By Cullen Jekel
Kansas City Chiefs, 3-0
Say what you will about the Chiefs’ defense, but one thing this unit has accomplished in each of the first three weeks is forcing the opposing team to go three-and-out to start the football game. That should not be overlooked, as it has helped the Chiefs take early leads against the Los Angeles Chargers (AFC West Rival), Pittsburgh Steelers, and San Francisco 49ers. Against both California-based teams, the Chiefs never surrendered those leads.
In the first week, after QB Philip Rivers couldn’t create anything meaningful. Chargers punter Drew Kaser boomed a kick to Tyreek Hill, who promptly returned it 91 yards for a touchdown. The Chargers later got within two points midway through the second quarter before the Chiefs pulled away, winning 38-28.
In Week Two, the Steelers punted on a 4th-and-12, and this time, it was De’Anthony Thomas with the long punt return. This set the Chiefs up with a 1st-and-goal from the Steelers’ 10-yard line. QB Patrick Mahomes II soon thereafter connected with WR Chris Conley for a touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead. While the Steelers later tied the game, first at 21-21 and then 28-28, they never took the lead, and the Chiefs prevailed 42-37.
Finally, yesterday in Kansas City, the 49ers received the ball first. Their offense quickly sputtered. Punter Bradley Pinion angled his punt out of bounds at the Chiefs’ 43-yard line. No matter. Eleven plays and 57 yards later, Kansas City was up 7-0 after a Kareem Hunt rushing touchdown. San Francisco got within 7 points early, but it was 35-10 Chiefs at half-time, and 38-27 in the end.
Of course this defense has strides to make, but it’s doing just enough. There are rumblings about the Chiefs striking a deal with the Seahawks for disgruntled safety Earl Thomas and even signing free agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland. Regardless of if either those moves come to fruition, the return of safety Eric Berry (whenever that may be) will be a boost.
Overall, the Chiefs are first in the AFC West. We must now consider them the presumptive #1 seed in the entire conference.
Denver Broncos, 2-1
The Broncos won their first two games by a collective four points before getting blown out in Baltimore 27-14 yesterday.
While QB Case Keenum threw three touchdown passes in Week One against Seattle, he’s thrown zero since. He threw for under 200 yards against the Ravens, and as a result, the Broncos offense collapsed after putting up 14 points in the first quarter. Their last nine drives ended with seven consecutive punts before an interception and a turnover on downs with 2:57 left in the game.
Yikes. Not exactly inspiring confidence.
Keenum needs to get the offense going, and soon, because the defense is holding its own. Yes, they gave up nearly 30 points to a Ravens offense that looked, uh, not good against Cincinnati last week. But that was a Thursday Night game for the Ravens, who then got some extra time before this match-up.
Thanks to wins in weeks one and two, the Broncos are second in the AFC West with a looming Monday Night Football showdown against the Chiefs on October 1st. That game will be played in Denver. If the Broncos hope to slow down Mahomes, they’ll need an executing offense to do so.
Los Angeles Chargers, 1-2
The Chargers have faced two good teams and the Buffalo Bills. They beat the Bills handily while letting Week One against the Chiefs slip away. Then they got smacked down yesterday against their big brother, the Los Angeles Rams.
In order to have a chance at the AFC West and make the playoffs, the Chargers are going to have to start beating good teams. Luckily for them, after getting shown up by Sean McVay, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff & Co. yesterday, 35-23, they have a relatively easy slate the next three weeks. They host the suddenly Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers and the dumpster fire talked about in the next section before heading to Cleveland.
Win those three, suddenly the Chargers are 4-2 with four division games remaining.
But, like the Chiefs, the defense needs to step it up. This team has surrendered 38 points to a Mahomes-led Chiefs team, 20 to Buffalo (meh), and 35 to the Rams. To win big games and the AFC West, those numbers are going to have to come down. Despite Rivers having some left in the tank, the Chargers will not win in a shoot-out.
Oakland Raiders, 0-3
In case anyone is wondering, the last team to start the season 0-3 and still make the playoffs was in 1998. That team was the Buffalo Bills, led by Mr. Boston College himself, Doug Flutie.
So, two things here. One: it’s been a while. Two: if that feat is matched this season, it will not be by the Oakland Raiders. I’m pretty confident of that.
The Raiders dropped their third straight game yesterday by squandering a 17-7 lead over the Miami Dolphins with 2:58 left to play in the third quarter. The Dolphins would score touchdowns on three of their next four drives to take a 28-17 lead before the Raiders finally answered with a 41-yard field goal. However, that was with merely 25 seconds left. When Mike Nugent’s onside kick failed, so too did the Raiders’ chance at victory.
It’s the second straight week that Oakland has blown a fourth-quarter lead. Last week, they were up on division-rival Denver 19-10 entering the final frame. They lost 20-19 after the Broncos’ Brandon McManus nailed a 36-yard field goal that left six seconds on the clock.
The second half has not been kind to coach Jon Gruden’s team. The Raiders allowed 23 points in the second half to the Rams in Week One, 20 to the Broncos in Week Two, and 21 points yesterday to the Dolphins. Maybe if this team learns how to finish, it could make some noise. The Raiders are far from a cakewalk on a team’s schedule, but they’re quickly heading to the top of next year’s draft board and the bottom of the AFC West.
What a shame for fans living in Oakland.