The Broncos won their ninth in a row in their biggest test since early in the season, the Raiders shut out the Chiefs and the Chargers got blown out at home by Carolina. Denver keeps cruising, while the rest of the division fights for draft order and pride.
What we learned: Denver continues to make its case as a Super Bowl contender and an AFC team to beat with a 34-17 rout over the Ravens in Baltimore. Sure, it was a banged-up Ravens defense, but the Broncos passed a big test and made quite a statement. It was close early, as the Ravens forced two three-and-outs in the first quarter, but the game changed late in the second quarter. CB Chris Harris, who is having an outstanding season, picked off Joe Flacco and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. The potential 14-point swing put the Broncos in the lead for good. We know that Denver is very good with a lead because of their pass rushers on defense, but the way Knowshon Moreno has run the ball also helps Denver. Denver dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 17 more minutes than the Ravens, and Moreno had 118 yards rushing. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos’ run defense remained stout, holding Ray Rice to 38 yards on 12 carries.
What’s in store next: The Broncos go back home to host the Browns, but can’t show a hangover effect, as Cleveland’s defense has been solid in the second half of the season, though it struggled in a loss to the Redskins. CB Joe Haden should make it a challenge for Peyton Manning depending on which receiver he locks down, Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker. Cleveland’s pass rush could make things interesting, but Denver’s run defense should give them a big edge, assuming it keeps Trent Richardson in check.
What the heck? Manning didn’t have to do a whole lot in this one. He did launch a pretty 51-yard touchdown to Decker, but he only completed 17 passes. That’s the fewest passes Manning has completed in one game since 2010, when he went 16-of-30 against Oakland on Dec. 26. Denver ran it 45 times and dropped back to pass 30 times.
What we learned: In a season of horrible play, the Chiefs somehow had not yet hit bottom. Until Week 15. They were stoned cold time and time again by the Raiders’ downtrodden defense, racking up a mere seven first downs (two by Raiders penalties and none by rushing) and 119 net yards. QB Brady Quinn completed 18 passes, and 16 of them traveled 11 yards or fewer. They had 18 yards on 17 first-half plays. In being shut out, 15-0, by the Raiders (who hadn’t had a shutout since 2002), it became the ninth time in 10 games the Chiefs have been held to 16 points or fewer. Just another reminder of how badly the Chiefs need a quarterback. And a receiver. Or two.
What’s in store next: The Chiefs play their final home game of the season in Week 16 against the Colts. If there’s a bright side, the Chiefs could get a view of a team that rebounded from the first pick of the draft all the way to (it appears) the postseason. They also could get a view of Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians, who might be a potential replacement for Romeo Crennel if Crennel is put to pasture at season’s end. The Chiefs could look for an offensive-minded coach, and Arians’ work with Andrew Luck while Chuck Pagano has been battling leukemia has been exemplary.
What the heck? For whatever reason, the Raiders have Jamaal Charles’ number. Badly. Charles was held to 10 yards rushing on nine carries in Week 15 after the Raiders held him to four yards on five carries back in Week Eight. How weird. This is a Raiders defense that has allowed monster games to Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin, Miami’s Reggie Bush and even Cincinnati’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis, for Pete’s sake. But then again, that’s the kind of season it has been for the Chiefs, with very little going right or making sense.
What we learned: If the Raiders could just play the Chiefs every week, things would be so much better for the 4-10 Silver and Black. Oakland completed the season sweep of the Chiefs and snapped a six-game losing streak in a touchdown-less Week 15 game — the Raiders scored all 15 of their points on field goals and the Chiefs didn’t score at all. Half of the Raiders’ wins this season are against Kansas City. Doubts remain about Raiders head coach Dennis Allen’s future, though.
What’s in store next: Oakland will spend the rest of the season on the road, starting with a trip to North Carolina to meet the Panthers (5-9) on Sunday, where Allen will encounter another head coach, Ron Rivera, who has spent much of the season on the hot seat. The Panthers have won two games in a row, including a 31-7 win at San Diego in Week 15, but the Raiders won’t exactly be shaking in their boots — Carolina became one of only two teams to lose to the Chiefs this season when they visited Kansas City in Week 13.
What the heck? It’s amazing what running into the Chiefs’ offense can do for a defense. Oakland was allowing 31 points per game heading into Week 15, but the Chiefs could not put together a drive longer than 46 yards on Sunday and had seven consecutive three-play drives to start a game in which they did not score. The Raiders have actually gone five quarters in a row without allowing a point and played a decent defensive game against the Broncos in Week 14. Perhaps Allen’s defense is finally getting the hang of it.
What we learned: After looking like a spirited team in Week 14 when upsetting the Steelers, the Chargers had one of their worst performances of the season — in an ugly season as is — in front of a sparse home crowd, falling to the Panthers 31-7. The run game did little, Philip Rivers lost two fumbles and threw for only 121 yards, and the run defense, which had been the team’s hallmark, struggled. When Carolina got up 21-0 in the first quarter, it might as well have been a 50-point deficit. The Chargers have looked lost all season when playing from behind. Without a good offensive line, Rivers hasn’t been able to march San Diego back, and it certainly wasn’t going to happen behind an injury-riddled group. Danario Alexander, who had been a star over the past month, had zero catches on three targets. Ryan Mathews fractured his clavicle and his disappointing season is over. Micheal Spurlock, a third-down machine last week, had one catch. The Chargers are now guaranteed their first losing record since 2003.
What’s in store next: Flexed out of the Sunday nighter, the Chargers play a 1 p.m. ET game in MetLife Stadium against the Jets, who, based on their result in Week 15, could be fighting for a playoff spot. Last season, the Jets beat the Chargers 27-21 in Week Seven, starting a six-game losing streak for San Diego. Stopping the run will be key for San Diego.
What the heck? Remember this past summer, when Eddie Royal was touted as a great slot receiver, Robert Meachem would be the speed threat and Ryan Mathews was expected to see an Emmitt Smith-like workload? Royal hasn’t played since Week 11 and has 16 catches. Meachem doesn’t have a catch since Week 11 and has 14 catches for the season. And Mathews’ season comes to a close with 184 rushes for 707 yards (3.8 avg.) and only one rushing touchdown. Insult to injury: Former Chargers RB Mike Tolbert rushed for two scores on Sunday against San Diego.