AFC West Spin cycle: Broncos stay hot, Chargers still fighting

Posted Dec. 10, 2012 @ 10:35 a.m.
Posted By PFW staff

The Broncos beat the Raiders to keep up their winning ways and the Chargers rallied for an upset win in Pittsburgh. The Chiefs couldn’t build off last week’s win, as they got rocked in Cleveland.

BRONCOS

What we learned: The Broncos showed off their depth, and are starting to gain more believers that this is a Super Bowl team. The Raiders stayed in the game in the first half, thanks to an interception in the endzone and forcing the Broncos to settle for two field goals, but Denver blew it open — as they have done often this season — in the third quarter. Demaryius Thomas injured his shoulder, but still had five catches for 83 yards. Knowshon Moreno had another solid performance, rushing for 119 yards and looking very good at the end of the game while running out the clock. Peyton Manning, aside from the interception, was extremely efficient again. On defense, the Broncos gave up a few big plays in the passing game and notched only one sack, but still did plenty in the win, including holding the Raiders to only 2-of-8 on third down. One potential concern is that the Raiders, especially early on, got into the backfield, and finished with three sacks, six tackles for losses and four QB hits.

What’s in store next: After a slew of games in which the Broncos were favored, their biggest test — and arguably biggest game of the year — comes in Week 15 in Baltimore against the Ravens. With Baltimore losing on Sunday, the Broncos are very much alive for a first-round bye, and a win over the Ravens would go a long way. Baltimore's defense might be missing some of its key players, but could get Ray Lewis back for this matchup. It’ll be the best defense Peyton Manning has played since Houston in Week Three.

What the heck? It’s been pretty remarkable what Moreno has done in two weeks, for a guy who was inactive for several weeks and has had durability and work-ethic questions throughout his career. He played 67 snaps on Thursday night, and rookie Ronnie Hillman played only 15. Hillman is playing fewer snaps now than he did when Willis McGahee was healthy.

Kevin Fishbain

CHIEFS

What we learned: Emotion only can take this team so far. The serious talent and execution flaws were evident in a 30-7 loss to the Browns, who hadn’t won by that many points in nine seasons. After an 80-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles, who was untouched, the Chiefs couldn’t sustain drives, made errors on defense and collapsed on special teams. It’s not stunning. In addition to it being the end of a very long week in Kansas City with two funerals, one for their teammate and one for the mother of his child, the Chiefs also were banged up physically. FS Kendrick Lewis missed the game, and several others on defense and the offensive line were playing hurt.

What’s in store next: The Chiefs must take their show on the road to Oakland and must win the game for Romeo Crennel and his staff to have a chance to return next season. Honestly, even that might not be enough, but if the Chiefs can’t put something together against the Raiders in what could be a less-than-full O.co Coliseum it will speak volumes. Of course, the Raiders did beat the Chiefs by 10 points in Kansas City the last time they played, back in Week Eight. And by the way, it was the last time the Raiders won a game.

What the heck? The special teams, mostly solid all season, were a disaster. No teacher would give his group anything higher than an F for their play Sunday. It was bad enough that the Chiefs couldn’t score a touchdown on 1st-and-goal from the Cleveland 4-yard line, but then PK Ryan Succop hit the left upright on a 27-yard FG attempt that could have given the Chiefs a 10-0 lead on the road. Then on the first play of the second quarter, momentum changed for good. Travis Benjamin raced through what seemed like the entire coverage team including P Dustin Colquitt, who appeared to want nothing to do with a tackle, en route to a 93-yard punt-return score. That took the air out of the Chiefs for good. The return games also were nil, poorly blocked and run back.

Eric Edholm

RAIDERS

What we learned: Maybe the 3-10 Raiders, losers of six consecutive games (their longest losing streak since 2007), are making a little bit of progress. They were soundly defeated by the AFC West-champion Broncos on Thursday night, but the 26-13 loss was a much closer game than the 37-6 shellacking they suffered at Denver in Week Four. The Raiders can at least point to some positives defensively in their most recent loss to the Broncos — Oakland’s defense tightened up in the red zone and helped keep the game close until Denver pulled away in the second part of the third quarter.

What’s in store next: Oakland will host the last team it defeated — the Chiefs — in its final home game of the season. The Chiefs fell to 2-11 in a lopsided loss to the Browns in Week 14, so pride and draft position is all that will be on the line for these AFC West rivals Sunday. Both clubs are in the running to secure the first overall pick. The Raiders have won four of their last five games against the Chiefs, who could be without their top receiver, Dwayne Bowe (ribs). Kansas City is going to need more production from RB Jamaal Charles than he delivered earlier this season vs. the Raiders. He was held to four yards on five carries by Oakland in Week Eight.

What the heck? There is only one team that has held Raiders TE Brandon Myers to less than three catches during his breakout season. That team is the Broncos, and they did it twice. Myers was held to one catch for a season-low seven yards Thursday. In fact, he was targeted only twice in the game after being targeted 15 times and making 14 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown vs. the Browns just four days earlier. The Broncos did a good job of keeping him blanketed again after holding him to one catch for 22 yards in Week Four.

Dan Parr

CHARGERS

What we learned: A few days after a report came out that Norv Turner and A.J. Smith would be fired after the season, the Chargers put together one of their best games of the season, stunning the Steelers in Pittsburgh. San Diego hadn’t beaten a good team all year and was riding a four-game losing streak, but had a great day Sunday. The defense continues to be one of the league’s more underrated units, scoring a touchdown on a fumble in the endzone and picking off Ben Roethlisberger once. The Chargers, without LB Donald Butler, held Pittsburgh to 25 first-half rushing yards. On offense, the Philip Rivers-Danario Alexander connection worked for two touchdowns and 88 yards receiving. Ryan Mathews continued a disappointing season, running for 65 yards on 25 carries (2.6-yard average), though it isn’t easy for anyone to run against Pittsburgh. Rivers had his best TD-to-INT ratio of the season, throwing three scores and zero picks. A patchwork O-line that included a pair of new tackles, Kevin Haslam and Reggie Wells, allowed only one sack.

What’s in store next: The Chargers could get back-to-back wins for the first time since the start of the season, as they host the Panthers. Carolina, like San Diego, notched an upset win in Week 14 by beating the Falcons. Cam Newton has been very good over the last four games and will be a good matchup running the ball vs. the Chargers’ defensive front. San Diego’s “D” has been good at forcing turnovers, and should have opportunities on Sunday. Carolina’s run defense stepped up vs. Atlanta, but Mathews should be able to find some holes.

What the heck? The Chargers claimed WR Micheal Spurlock off waivers on Nov. 28, almost two months after releasing him. Maybe he was the answer and shouldn’t have been waived in the first place. Spurlock caught all seven passes thrown his way on Sunday, and six of those receptions went for first downs. Speaking of receivers, WR Robert Meachem is making his run for free-agent bust of the year, as he went without a target on Sunday.

Kevin Fishbain