by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)
AFC West Gold Digger
The AFC West picture is starting to come into focus as we turn the page on September and get into the meat of the NFL schedule. Yesterday provided a glimpse of what to expect moving forward, with the San Diego Chargers cruising to an easy 37-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead with the help of six Chiefs' turnovers. The Denver Broncos took care of business at home against the Oakland Raiders for the first time since 2007, outscoring the Raiders 27-0 in the second half en route to a 37-6 victory, the Broncos' largest margin of victory over their hated rival since a 44-7 victory back on October 5th, 1962.
Here are Five Things we Learned:
1. Rumors of Peyton Manning's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Denver finally showed everyone why Manning thought himself a perfect fit in orange and blue, playing their most complete game in all three phases to date. Manning completed 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns and finished with a Passer Rating of 130.0, his highest single-game passer rating since September 19th of 2010 (145.5).
His receiving corps of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker also had their best game of 2012, combining for 12 receptions for 182 yards and a touchdown by Decker. Thomas accounted for the game's only turnover when he dropped the ball while switching hands after breaking a screen pass for a huge gain, but it didn't end up costing the Broncos.
2. The end appears near for the Matt Cassel era in Kansas City.
Cassel is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL right now, and it's not even close. He threw three interceptions on Sunday, giving him seven after four games. Cassel now has a 70.6 Passer Rating on the season, ahead of only Mark Sanchez, Jay Cutler, and rookies Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill. His inability to recognize coverages and poor decision making ability have severely hampered the Chiefs' ability to stay competitive.
The Chiefs have been outscored 41-6 in the first quarter this season and three of Cassel's five TD passes and a hulk of his 1,058 passing yards have come in fourth quarter garbage time against soft defenses. The prospect of Brady Quinn, who hasn't started a game since 2009, or Ricky Stanzi, who's never thrown a pass in a regular season game, doesn't give Chiefs fans much to be optimistic about.
3. Winning is so easy when you're +5 in turnovers that even Norv Turner can't screw it up.
The San Diego Chargers were beneficiaries of gift after gift from the Kansas City Chiefs, forcing five turnovers in the first half alone and six overall. Since 1978, the Chargers are a perfect 12-0 when +5 or better in that department and Norv is 4-0 in his career when doing the same. The team with the winning turnover ratio has won 189 of 195 (.969) contests with a +5 or greater turnover margin since 1990.
The Chargers were actually out-gained by the Chiefs in total yardage 353 to 293 and first downs 25 to 19, but scored on their first three possessions and held a 21 point lead at halftime. Phillip Rivers surpassed 25,000 career passing yards in his 100th NFL start but still had a high Negative Pass Play percentage of 15.38, something Rivers has always struggled with. Ryan Mathews had one less carry than former Chief Jackie Battle, telling us A.J. Smith's comments about his young running back's ball security issues are already manifesting on the field.
4. Dennis Allen will eventually be a good coach, but as the saying goes you can't turn chicken sh#t into chicken salad.
The Oakland Raiders failed to force the Denver Broncos to punt in Sunday's drubbing, only the fifth time in Broncos' history that's ever happened. They also allowed a 300 yard passer (Manning), 100 yard receiver (D. Thomas), and 100 yard rusher (McGahee). Neither are good signs for a defense that entered the game with the NFL's 31st ranked Defensive Hogs.
The Raiders, who were without both starting cornerbacks, allowed over 500 yards of total offense for the first time since Week 5 of the 2010 season. They failed to register a sack or an interception against Manning, while allowing the Broncos to convert on 10-16 third downs and posses the ball for a dominating 37:25.
Worse yet, Darren McFadden, who had owned the Broncos, was held to just 34 yards rushing on 13 carries with a long of eight yards. If you're a Raiders fan looking for a positive, take solace in the fact that Carson Palmer did not throw an interception for only the fourth time as a Raider.
5. The AFC West will have two teams competing for a playoff spot and two teams competing for Matt Barkley.
Or Geno Hayes, or Aaron Murray, or...well you get the point. Many pundits were high on Kansas City entering the season despite the lack of factual data to back it, but it's clear that the Chiefs aren't going to be winners with Cassel at the helm. The Oakland Raiders may be changing the culture from the inside out, but they have a long way to go on the field before anybody beside's the women of the Black Hole are going to scare anybody.
The AFC West will come down to the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos, as it has for much of this century. The two will meet on Monday Night Football in San Diego in Week 6, and the winner of that game should have the inside track for the division title. Philip Rivers is 9-3 in his career against the Broncos while Peyton Manning is just 4-5 in his career against the Chargers.