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Week 10 AFC West Preview

Week 10 and the race in the AFC West is turning out to be a wild one this season. One game is all that separates the still unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos. The Broncos winning ways will have to continue this Sunday if they want the opportunity to take back their place at the top when they face the Chiefs next week. San Diego will fight to spoil their fun however and keep their team in the running for a wildcard spot, which would send three AFC West teams to the playoffs. At the bottom of the division we have the Raiders who look to keep their team in one piece and build some momentum. With playoffs realistically out of their grasp can they ruin the hope and dreams of another? Can the Chargers pull off a major upset over the Broncos to put them further behind the Chiefs? Here I break down this weeks all-important AFC West match ups.

Broncos (7-1) @ Chargers (4-4)– On paper this game appears as though the Denver Broncos should be the heavy favorites but so many underlying stories make this game a difficult one to predict.

Broncos are coming off a much needed bye week but will be without coach John Fox on the sidelines. With Fox recovering from heart surgery defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will take the wheel in his absence. We’ll have to see if the coaching change has any effect on the team or their game plan but with Peyton Manning running the offense, how much coaching really needs to be done anyways?

Manning is putting up career numbers and leads the NFL in pass yards by 247 yards. He also has the highest pass rating thus far at 119.4 and its not even close with Aaron Rodgers second at 108. He and his arsenal of weapons that includes Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas are on track to break numerous NFL records.

Despite their offensive brilliance however, their weakness lies on the other side of the football specifically in their pass defense, which currently ranks 30th in the NFL. Injuries to their secondary have not helped the situation. Cornerback Champ Bailey is still out with a hurt foot and will miss this Sunday’s game. Their pass defense is currently allowing nearly 300 yards in the air per game (299.1 to be exact) and this Sunday they will face a quarterback who is no stranger to putting up big numbers in Philip Rivers.

Rivers and company lead by head coach and former Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have been quite the enigma this season.  You never know what you’re going to get from this team but you do know you’re in for a fight. Chargers are coming off a loss in overtime to the Redskins last Sunday but have yet to lose back-to-back games this season.

With a .500 record and the AFC wildcard race wide open, San Diego has left many people wondering if they can send three teams from the same division to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The thing that stands in the Chargers way is their brutal schedule. They play Denver and Kansas City twice along with the Bengals and Dolphins, each of these teams are .500 and above at the moment.

While their schedule may go against them, don’t count them out yet. They are very unpredictable because it seems as though they lose to teams they should beat (for example Oakland) but beat teams it seems they should lose to (for example the Colts). Their unpredictability combined with the Rivers uncanny ability to win games in the months of November and December have me questioning if they can pull it off. For the record, Rivers has the third best all-time passer rating in weeks 9-16 at 96.7 and his record after Nov. 1 is 45-18 including last Sunday’s loss to Washington.

If San Diego is to pull of capturing a wildcard spot they will need to win a couple big games but that being said I don’t for see them winning this one. As big as this game is for the Chargers it may be even bigger for Denver as they currently trail Kansas City in the division race by one game.

While I have to credit Rivers for being the only quarterback with a higher completion percentage so far this season than Manning despite not having nearly the weapons, I don’t think his offense has what it takes to outscore the Broncos. It’ll be high scoring and I expect the Chargers to keep it close but I’m taking Sheriff Manning to come out with the win setting up one of the biggest battles of the season next Sunday at Mile High Stadium.

Raiders (3-5) @ Giants (2-6)– The Oakland Raiders come into this game looking to bounce back after an embarrassing 49-20 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday while the Giants are looking to keep their newfound momentum going. The Giants started out a very disappointing 0-6 but have managed to muster back-to-back wins over the Vikings and Eagles in their last two outings.

As crazy and far-fetched as it may seem, the Giants are not out of the NFC East division race yet. With Washington and Philadelphia also having below .500 records and Dallas barely above at 5-4, this division is very much up for grabs. Its very possible we may see a situation similar to the NFC West in 2010 when the Seattle Seahawks won the division with a losing record of 7-9.

Unlike big brother Peyton, Eli Manning is averaging numbers below his career average and currently leads the NFL in interceptions. However, he has been throwing the ball more accurately as of late and did not have any in the Giants two victories.

Their running game has been atrocious and their defense not as good as we’re used to seeing but it does seem to be improving as the weeks go on. Giants defense has been moderately successful in stopping the run as their rush defense currently ranks ninth in the NFL. They’ve also only give up 14 points in their last two games. If they can keep the momentum going and scrap together a few more wins, with a little luck they might just find themselves in the chase for the division.

Raiders also find themselves at the bottom of their division in the AFC West but they are much bigger long shots at making the playoffs. All that’s realistically left for the Raiders to do is try to play the role of spoiler and start building for the future. They’re currently struggling with key injuries to quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Darren McFadden. McFadden’s injury is nothing new to Raider fans as they have plagued his six-year career and his status for this Sunday remains questionable. Both he and Pryor were forced to leave last Sunday’s game against the Eagles but Pryor did practice this week and is probable.

Raiders defense has been inconsistent this season but has had its shining moments and their run defense currently ranks sixth. However their pass defense has not been nearly as noteworthy so expect Manning to air the ball out a lot this weekend. It should be noted that one of this favorite targets, wide receiver Victor Cruz is struggling with a neck injury. His status also remains questionable but according to reports Cruz anticipates to play.

I do not expect this game to be pretty nor of high quality football but I do think it’ll be a brawl. Giants have the advantage of rest coming of a bye last weekend and the advantage of playing at home. This combined with their momentum compels me to give them the edge in this matchup. Giants win this one as they continue to creep back into the division race while the Raiders continue to fall behind the rest of the pack.

Chiefs (9-0)- Bye

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