Welcome back for another edition of the Rest of the West.
The Denver Broncos are not anywhere to be found in the playoff picture, but that doesn't make the playoffs any less important. The AFC West division race is still an interesting one. Not all of us have a rooting interest in any team still alive, but perhaps some of you have a "booing interest" in one team over another. The team who wins the AFC West in two weeks is going to receive the most negative of vibes from Broncos Country, heading into the playoffs. You can be sure of that.
Here are your current AFC West Standings:
The Oakland Raiders
How to Win the Division
The Oakland Raiders beat the Denver Broncos last week, vaulting them to a 7-7 record. They're still in the hunt for an AFC West title, but they will need some help.
The Raiders are one of the more confusing teams in the NFL. Despite holding a flawless division record, they are 2 games out of the division lead. They are 5-0 in the division and 2-7 against the rest of the NFL. Their only wins against a non-AFC West opponent were a 16 - 14 win on the road against the Rams and a 33 - 3 win on the road against the Seahawks.
The Raiders can win the AFC West Division with two Raiders wins + two Chiefs losses + one San Diego loss.
It looks like things are totally out of the Raiders hands, but it's not a foregone conclusion that they will lose the division race. A more detailed clinching scenario is as follows:
The Raiders can make the playoffs with a Raiders win vs the Colts (week 16)+ a Chiefs loss to the Titans (week 16)+ a San Diego loss (to the Titans in week 16 OR the Broncos in week 17) + a Raiders win vs the Chiefs (week 17)
As you can see, the Raiders can kill two birds with one stone. By winning in week 17, they are guaranteeing a Chiefs loss. They do not control their own destiny, but their best chance is if they win out. That's easier said than done. They play the Indianapolis Colts this week, which should be quite the challenge for them. Peyton Manning is fighting for a playoff spot, himself. There's nothing more scary than facing a hungry Peyton Manning.
If they can't win against the Colts, they can't win the division. It won't matter what the Chiefs do if the Raiders don't win this week. It's that simple.
The Oakland Raiders will play the Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at the Oakland-Almeda Coliseum in Oakland.
Like I mentioned, above, the Raiders will have their hands full. Any time you face Peyton Manning, you'll have to bring your A game. Despite the fact that Austin Collie has a 3rd concussion on the year, with the latest coming last week in a vicious hit against the Jaguars.
This game will, undoubtedly, be decided on the ground. The Colts defense is 28th in the NFL defending the run, while the Oakland Raiders hold the 2nd ranked rushing offense (behind only the Kansas City Chiefs). If the Colts can't slow down the Raiders rushing attack, this game could be all about the Raiders.
This late in the season, experience is what matters. The last time the Colts missed the playoffs was in 2001, when they finished 6-10 and were last in their division. That is 8 straight seasons of playoffs. The Raiders, on the other hand, haven't been in the playoffs since 2002, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.
With late season experience and a certain future Hall of Fame quarterback named Peyton Manning, I think that the Raiders will need a lot of production from their running game to keep up with the Colts.
The Kansas City Chiefs
How to Win the Division
For the Kansas City Chiefs, the division is within their grasp. All they need to do is win their final two games and they will win the AFC West crown. This week they play the Tennessee Titans and in week 17 they play the Oakland Raiders.
They can actually clinch the division this week in the following scenario:
The Kansas City Chiefs clinch the AFC West in week 16 with a win vs the Titans + a San Diego loss/tie against the Bengals.
Here's the major point of the AFC West playoff picture. Assuming the Chiefs win only one game and the Chargers win two games, there is absolutely no way that the Chiefs can win the AFC West title. The Chargers will hold all of the tiebreakers against the Chiefs.
Assume that the Chiefs beat the Raiders in week 17 but they lose to the Titans this week, while the Chargers win out. This means that both teams (Chiefs and Chargers) have a record of 10-6. The next tiebreaker would be division record. Both teams would end up 3-3, so it goes to the next tiebreaker which is common games. The Chiefs lose this tiebreaker, since their record versus common opponents would be 5-3 (division games not included) while the Chargers would be 6-2.
Let's take things the other direction. Assume the Chiefs beat the Titans this week but lose to the Raiders. If the Chargers win out and force a tie with the Chiefs based on overall record, they will win the next tiebreaker. They'll have a 3-3 division record and the Chiefs will have a 2-4 division record.
Here's the final breakdown for how the Chiefs can win the AFC West:
Chiefs win vs the Raiders + San Diego loss/tie to the Broncos
Two Chargers losses (to the Broncos and Bengals) + Raiders loss/tie to the Colts
Bottom line for the Chiefs, they must either win out or (if they happen to lose a game or two) hope that the Chargers lose just as many games as the Chiefs do.
The Chiefs will take on the Tennessee Titans (3-6) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
The Titans broke a 6 game losing streak with their 31-17 victory over Houston last week. With all the hooplah surrounding Randy Moss joining the Titans roster in week 9, he still only has 5 catches for 62 yards. They'll need all hands on deck to take down the Chiefs this week. Matt Cassel played extremely well last week against the Rams, throwing for 181 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception, just a week and a half removed from an emergency appendectomy. That's gutsy.
Okay... bad joke, but the point remains....
The Chiefs still boast the league's number 1 ranked rushing offense, putting up 168 yards per game. They'll still need their passing game to show up, though, since the Titans defense is only 26th against the pass. Regardless, it's going to be an interesting game. Chris Johnson has 8 games with more than 100 yards rushing and he'll try to continue that against the Chiefs defense who has surrendered 107 yards rushing, per game. He'll need to get that much and more, if the Titans wish to have any chance against the Chiefs.
My Take on the Chiefs
It's a long way to January and nothing has been decided, yet.
With that said, I believe that the Chiefs are not a playoff team.
I'll say it again... the Chiefs are not a playoff team. They are far too inconsistent on offense to be considered anything but mediocre, at best. Despite being ranked 1st in rushing yards, they are ranked 26th in third down conversions. I've said it since the first ever ROTW. The Chiefs struggle on third downs and it will hurt them. That's the money down. You can't be average on third downs and expect to win. Furthermore, you can't be below average on third downs and expect to win close ball games. If they do happen to make the playoffs, don't expect to see them for very long in January.
Yeah, I said that about a month ago, following their epic collapse against the Denver Broncos. Since then, the Chiefs have gone 4-1 and retaken the division lead. Impressive, but I'll hold fast to my quote, above. If they do make the playoffs by winning the division (and it's still too close to call), they will lose in the first round. Mark my words.
The San Diego Chargers
How to Win the Division
The San Diego Chargers are a game out of first place. Despite that, I believe they have an inside track to the division title. The Chargers have two "winnable" games against the Bengals and Broncos. They should be able to win out and hope for a slip up from the Chiefs against the Titans or Raiders.
We've already discussed some of the ins and outs of the tiebreakers between the Chiefs and Chargers, so I'll just go ahead and show you the clinching scenarios for the Chargers:
Two Chargers wins + a Chiefs loss (to the Titans OR the Raiders)
A Charger win + Two Chiefs losses (to the Titans AND the Raiders) + A Raiders loss to the Colts
Something you won't find in the above scenario is any mention of the Chargers losing both games and still winning the division. That's because it can't happen. If the Chargers lose all of their games, the Chiefs or Raiders will take the division. Either the Chiefs will win the division because they won out or beat the Raiders... or the Raiders will take the division because they beat the Colts and Chiefs, while the Chiefs lost against the Titans in week 16.
The Chargers have to win their final games and pray for a tie with the Chiefs. If a tie in overall record occurs between the Chiefs and the Chargers, San Diego will be going to the playoffs as the representative of the AFC West based on division record or common games, depending on which week the Chiefs lose. That's all the Chargers need to the playoffs for the 5th consecutive year.
In order to take advantage of a Chiefs mistake, however, they'll need to take care of business. This week is a must win for the Chargers.
The San Diego Chargers will play the Cincinnati Bengals (3-11) at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Bengals are struggling. Carson Palmer has been slandered on the local radio stations for the past 4 years, it seems, and their most productive receiver (Terrell Owens) went to injured reserve last week. The Bengals lack a running game (27th overall) and a rushing defense (22nd overall).
We all know that the Bengals are fighting for the top pick in the draft. After this week, I believe they'll be one game closer to doing just that. They don't have a chance against the Chargers.
The Chargers are going to ride the arm of Philip Rivers all the way to victory, this week.
So, there's your look at the Rest of the AFC West... the Broncos can still finish the season with 5 wins!