by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)
CHFF Mechanical Bull Riding Champion
The AFC West is making it's claim to be the worst division in the NFL in 2012. Ten games in, there is but one team (Denver) with a winning record and another (Kansas City) that is currently in the driver's seat for the first overall draft pick next April. The division has mustered just a 14-22 (.389) combined record while five of the other seven divisions are cumulatively .500 or better
Every AFC West team except for San Diego returns home Sunday after going 1-3 on the road last week. The Chargers travel to the Mile High City in the only division clash this weekend in a contest that may well decide the division before Thanksgiving.
Here are 5 Things to Expect:
1. Philip Rivers' domination in Denver will not continue on Peyton Manning's watch.
Since he became San Diego's starting quarterback in 2006, Rivers is 9-5 with a 97.4 Passer Rating against the Denver Broncos overall. Even more astonishing is his 5-1 record at Mile High, where his Chargers have won by an average of 14 points and the lone loss coming by just one, 39-38 in 2008.
That, of course, was before Peyton Manning came to town. Manning has helped restore the home field advantage in Denver, where the Broncos are 3-1 and averaging 31.75 points per game while allowing just 17.5. Manning has thrown 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in those games while averaging 306.5 yards passing (8.4 PY/A) and compiling a 115.3 Passer Rating. His trademark no-huddle offense is a perfect fit for the altitude and nobody is worried about him being able to play outside anymore.
Rivers comes to town this time looking like a quarterback who wants a new head coach, while Peyton is lifting the Broncos' expectations to heights they haven't dreamed of in years.
2. Carson Palmer will continue to pile up meaningless yards, but New Orleans could break the scoreboard in Oakland.
Palmer is third in the NFL with 2,723 Passing Yards this season (302.6 PY/G), behind only Matt Ryan (307.9 PY/G) and this week's opponent, Drew Brees (316.3). The difference is that Ryan's Falcons and Brees' Saints are both 4-1 since the start of October while the 3-6 Raiders have squeaked out wins against the Chiefs and Jaguars (2-16 combined) and have allowed 97 points in their last two games.
Palmer isn't necessarily the Raiders problem, but it's hard to see him as the answer beyond 2012 despite the king's ransom the previous administration paid to get him. Losing Darren McFadden to his annual November injury doesn't help matters, either.
The defense has been porous and undisciplined, which also casts doubts on the hiring of Dennis Allen as the coach to guide Oakland back to respectability. Granted there is a dearth of talent, but the Raiders are 31st in our Bendability ranking, 30th in Defensive Hog Index, and 29th in Defensive Passer Rating.
Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans offense (27.7 PPG) come to town with the utmost confidence after knocking off the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons last week but have a defense (32nd in DPR) that rivals Oakland's in futility. The over (54.5) may be the easiest bet this week and we can expect 1,000 yards of combined offense, but it's hard to envision a scenario where the Raiders come out on top.
3. The Kansas City Chiefs will continue to disgrace Arrowhead Stadium as they look like the Cincinnati Bengals of yesteryear.
Remember when the "Bungles" consistently finished under .500, drafted bust after bust, and wandered around the NFL with ineptitude? Say hello to your 21st century Kansas City Chiefs.
OK, so the Chiefs won't likely match the dubious record of 12 consecutive seasons without a winning record that the Bengals compiled from 1991-2002, but this season will mark their third since 2007 with double digit losses barring a Tebow-like miracle.
Matt Cassel is the new Jeff Blake, Glen Dorsey is the new Dan Wilkinson, and GM Scott Pioli has more busts to his credit than our friendly neighborhood Hooters restaurant. The new look Bengals, who have been moderately relevant since Marvin Lewis' arrival in 2002, come to town with playoff aspirations still alive after drubbing the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants 31-13 last week. With the win the Bengals sky-rocketted 10 spots to #15 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings while the Chiefs have been firmly entrenched at 30th or worse the entire season.
The worst part is how the Chiefs have performed in front of their proud and loyal fans at Arrowhead Stadium, which was once considered the best home-field advantage in all of football. Since the start of the Pioli/Cassel era in 2009, the Chiefs are just 11-18 (.379) on their home turf, which is identical to their road record.
Much as the Bengals did every three years or so throughout the 1990's, the Chiefs will take out the trash this off-season and wipe the slate clean with a new front office, coaching staff, and starting quarterback next season.
4. Denver's defense got too much credit for the team's success last season but isn't getting enough credit in 2012.
We're all at the point (or should be) that we can agree the acquisition of Peyton Manning was incredibly fortuitous for the Denver Broncos franchise. His command over the offense and ability to "raise all boats" has put the Broncos on the short list of contenders in the AFC, but the leap has as much to do with the defense as it does #18's right arm.
Through nine games in 2011, the Broncos were allowing an average of 360.67 Yds and 26 Points per game, including allowing 45 or more twice. They had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL with a DPR of 100.19 at the time.
At the same point this season, the Broncos' D has improved on all fronts, especially pass defense. The Broncos are allowing 45 fewer yards per game (316.78) and five fewer points (21) than they did a year ago while surrendering just an 82.82 DPR. The marked improvements on offense have helped the defense stay fresh but Jack Del Rio deserves credit for the turnaround as well.
5. Here are a few statistical trends we've unearthed for this week's match-ups, for entertainment purposes only of course.
- The Kansas City Chiefs are 6-3 (.667) straight up and 5-3-1 (.555) against the spread all-time against the Cincinnati Bengals at home, with just two of those nine contests (.222) reaching the over, which is currently set at 43.5.
- The New Orleans Saints are 10-3 (.769) S/U and 9-4 (.692) ATS since 2002 in games where the over/under is greater than 54, with the over being reached in eight of those (.615). The Oakland Raiders are 0-3 S/U in such contests (1-2 ATS) with the over only being reached once.
- The San Diego Chargers have only been 5+ point underdogs six times under Norv Turner including the playoffs. They are 1-5 (.167) S/U and 2-4 (.333) ATS in those contests, with the lone win coming against Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs at the end of the 2007 season.
- Since 2005, the Denver Broncos are 26-17 (.605) S/U at home after returning from a road trip but just 16-25-2 (.372) ATS in those contests.