Updated 3:15 p.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 19
The Broncos remain in command of the underwhelming AFC West after knocking off their closest competition for the division lead, the Chargers, in Week 11. The Raiders and Chiefs stayed true to form and were both soundly defeated Sunday.
What we learned: The Broncos’ run defense and pass rush are among the league’s best, Ronnie Hillman is going to get his chance, turnovers could be an issue and the O-line isn’t perfect. First the good: on defense, where the Broncos’ front seven harassed the Chargers all afternoon, holding Ryan Mathews to only 3.1 yards per carry and the team to 2.3 yards per rush (23-53-0). The Broncos picked off Philip Rivers twice and also recovered a Rivers fumble. Von Miller is making a case for Defensive MVP with three sacks and two forced fumbles. Aside from a tipped pass that turned into a pick-six, it was another strong game for Peyton Manning, who threw three TD passes. It wasn’t a cakewalk, though, as the Chargers’ defensive front had success, sacking Manning three times and forcing a Lance Ball fumble. Denver could afford the mistakes against the Chargers, but in the playoffs, ball security will be crucial. Willis McGahee’s knee injury wil reportedly keep him out for the rest of the regular season, at least, which thrusts the rookie Hillman into the spotlight. Denver likes Hillman, but it has taken him some time to get acclimated to the NFL game. Look for a lot of Lance Ball as well, and the Broncos should breathe a sigh of relief that McGahee doesn't mean as much to the Broncos' offense this year as he did in 2011.
What’s in store next: Denver might be the league’s hottest team, and travels to K.C. to play the coldest. The Broncos, who have won five in a row, play the 1-9 Chiefs, who have lost seven in a row. K.C. looked alright against Pittsburgh, but did not play well in Week 11 vs. the Bengals. On paper, this looks like an easy game for the Broncos, and the aggressive defense should be able to make big plays against the turnover-prone Chiefs. The Broncos have not had a “letdown” game this season, beating all the teams they are supposed to beat, and they can't afford one now as they fight for playoff seeding.
What the heck? Manning is one of the best at sharing the ball, though it might infuriate fantasy owners. Nine different Broncos had a catch, and eight of them had at least two catches, but no player had more than four. Brandon Stokley led the pass catchers with 55 yards receiving, while the stars, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, combined for 65 receiving yards. However, Thomas and Decker each scored a touchdown.
What we learned: A week after a fairly game effort against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Chiefs fell back into their state of normalcy and dormancy. An ineffective QB Matt Cassel was benched after halftime — perhaps for the season — but it was no difference in a 28-6 loss to the Bengals that highlighted many of the Chiefs’ weaknesses. Even having a lead the past two games (after going eight-plus games without one) hasn’t helped as they have fallen to 1-9.
What we learned: The Raiders were not very competitive Sunday, and it apparently bothered owner Mark Davis for him to break his silence. He made rare public comments, per reports, after Oakland’s third consecutive double-digit loss and told reporters, among other things, that he was embarrassed and wants to see progress, not regression. Davis also said he is patient. Where the limit to Davis’ patience lies is something we can only speculate on. One thing was made clear by Davis — he does not buy the excuse that the Raiders had too many limitations (i.e. no first- or second-round pick and salary-cap constraints) to be competitive this season.
What’s in store next: Oakland will make the trip East to face the 5-5 Bengals, who are coming off two consecutive lopsided wins, including an impressive dismantling of the Giants in Week 10. It will be Raiders QB Carson Palmer’s first game against the franchise that selected him with the first overall pick in the 2003 draft and traded him away last season after Palmer demanded a trade and sat out the first six weeks. The Raiders also will see a familiar face in ex-head coach Hue Jackson, who is an assistant on Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’ staff.
What the heck? The Raiders might want to think about making sure to get Marcel Reece — who had only one carry in the first eight games of the season — involved in the running game even after RBs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson return from their ankle sprains. Reece, who has started the last two games at running back with McFadden and Goodson ailing, led Oakland in rushing (19-103) and receiving (4-90) on Sunday. Reece’s 103 yards rushing vs. the Saints came within 19 yards of his previous career high for rushing yards in a season. He already has a career best 37 catches for 418 yards.
What we learned: The Chargers’ season really ended in the second half of their loss to the Broncos on Oct. 15, but with the AFC wild-card spots still in reach, they had a chance for redemption on Sunday, and subsequently lost their fifth game in six tries. Turnovers killed the offense, the run game remained a disappointment and the defense could only do so much. Philip Rivers threw two interceptions, including his seventh fourth-quarter pick of the season, and lost a fumble. He has 18 turnovers this season and was sacked four times. Ryan Mathews had only 47 rushing yards on 15 carries. The highlight on offense was the play of WR Danario Alexander, who caught 7-96-2 and, as long as he stays healthy, could be a diamond in the rough for the Chargers going forward. The defense made some big plays — a fumble recovery by Antwan Barnes and a pick-six by Eric Weddle, to go along with three sacks, but the Chargers gave up some big run plays and couldn’t make key stops of Manning.
What’s in store next: San Diego needs a miracle down the stretch, a 6-0 or 5-1 record, to get in the playoff conversation, and it won’t be easy next week against the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense is banged up but it has played well and has the pressure players to rattle Rivers and a shoddy Chargers O-line. The Ravens’ offense has struggled, especially on the road, which could help keep San Diego in it, but it won’t matter much if the Chargers turn the ball over.
What the heck? On the other side of Alexander’s impressive play is that it highlights the fact that the Chargers’ big acquisitions flopped. Robert Meachem had one catch for 10 yards, and Eddie Royal had zero catches on three targets. Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle combined for six yards on eight carries. GM A.J. Smith worked hard in the offseason to add veterans, especially on offense. Early in the season, it looked good, but as the unraveling continues and the ship keeps sinking, it reflects poorly on the job Smith has done as GM.