Finally, the last week of the NFL season is upon us. For three of the four teams in the AFC West it couldn’t come soon enough. Even though everyone aside from the Broncos has nothing to play for, the season will end with a pair of intra-division matchups – which will hopefully bring us a couple of quality football games. Let’s take a close look:
OAKLAND AT SAN DIEGO
These two teams met all the way back in Week 1 with the Chargers winning 22-14, with neither team playing all that well. (The Raiders played horrendously on special teams and the Chargers settled for five field goals.) Things haven’t changed all that much in the last 16 weeks, as neither team has been all that impressive over the course of the entire season. Both should be anxious to get the year over with, and seeing as both coaches may be coaching their last games with their current teams, this game could come down to which side wants it more.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
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The San Diego front seven vs. the Oakland offense. With the injury to Carson Palmer last week, look for the Raiders to put more emphasis on running the ball with Darren McFadden. The San Diego run defense has quietly been one of the best in the league all season, giving up less than 100 yards per game, so the Raiders could have some trouble freeing up McFadden. If Oakland can’t run the ball, then they better look out for the San Diego pass rush that racked up 11 sacks last week against the Jets. The Chargers have played solid defense for most of the season, and the front seven has been a big reason why.
The Chargers have won just two home games all season and looked particularly pathetic in their last home game against Carolina two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Raiders have played with some fight and some spirit down the stretch, not letting the fact that they aren’t very good stand in their way. As bad as the Raiders are, they will want this game more than the Chargers, especially after giving away the game to the Chargers in Week 1. This game will be ugly, but it ends: Oakland 23, San Diego 7.
KANSAS CITY AT DENVER
A win for the Broncos and they will clinch the second seed in the AFC playoffs and get a first-round bye (they’ll get the top seed if Houston loses to Indianapolis). Most people will put this game in the win column for the Broncos before kickoff, but expect the Chiefs to come out and play. This will undoubtedly be the final outing for head coach Romeo Crennel, and being that he’s a well-liked coach his players will want to play hard for him and get him a win. The Chiefs will also want to play spoiler and keep their division rivals from getting the bye. Don’t forget, Denver struggled to a 17-9 win over the Chiefs back in Week 12, so Kansas City will go into the game thinking they have a chance.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Jamaal Charles vs. The Denver rush defense. If there’s one almost-kinda-sorta weakness for the Broncos it could be their run defense, and running the ball just so happens to be the only thing the Chiefs have done well this year. Charles ran for 107 yards against the Broncos in Week 12 and he’s coming off a 226-yard effort last week. Since it’s Week 17, there’s no reason for the Chiefs not to give the ball to Charles as much as possible. Kansas City certainly won’t have a chance if Brady Quinn has to stare down the Denver pass rush, so expect the Chiefs to ride Charles all day long and hope to control the clock and keep the ball away from Peyton Manning; if they can do that they may have a chance, otherwise the game will be all Broncos.
Most teams would overlook the Chiefs and put themselves at risk of losing a game on the verge of locking up a playoff bye, but the Broncos aren’t most teams. Teams with the kind of leadership the Broncos have, coming from the likes of Manning, John Fox, and John Elway, don’t take games like this for granted. The Chiefs will fight hard but they can’t compete with a Denver team that is motivated and focused: Denver 38, Kansas City 13.