Week 10 is road warrior weekend for the AFC West, as all four teams are taking trips to the east coast. Let’s take a closer look at each game.
SAN DIEGO AT TAMPA BAY
Last week the Chargers stopped a three-game losing streak and got back to an even 4-4 record, but now they have a long east coast road trip to Tampa Bay where they’ll take on a red-hot Buccaneers team. The Bucs are averaging close to 38 points per game over their last four games and possess the league’s top rush defense, which will make them tough to beat, especially at home. San Diego needs a win to keep pace with the Broncos heading into their trip to Denver next week, and they’ll likely need Philip Rivers to deliver for them against the NFL’s worse pass defense.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The San Diego defense vs. Vincent Jackson. The former Charger will take on his former teammates, and he’ll play a huge role in the outcome of the game. Jackson will team up with Mike Williams to form a wide receiver duo that will be hard to stop, especially considering the fact that it will be complimented by rookie sensation Doug Martin running the ball for the Bucs. If Jackson can get the better of his former team, it’ll be hard for Rivers and the Chargers to keep up; Carson Palmer and the Raiders learned that last weekend.
Tampa Bay faces an AFC West team for the second consecutive week, and just like last week it’ll be a shoot out. Rivers will keep pace with Tampa’s high-flying offense for a while, but after a 3,000 mile trip the turnover-prone Rivers will make one too many mistakes, causing the Chargers to fall short: Tampa Bay 45, San Diego 35.
OAKLAND AT BALTIMORE
The Raiders blew an opportunity to get to .500 last week and now they must venture east against the AFC North leading Ravens. If the Raiders are going to get into the playoff chase they’ll need to pull off an unlikely win against a good team, and this is an opportunity to do that.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The Oakland rush defense vs. Ray Rice. The Raiders were awful last week against the run, allowing Doug Martin to run for 251 yards and four touchdowns. They’ll have their hands full again this week against Ray Rice, who’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry. If the Raiders don’t perform better against the run, Rice is bound to have a field day much like Martin did last week, and it’ll be a lot tougher for Carson Palmer and the offense to keep pace against the Ravens defense than it was last week against Tampa Bay.
A mediocre west-coast team playing a road game against a quality east-coast team is a recipe for a blowout, which is exactly what happens here. The Raiders are nowhere close to the caliber of the Ravens, and that will be evident as this one gets out of hand: Baltimore 34, Oakland 10.
DENVER AT CAROLINA
John Fox will return to his old stomping grounds in Carolina, where he spent nine seasons as the head coach. The Broncos will head to the east coast for a second straight week, which is usually a tough task, but the Carolina team waiting for them isn’t nearly as good as the Cincinnati team they just beat. The Panthers are coming off just their second win of the season while the Broncos are surging and look like a team that will keep on winning.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The Denver defense vs. Cam Newton. About a year ago Denver was starting an unlikely playoff run using a run-first option quarterback, and now they’ll face a team in a similar situation that’s led by a similar quarterback. Newton’s performance has been underwhelming this year, but he has the strength to shake off Elvis Dumervil and the speed to outrun Von Miller, and if he can get away from the Denver pass rush and get into the open field he has a chance to do some serious damage with his legs. Look for the Broncos to ease up on the pass rush and just contain Newton, forcing him to stay in the pocket and beat them with his arm.
The Panthers have lost a lot this year, but in almost all of their losses they’ve been within one score. Carolina will keep it close for a while, and this game won’t be as easy as the Broncos would like it to be, but ultimately Newton won’t be able to keep pace with Peyton Manning: Denver 27, Carolina 17.
KANSAS CITY AT PITTSBURGH
Putting the 1-7 Chiefs on Monday Night Football probably isn’t going to be good for ratings. Kansas City is yet to even hold a lead in regulation this year. Meanwhile, the Steelers are riding a three-game winning streak and coming off an impressive road victory against the New York Giants. Pittsburgh has the NFL’s best defense against the pass, and they should have an easy time playing against Kansas City, no matter who lines up under center for them, which for the record will be Matt Cassell this week.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Gary Gibbs vs. Todd Haley. Romeo Crennel has stepped down as the team’s defensive coordinator and passed on those duties to Gibbs. On the other side, Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator is none other the man who coached the Chiefs for much of last season until he was fired in December. Haley will be licking his chops heading into this game, as the Steelers are getting healthy at running back and Ben Roethlisberger is always one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to play against. Kansas City has had a lot of extra time to prepare for this game, but it’s still going to be uphill battle all night for Gibbs and the defense against Haley and the Pittsburgh offense.
To have any chance in this game the Chiefs are going to have to play great defense while hoping that a banged up Jamaal Charles can carry the load offensively after injuring his neck last Thursday. It’s doubtful that Kansas City can be successful in both those areas, and so the Steelers should have a pretty easy night at home: Pittsburgh 34, Kansas City 10.