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AFC West Thoughts: Week Seven

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Justin Houston” by Mike Morbeck is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Instead of starting this with the best team and working my way toward the basement, this week I’m going to look at teams in the order of how interesting they are. As is the case more often than one thinks, the most interesting team is currently the worst team.

 

Oakland Raiders, 1-5

Fourth Quarter Sports has discussed the Amari Cooper trade already, so I won’t dig into that here, but do check out Joel Deering’s take on the deal.

To me, there are two somewhat recent teams the Raiders remind me of, for varying reasons, and by taking a look at these two, it may be possible to figure out where the Raiders are headed.

  • 2002-2006 Houston Texans

With the first overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, the Texans nabbed Fresno State’s QB David Carr, the older brother of current Raiders QB Derek Carr. The elder Carr never stood a chance in the NFL, mainly because the Texans were terrible at building a solid offensive line around him.

In five full seasons as the Texans starting quarterback, David led the league in sacks taken three times–76 his rookie season, 49 in 2004, and 68 in 2005. During those five seasons in Houston, David was sacked a total amount of 249 times.

Getting sacked so much did a couple of things to David: it sapped him of his confidence, ruined his decision-making, and cost him his job.

The same thing appears to be afflicting Derek. He was sacked early and often in his first two years, but in his third year–the year he went 12-3 as a starter–the Raiders limited the amount of times he was sacked to 16.

This year, through only six games, he’s been sacked 17 times. Because of the immense pressure he’s faced, he’s thrown more interceptions (8) than touchdown passes (7) while his QBR is at its lowest since 2015.

Soon, the problems that plagued his older brother will catch up with Derek, in particular the last: losing his job. I doubt he gets traded, but a release is certainly in the realm of possibility.

The question then becomes: when?

  • 2016 Los Angeles Rams

The Rams went their final eleven seasons in St. Louis without a playoff appearance, while never finishing above 8-8. While the team drafted well toward the end, such as grabbing DT Aaron Donald 13th overall in 2014 and RB Todd Gurley 10th overall in 2015, they never made a holy cow player acquisition in that time, particularly at the quarterback position.

Instead, they relied upon Marc Bulger, an injury-plagued Sam Bradford, and the likes of Austin Davis, a pre-Super Bowl Nick Foles, and Case Keenum at the position.

But once the Rams moved to Los Angeles

Before the team had even taken a snap in L.A., general manager Les Snead (who was the GM in St. Louis) made a bold move by trading up to acquire the #1 pick in the 2016 Draft. And with that pick, he took the Golden Boy from the Golden State: QB Jared Goff out of Cal.

It appears the Raiders are doing something similar with the quarterback position. Derek Carr has regressed, and the team isn’t building enough around him to make up for the regression. It stands to reason that the Raiders will finish with a record toward the bottom this year, thus netting them a top-5 draft pick for 2019 (to go along with the pick received from the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, both of which I’m guessing will end up in the 10-20 range).

But the top quarterbacks of the upcoming draft really don’t inspire that much confidence. Oregon’s Justin Herbert seems like the top choice with Missouri’s Drew Lock, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, and West Virginia’s Will Grier not too far behind.

Those four are not nearly as impressive as the presumptive #1 pick of the 2020 draft: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.

It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Raiders bring back Carr for the team’s final year in Oakland, draft a defensive star early, start building up that offensive-line, and then tank once again in 2019, thus setting up drafting Tagovailoa for the team’s first year in Las Vegas.

 

Kansas City Chiefs, 6-1

There’s not much else to say about this team’s offense, but I’ll say this: QB Patrick Mahomes II looks a little streaky, but in a good way. He threw 14 touchdown passes this year before he threw an interception, and then he threw 4 interceptions before his 15th touchdown pass.

But it was the circumstances that count: he threw 2 interceptions against the Jaguars before throwing 2 more in the first half against the New England Patriots in last week’s thrilling 43-40 loss. He responded, however, with a resilient second half, even giving his team the lead at one point.

And he rebounded from his first professional loss to destroy the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday Night, 45-10. His line: 28/39 for 358 yards, 4 TDs and 1 interception. He added 45 yards on the ground. His 28 completions were spread out to 8 different receivers.

The best thing about the Chiefs’ clobbering of the Bengals? The defense responded. After getting embarrassed against the Patriots–giving up 43 points while forcing zero punts–the Chiefs defense forced the Bengals to punt on their opening drive of the night, and then later returned an interception for a touchdown. Andy Dalton barely completed 50% of his passes, and the Bengals’ ground game never got going, with Joe Mixon only gaining 50 yards.

With the returns of DE/OLB Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry looming, this defense can only get better. And don’t be surprised if coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach acquire a defender before the October 30 trade deadline.

In the next two weeks, the Chiefs host the Denver Broncos and head to Ohio to face the Cleveland Browns. Neither game is a given, but the Chiefs are expected to win both.

 

Los Angeles Chargers, 5-2

In the past two weeks, the Chargers played two games away from Los Angeles against budding teams. On paper, the games looked winnable, and if the Chargers wanted to remain in the playoff conversation and keep pace in the West with the Chiefs, LAC needed to win both games.

And they did, pummeling the Browns in Cleveland, 38-14, and holding off the Tennessee Titans in London, 20-19.

QB Philip Rivers continues to have an excellent season, having now completed over 69% of his passes for 2,008 yards, 17 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. Running back Melvin Gordon leads the team in rushing with 466 yards and 6 touchdowns, but Austin Ekeler is carrying his weight, too, rushing for 305 yards and 1 touchdown.

The defense is playing really well, too, led by linebacker Denzel Perryman, defensive end Melvin Ingram III, and rookie safety Derwin James. When defensive end Joey Bosa returns, this unit will be truly frightening.

There was a sign of discord between the offensive unit Sunday morning. On a drive to potentially close out the game, Rivers went with his first look, over the middle to a covered WR Mike Williams. The ball was perfectly placed but Williams couldn’t hang on.

To Rivers’ right, WR Keenan Allen was open after a quick move against coverage. He was visibly upset that Rivers went to Williams over him, going so far as kicking a pylon. His anger carried over to the sideline where he had to be calmed by veteran TE Antonio Gates. Later, Rivers went over, and while Allen and Rivers seemed to talk it out, the conversation was animated, to say the least.

Will this carry over? Head coach Anthony Lynn better hope not. The team, after all, hung on for the victory. Next week is a bye before two consecutive road games against the Seattle Seahawks and the Raiders.

Again, both are winnable games on paper, and again, for the Chargers to have a chance at getting to the postseason, both games must be won.

 

Denver Broncos, 3-4

The Broncos completely crushed the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football, 45-10, to end a four-game losing streak. How much, though, can the Broncos take away from defeating one of the worst teams, if not the worst team, in the NFL?

The defense can take away this: it bottled up one of the most dynamic players in the NFL in running back David Johnson, who was limited to 39 yards rushing and 31 yards receiving. It can also take away that it completely dominated rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, the #10 pick in last year’s draft, who went 21-39 for 194 yards and 1 touchdown, but who threw 3 interceptions, including two pick-sixes.

And so Denver won a game they were supposed to win. To get above .500, they will have to win some upsets, starting Sunday in Kansas City against a Chiefs team that slithered its way to a last-minute win in Denver in Week 4.

But there isn’t any relief after that match-up, as the Broncos face four teams in five weeks who are poised for playoff runs: hosting the Houston Texans, a bye, at the Chargers, home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and at the Bengals.

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