Will it be another week of losing for the AFC West? Maybe not, as the division’s bottom feeders face play against the bottom feeders of other divisions. Let’s take a closer look the week 13 matchups in the AFC West.
CAROLINA AT KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs will close out a three game home stand still searching in vain for their second win on the season. Kansas City’s defense performed well last week, but under Brady Quinn the offense couldn’t move the ball downfield enough to pull of an upset over the Broncos. This week they’ll face a Carolina team dealing with a short week and a lot of travel, but is also coming off its third win of the season and its second in four weeks. The Panthers have been a rather competitive 3-8 team this year, more so than the 1-10 Chiefs, so while this is a good opportunity for the Chiefs to get a win, it’ll be a lot tougher than it looks on paper.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The Kansas City defense vs. Cam Newton. The Chiefs haven’t seen too many mobile quarterbacks this season so going up against Newton will be a new and difficult challenge for them. In addition to being the team’s quarterback, Newton is also Carolina’s leading rusher. Kansas City’s defense has been good at stopping the run this year, so if they can prevent Newton from getting long gains on the ground and make him one-dimensional they’ll have a chance to keep the game low scoring and give their offense a chance. Newton has also committed 19 turnovers (10 interceptions and nine fumbles) this season, so the Chiefs will be looking to create turnovers as a way to stop Newton and set up their offense with good field position.
Opportunity is knocking for the Chiefs, as back-to-back road games and a short week are bound to slow up the Panthers. Unfortunately, it’s not a division rival and the game is not in primetime, and so the Chiefs won’t play with the competitive spirit we’ve only seen occasionally from them this year. Newton and the Panthers will be able to overcome a sluggish first half and create some big plays in the second half to win, as once again Kansas City fails to take advantage of early opportunities. This game ends up Carolina 21, Kansas City 16.
TAMPA BAY AT DENVER
It may only be week 13, but the Broncos have a chance to clinch the AFC West division crown with a win or a Charger’s loss. Denver will lock up the division and a home playoff game if they can notch their seventh consecutive win against a Bucs team that is coming off a one-point loss to Atlanta last week, but had won four games in a row prior to that. The biggest challenge for the Broncos at this point in the season is finding a consistent running game in the absence of Willis McGahee. Knowshon Moreno stepped in as the starter last week, but this week he’ll face the best rushing defense in the NFL, as Tampa Bay is allowing just 81.5 yards per game on the ground. On the other side, the Buccaneers have the worst pass defense in the league, allowing over 315 yards per game, which means it could be a big day for MVP candidate Peyton Manning.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The Denver secondary vs. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Jackson and Williams have been a rather formidable receiving duo this season, combining for over 1,500 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. The Broncos are familiar with Jackson from his days in San Diego, so they know what he’s capable of, but he’s capable of even more this year with Williams to compliment him as a legitimate deep threat. Jackson is averaging 20 yards per reception and Williams is averaging 17, which makes them both big play threats. The Broncos can usually rely on Champ Bailey to shut down one side of the field, but the Bucs have so many receiving options and they love to throw the ball down field, so Denver’s going to need strong performances from Tony Carter, Chris Harris, and the rest of the secondary if they’re going to prevent Tampa Bay from putting a lot of points on the board.
Outside of a road trip to Baltimore in a couple weeks this is the toughest remaining game on Denver’s schedule, so it’s definitely a game that could trip them up. Tampa Bay has just one win all season over a team with a winning record, and that came against Minnesota. A road trip to Denver is a little much for what is still a fairly young Bucs team to handle. Tampa will put some points on the board, but they won’t score more than Manning and the Broncos can: Denver 38, Tampa Bay 27.
CINCINNATI AT SAN DIEGO
Playing against the AFC West has allowed the Bengals to get back into the playoff race, as they’ve won three in a row, the last two coming against Kansas City and Oakland. Cincinnati hopes to make it four wins in a row against a reeling Chargers team. As for San Diego, they have lost six of their last seven games, and seem to find new and unbelievable ways to lose every week, topped off by last week’s 4th and 29 conversion by the Ravens in the closing minutes of regulation. Believe it or not, with a 4-7 record the Chargers aren’t completely out of the playoff race in the AFC just yet, but there is no margin for error: they must win out, starting this week.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Phillip Rivers vs. the Cincinnati defense. The San Diego defense has done a fine job the past few weeks in keeping the Chargers in the game, and now it’s time for the offense to return the favor. Without a reliable rushing attack, scoring points becomes Rivers’ responsibility. It’s been a rough season for Rivers, but he’s got a chance to put his struggles behind him if he can play well down the stretch. The Cincinnati defense is giving up less than 10 points per game during their three-game winning streak, so it’ll be a stiff challenge for Rivers and the San Diego offense, but at this point in the season they have no choice but to get something going and start scoring points.
These are two teams moving in opposite directions: the Chargers can’t seem to get out of their own way while the Bengals are winning in dominating and convincing fashion. Things will get even worse for San Diego this week, as the offense shows no signs of life and the defense will no longer be able to keep them in the game against a Bengals offense that is really starting to click. Even on the road, the Bengals will continue to have their way against the AFC West: Cincinnati 31, San Diego 17.
CLEVELAND AT OAKLAND
The way the Raiders are playing it’s almost like they’re trying to unseat Kansas City for the top pick in next year’s draft. This week the Raider’s start a stretch of three straight games at home, where they haven’t played too poorly for the most part this year. Oakland needs to put together a few good performances and win a couple games down the stretch or things will start to turn ugly for those in charge (head coach and general manager). Meanwhile, the Browns visit the bay area winners of three of their last six games. Cleveland may not have the wins to show for it, but they’ve been a competitive team over the past two months, and are starting to look like an actual NFL team that’s capable of being competitive from week to week and winning any given Sunday, something the franchise hasn’t seen in quite some time.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The Oakland defense vs. Trent Richardson. Running backs aren’t draft third overall unless they’re special, and Richardson is definitely special. Richardson has battled through a nagging rib injury all season and has proven to be a handful for opposing defenses. Meanwhile, Oakland’s defense is giving up 131 yards per game on the ground, which will make Richardson a steep challenge for the Raiders to face. The Raiders will need to gang tackle Richardson, if not he’ll break through arm tackles and run wild all day. If the Raiders can create a situation in which Brandon Weeden’s arm has to beat them, they’ll be in good shape.
The Browns are far from world beaters, needing the Steelers to commit eight turnovers and play their third string quarterback in order to win by six, but they’ve played well as of late and have been in close games against good teams, even on the road. Meanwhile, the Raiders are in free fall mode and show no signs of coming out of it. This game won’t be pretty, but Richardson will gash the Raider’s defense, as he leads the Browns to an ugly win: Cleveland 17, Oakland 9.