Week nine of the NFL schedule got started last night with the Chargers beating the Chiefs in a lopsided game 31-13. The Chargers snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 4-4 on the season. More importantly, Philip Rivers broke out of his slump, completing 18 of 20 passes for 220 yards and throwing two touchdowns. Conversely, the Chiefs looked as abysmal as ever, falling to 1-7 on the season. Kansas City is still not getting Jamaal Charles involved enough, as Charles rushed for 39 yards on only 12 carries.
With the Chargers and the Chiefs getting the weekend off, let’s take a look at what the other AFC West teams will be doing on Sunday:
DENVER AT CINCINNATI
Coming off their complete dismantling of the New Orleans Saints the Broncos are quickly becoming one of the favorites in the AFC, but traveling to Cincinnati is a long trip east and the Bengals are one of the few teams remaining on their schedule that could pose a problem for the them. Cincinnati is nursing a three-game losing streak, but they’re more talented than their 3-4 record would indicate and they’ve had two weeks to prepare, which has given them more time scout Peyton Manning and the new Denver offense. Even if the extra time doesn’t give the Bengal’s defense an advantage, quarterback Andy Dalton and his receivers may be good enough to keep pace with Manning in a shootout, which should make this game high-scoring and very entertaining.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
He may be getting older, but Champ Bailey is still one of the top cover corners in the NFL. Bailey will have his hands full this week with second-year wide receiver A.J. Green, who is quickly becoming one of the top receivers in the league, racking up 636 yards receiving and seven touchdowns this season. Most teams choose not to throw in Bailey’s direction, but the Bengals won’t be afraid to challenge him, especially with the 6’4’’ Green as the target. In a game where both offenses will be aggressive with their passing game, the Bailey vs. Green matchup will play a big role in determining the outcome of the game.
As good as the Broncos are, they’re not good enough to go 13-3. There are a couple more losses left on their schedule and this is one of them. Furthermore, the Bengals are too good to lose four games in a row (and certainly not five in a row, which could happen with the Giants on the schedule next week). In the end, this game will come down to who has the ball last, and that’ll end up being the Bengals. Final score: Cincinnati 35, Denver 31.
TAMPA BAY AT OAKLAND
There’s nothing quite like a battle between pirates and a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVII. Both teams enter the game at a disappointing 3-4 with a chance to get to .500 with a win. The Raiders will hope to build off the momentum gained from two straight wins over Jacksonville and Kansas City. With a win Oakland would become a legitimate competitor in the AFC West and in the AFC wild card race. On the other side, Tampa Bay has won two of their last three games since the bye week. In the three games since that bye, the Bucs offense has exploded, averaging 36 points per game. Both teams should feel good about themselves coming into this game and both will be confident that they can come away with a win.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Tampa Bay enters the game with the 31st ranked pass defense in the NFL, giving up over 300 yards through the air per game. Carson Palmer, who has been steady but unspectacular this season, will need to take advantage of the porous Buccaneers’ secondary to give the Raiders a chance to win, as Oakland is one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, making them dependent on their passing attack. Oakland has scored 26 points each of the last two weeks against a pair of one-win teams, but that might not be enough if Tampa Bay continues to put a lot of points on the scoreboard. Palmer only completed 50% of his passes last week against Kansas City, and playing against a bad pass defense he’ll have to do a lot better than that if he’s going to lead the Raiders to their third straight win.
If you want good defense, this probably isn’t the game for you. Both teams have looked better over the last three weeks and both will be looking to air it out and put points on the board, which should lead to a shootout. At this point in the season, the Bucs offense is more capable of winning a high-scoring game, and that’s exactly what they’ll do: Tampa Bay 34, Oakland 28.