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AFC West Week 8 Previews

The AFC West division is turning out to be a much closer race than anticipated. As we approach the half way mark of the season, the playoff picture is slowly but surely beginning to take form. With the Broncos in an unfamiliar place looking up at Kansas City and San Diego making their presence known, so many questions now loom in the air. Who’s going to take the division? Can three playoff teams come out of the AFC West? Do the Raiders have what it takes to play the role of spoiler? Every game becomes more important as the weeks progress, here’s a look at what’s to come this weekend.

Browns (3-4) @ Chiefs (7-0)

Who would’ve thought going into the season that the last remaining undefeated team would be the Kansas City Chiefs? Let that sink in a moment…. Now, that being said some would argue that their soft schedule has them yet to be challenged.

They’ve had a couple close calls over an inconsistent Dallas team in week two and a depleted Houston Texans team minus Matt Schaub last Sunday. Arian Foster also left that game early with a hamstring injury. Most of their wins have come over subpar teams like the Jaguars, Raiders and Giants. This begs the question are they as good as their record leads you to believe? We’ll have to wait and find out.

They are at home once again this weekend taking on a team that for a brief moment was the feel good story of the year, the Cleveland Browns. While the Browns defense is legit ranking in the top 10 in both opponents rushing and passing yards, their offense leaves little to be desired since the season ending injury to Brian Hoyer. Until Wednesday morning we did not know whether Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell would get the start at quarterback, though neither of those sound like winning options. Campbell will get his first start of the season in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL against the third best pass defense. It’s shaping up to be a rough day for him.

If the Browns have any shot at winning this game they will have to do it with defense and slow down Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles. It’s a tall order but Smith is a quarterback who tends to play safe. If the Browns defense can pressure Smith and force him to air the ball out and take chances, they might just might have a shot.

In the end though, I don’t see the Browns offense having much luck against that Chiefs defense. I predict the game to be low scoring but the Chiefs to keep rolling and remain unbeaten with their biggest task of the season looming three weeks away in Denver.

Redskins (2-4) @ Broncos (6-1)

Last Sunday Peyton Manning made his emotional return to Indianapolis and there his team suffered their first loss of the season. It was a game in which a whole lot seemed to go wrong but despite all the mistakes they managed to fight back after being down 19. If it wasn’t for a Ronnie Hillman red zone fumble with a little over two minutes remaining in the game, Broncos still may have been able to walk away with a victory. However, the fairytale ending was not to be as they fell to the Colts 39-33.

Given the relatively soft schedule Denver had up until Indianapolis, many people questioned what would happen when they were finally challenged. What happened was all of a sudden Manning and company looked mortal with receivers dropping passes they would normally catch and their run game not performing with the same efficiency as we’ve seen in previous weeks. Turnovers were also a problem with the fumble by Hillman along with one by Trindon Holliday proving to be costly.

In addition, there is now more concern than ever about the Bronco’s defense.  Sunday welcomed the return of Von Miller but he alone is not enough to save this defense. Denver may rank first in the NFL in stopping the run but their pass defense ranks dead last. Manning may be one of the greatest quarterbacks we’ve ever seen play this beautiful game but it takes more than that to win a championship. Denver’s defense has a lot to figure out in the second half of the season as they now trail the Chiefs by a game in the AFC West.

Denver will look to bounce back at home this weekend against the Washington Redskins. The Redskins are coming off their biggest win of the season last Sunday over the Chicago Bears 45-41. Just like Denver, their weakness also lies on the defensive side of the football. They have struggled severely as their rush defense is ranked 29th and their pass defense 22nd.   They will make their best attempt to slow down the best offense in the NFL lead by the quarterback that leads the league in passing yards by more than 400 yards.

It’s been a disappointing start to the season for Washington as they came in as the heavy favorite to repeat as NFC East champions. Although they currently trail Philadelphia and Dallas, they are not out of the hunting yet. The NFC East is arguably the most wide-open (and weak) division in the NFL. In order for Washington to win this game RG3 will have to have his best game of the season and hope Denver makes critical mistakes much like they did in Indy.

However, Denver’s offense is so lethal that even if they screw up at some point during the game, you still have to have the weapons to outscore them and most teams, Washington included simply don’t. I think this game will be far from low scoring and if Washington lets it get away from them too early, it’ll be a route. Either way I see Broncos winning as they await their chance to regain the number one spot in the AFC West.

Steelers (2-4) @ Raiders (2-4)

After getting off to a rough 0-4 start, the Pittsburgh Steelers have finally garnered some momentum after back-to-back wins over the New York Jets and division rival Baltimore Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger had one of his most efficient games of the season last Sunday going 17/23 with a touchdown and no interceptions.

It’s been a difficult season thus far for an aging Steelers team that seems to be on its decline. Their defense is not the powerhouse that it once was but their pass defense, which ranks fourth in the NFL, still remains one of the bright spots of this team. With their inability to run the football, Big Ben has been forced to put the offense on his shoulders and injuries to their offensive line has not made that load easier to carry.

Yet with some newfound momentum and some very winnable games coming up all hope is not lost in Pittsburgh. The wildcard race is very much up in the air in the AFC and if the Steelers can keep things going they might just find themselves fighting for a spot.

They head into Oakland this weekend to face a team that lacks weapons but sure doesn’t lack heart. The Raiders have proven they will fight tooth and nail until the very end and if you want to beat them you have to earn it. They are coming off a much needed bye week. Terrelle Pryor comes off a tough game the previous week in Kansas City where he threw three interceptions. It was quite the let down after an impressive victory over the San Diego Chargers in week five. We’ll see how much his confidence has waivered and what he can do against one of the leagues best pass rush.

Look for Darren McFadden to put in serious work for Oakland on the ground this Sunday as he will be key in this game. Just like the Steelers have a problem running the ball, they also struggle in stopping the run. The injury prone running back only has 267 yards on the year but he and wide receiver Denarius Moore are the biggest weapons that offense can provide. Both will need to have a big day if Oakland is going to win.

When its all said and done, both teams are banged up and I don’t see this being a high quality game. Even though Oakland has the home field advantage, I’ll take the momentum of the Steelers to win this one and close the gap in the AFC North.

Chargers (4-3) have a bye.

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Ralph Garcia


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