With the Raiders 24-17 win over the Chargers on the first Thursday night football game of the season (the NFL would like to remind you to call your cable provider and ask for the NFL Network), the Oakland broke a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West. They lead the division with a modest 5-4 record, and the fact remains that no AFC West team has scored more points than they’ve allowed this season.
Why is this division so bad? Here’s a team-by-team look.
The Raiders. Everyone knows about the dysfunctional situation under Al Davis that has operated in Oakland since probably the beginning of the franchise. Their team is loaded with underachieving former first round picks (the players they’ve drafted and ones they’ve signed or traded for). So to avoid anymore disappointment, head coach Hue Jackson traded their next two first-round picks for Carson Palmer. It’s not that the Raiders have done an outstanding job of building a team, but they’ve done just enough to make it the class of their lowly division.
The Chargers. They’ve been winning this division every year for the past few years, until they fell to 8-8 in 2010 and missed the playoffs. They won four of their first five games of 2011, and they appeared to be set to bounce back into the playoffs. But now they’ve lost four in a row and have everyone wondering what’s wrong with Philip Rivers. His problems stem from the decline of his favorite target (TE Antonio Gates), who appears to have lost a step, and the injuries that have wrecked the offensive line. The Chargers had three outstanding drafts in 2004-2006, but they don’t have a lot to show for their selections in the five years since. Those poor drafts are showing up on the field where the Chargers just don’t have enough talent.
The Chiefs. The surprise of the division in 2010 has become the most inconsistent team of 2011. They were destroyed in their first two games of the season, and they lost two of their best player (S Eric Berry and RB Jamaal Charles) at the same time. After they fell to 0-3, they turned it around with a surprising four game win streak. That gave them a chance to take sole possession of first place. But instead, a home game against the previously winless Dolphins turned into a blowout 31-3 loss. They’ve got some talent, but Matt Cassel isn’t getting better and the injuries have taken a toll.
The Broncos. In three starts this season, Tim Tebow has gone from being the star of a late game rally, to being the goat of an embarrassing home loss, to becoming the leader of the most dynamic rushing attack in the NFL. There’s nothing to do now except to try to improve his accuracy and see if he can avoid that inconsistency. The defense has improved greatly since former Panthers head coach John Fox took over, and there’s some optimism if you believe in Tebow.