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It's battle week in the AFC West. Is there already a must win in week 4? For the Broncos and the Raiders this game is critical... and personal.
Raiders vs. Broncos
Line: Denver by 7.0
After a difficult 1-2 start the Denver Broncos await the Raider's arrival at Mile High for their annual showdown. Both teams sport a 1-2 record and both teams enjoyed their first and only win versus the (maybe not so) mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos are heavily favored at home in a game they haven't won in four years.
History suggest the Broncos have quite the uphill battle on Sunday.
Since 2008 the Oakland Raiders have beaten the Broncos four straight games in Mile High with two different head coaches. Tom Cable, of smashing jawbones fame, beat us three times and Hue Jackson did it once. In each of those four losses the Broncos had been favored to win, sometimes with absolutely gigantic lines:
2011: Broncos by 3 - Result: Raiders win 23-20 (Raiders were an 8 win team that year)
2010: Broncos by 7 - Result: Raiders win 59-14 (Raiders were an 8 win team that year)
2009: Broncos by 14 - Result: Raiders win 20-19 (Raiders were a 5 win team that year)
2008: Broncos by 8.5 - Result: Raiders win 31-10 (Raiders were a 5 win team that year)
Is 2012 the year that the spell is broken?
With Peyton Manning at the helm this new look Broncos offense expects to change their fortune on Sunday and bring a win against the Raiders to Mile High. If I were a betting man I'd take that over, but that line of seven is a huge number for a team that has struggled to beat the Raiders period in the past few years.
Expectations are sky high right now for the Denver Broncos and word on the street says this game could be a Broncos blowout, something we haven't enjoyed in a long time. May those expectations be met and exceeded come Sunday night.
What to Watch For:
For the Raiders the success of their franchise rests on the shoulders of their star runningback Darren McFadden. McFadden has been, to put it lightly, a complete monster in Denver. In 2010 McFadden rushed for 150 yards in the season opener a year after rushing for 165 yards and 3 TD's in the-game-that-we-never-speak-of. If the Broncos want to open this game up, they must stop Darren McFadden. McFadden has, in those four games, rushed for 427 yards and 5 touchdowns and an average of over 7 yards per carry.
The Broncos are being forced to play without their starting middle linebacker Joe Mays who recently discovered ripping off part of a QB's ear will earn you a one game suspension and probably a whole lot of credibility and fear. The Broncos, who are already thin at LB, will once again ask the next man up to step up and play big because the Raiders have shown they like to run often against the Broncos. Players like Von Miller and Keith Brooking are going to have their work cut out for them.
San Diego vs. Kansas City
Line: San Diego by 1.5
Would you believe it if I told you that the Kansas City Chiefs, before Ravens vs. Browns game on Thursday night, were the #1 ranked offense in the NFL by yards? Would you believe it if I told you that the San Diego Chargers are 24th having netted nearly 350 yards fewer than the Chiefs through three weeks?
On the defensive side, however, the Chargers have faired much better than the Chiefs, sporting the leagues 9th ranked defense to the Chiefs 16th.
The Chiefs offense has benefited from huge deficits while the Chargers offense, that performed so solidly against the Titans, looked perfectly inept against a solid Falcons defense. So the question becomes, is it the Chiefs offense that gets it done or the Chargers defense? Unfortunately for us, one of these teams will have to win.
What To Watch For:
The Chief's offense almost doesn't seem real. Is it because of prevent defenses in blowout losses or is there really some kind of substance there? Jamaal Charles has bounced back from his injury with a strong start to the season and promises to highlight the Chiefs offensive attack versus the Chargers. Second year wide receiver Jon Baldwin continues to look for his breakout game of 2012 after a slow start in which he's caught only 6 passes for 98 yards.
The Chargers are in a great position here to go up by two games on two teams in the AFC West if they can escape Arrowhead with a win. Philip Rivers, while completing an impressive 67 percent of his passes finds himself squarely sandwiched between Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson in the passer rating category at a modest 86.5. Offensively the Chargers have lost a few weapons in Vincent Jackson and Michael Tolbert over the offseason and are riding on the hopes of their own injury prone star runningback Ryan Mathews. Mathews has just returned after missing the first two games due to a broken collarbone. Versus the Falcons Mathews carried the ball only 10 times for a mere 44 yards and a fumble.
The line in this game is small and i think it is right on. The Chiefs defense still looks powerful on paper and the Chargers offense simply goes the way of their QB. Watch for a serious Jamaal Charles vs. Ryan Mathews showdown in a game that, while I think will be close, will ultimately net the Chargers their third win of the season as Matt Cassell continues to struggle.