Week 11 in the AFC West is upon us with the Broncos trying to sweep the Chargers and all but wrap up the division title, while the Chiefs and Raiders both return home just looking to get a win. Let’s take a closer look at each game:
CINCINNATI AT KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs return home hoping to carry some momentum from arguably their best game of the season, a hard fought overtime loss to Pittsburgh last Monday night. However, whether the competitive age we saw that night is something we’ll continue to see or was just a by-product of playing on Monday Night Football remains to be seen. Kansas City did get back to doing what it does best: running the ball, as Jamaal Charles ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Meanwhile, the Bengals are flying high after their convincing upset of the Giants, which broke a four-game losing streak. Cincinnati is clinging to their playoff hopes at 4-5 and can’t afford a loss to a team like Kansas City, even on the road, so the Chiefs should be facing a pretty motivated team that won’t be taking them lightly.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
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The Kansas City secondary vs. A.J. Green. The Chief’s pass defense hasn’t been half bad this year, ranking 8th in the NFL, but they’ve yet to see a receiver this season as good as Green. Cornerback Brandon Flowers will draw the assignment most of the time, but Javier Arenas will also lineup against him at times, and the safeties will have to provide plenty of help as well. If the Chiefs can’t keep Green contained, then Andy Dalton and the Bengal’s offense can become explosive and put a lot of points on the scoreboard. Kansas City won’t win a shootout, so the only chance they have to win is to keep the game low scoring and try to control the ball with their running game, and the first step towards accomplishing that is keeping the ball away from Green.
The Chiefs were competitive on Monday night and they played with a purpose, which is something that will continue at home this weekend. Kansas City will keep on running the ball with Charles and limit the number of throws Matt Cassel has to make, but ultimately there is too much on the line for Cincinnati, and the Bengals will make sure they leave town with a win, a .500 record, and their playoff hopes still alive: Cincinnati 24, Kansas City 16.
NEW ORLEANS AT OAKLAND
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After a sluggish start the New Orleans Saints have found their stride and won four of their last five, including an upset over the league’s last undefeated team this past weekend. The Saints will carry all that momentum west with them as they visit an Oakland team that is back to its losing ways, and is losing the ugly way: with penalties, turnovers, and no defense whatsoever. The Raiders have given up a total of 97 points the last two weeks, and now they’ll face one of the best passing attack in the NFL, as Drew Brees has thrown for over 2,800 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. Any hope of competing in the division or for a wildcard spot is all but gone for the Raiders, unless they can go on a winning streak starting right now.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Carson Palmer vs. Saints defense. With the Raider’s defense unable to stop anybody and their running attack nonexistent with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson out with injuries, it all falls on Palmer’s shoulders. Luckily for Palmer, the New Orleans defense is allowing over 300 yards per game through the air, and even though the Saints have won four of their last five games, they’ve given up an average of 25 points per game over that span. Palmer picking apart the defense and keeping pace with Brees is the only chance the Raiders will have of winning. Palmer is capable of keeping the Raiders in the game, at least for a while, but if he struggles this game could get ugly.
The Raiders defense couldn’t stop Tampa Bay or Baltimore over the last two weeks, so there’s little chance they’ll be able to stop Brees and the surging Saints. Palmer will do his part, as both teams are sure to light up the scoreboard; however, in the end the Raiders have little support around their quarterback and they hurt themselves with penalties far too often, and eventually they won’t be able to keep up with the Saints: New Orleans 45, Oakland 31.
SAN DIEGO AT DENVER
After blowing a 24-0 halftime lead against Denver back in week six, the Chargers will get a second chance against the Broncos, as they attempt to redeem themselves for that embarrassing defeat. Thanks to their propensity for letting late-game leads get away from them the Chargers are in a must-win situation. With a loss San Diego would fall to 4-6, giving them almost no chance at winning the division while also facing a uphill battle just to get a wildcard spot. Meanwhile, the Broncos are riding a four game winning streak, with three of those wins coming on the road, starting with their week six win at San Diego. Denver is clicking on all cylinders in all three phases of the game, and if they can beat the Chargers they should cruise to their second straight division title and have a real chance to win home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Peyton Manning vs. the San Diego secondary. The last time Manning saw the San Diego secondary he spent the entire second half picking them apart. Manning was 24 for 30 throwing and averaged more than 10 yards per pass that game. The Charger’s secondary will have to do a lot better than that this time around against Manning, who has continued to look better and more comfortable in the offense each and every week. If the Chargers can’t contain Manning the game will easily turn into a shootout, which plays into Denver’s hands, as it will make their pass rush more of a factor as well as increase the likelihood that the turnover-prone Philip Rivers will make a costly error, just like he did on multiple occasions the last time these two teams played one another.
These two teams are moving in opposite directions: the Broncos have won four in a row and are becoming one of the most complete teams in the NFL while the Chargers have lost four of their last five and can’t seem to put it all together for 60 minutes. Frustration is mounting for Norv Turner and the Chargers, and a trip to the mile-high city isn’t going to help matters. This game will have far less drama than that Monday night game back in October, as the Broncos will win going away: Denver 38, San Diego 17.