next: We shouldn’t call the Chargers fortunate for getting the Chiefs next, considering that’s what the Browns game appeared to be. The Chargers dominated K.C. in Week Four, forcing six turnovers, and the Chiefs remain a mess, especially at quarterback. San Diego hosts this one on Thursday night and it may be a struggle for them to fill seats, which won’t look good on NFL Network. The Chiefs should provide the Chargers an opportunity to get back on track, but they cannot take anything for granted.
What the heck? The Chargers could have won the game with less than seven minutes to go in the fourth. Melvin Ingram put a rush in on Brandon Weeden and he deflected the pass, but S Atari Bigby could not hold on for what would have been an easy pick-six. It’d be a different story on Monday had Bigby or Ingram completed that play. That wasn’t the only key drop — WR Robert Meachem dropped what would have been a surefire 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter. … On the Chargers’ final drive, Rivers targeted TE Antonio Gates just once and Meachem not at all.
— Kevin Fishbain