by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)
CHFF AFC West Cattle-Prodding Pundit
The AFC West has been decided with a full quarter of the regular season yet to be played. The Denver Broncos clinched back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1986-1987. The Broncos won their seventh straight game with their 31-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will now focus on improving their seeding for the post-season.
The Kansas City Chiefs were the only other team in the division to garner a victory in Week 13, defeating the Carolina Panthers 27-21 in as heavy-hearted a game that has been played in the NFL this season. The blow from the tragedy that struck the organization yesterday was softened for at least a few hours as the Chiefs doubled their season win total.
in other AFC West action, the state of Ohio trumped the state of California as the San Diego Chargers fell to the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 20-13 and the Oakland Raiders dropped their fifth straight, falling to the suddenly surging Cleveland Browns 20-17. The Chargers are now 4-8 despite having a +1 point differential while the Raiders are 3-8 with an NFL-worst -141 point differential.
Here are 5 Things We Learned:
1. If nothing else, the Kansas City Chiefs decided to live (and play) for today.
It's been quite day and a half in Kansas City, and once again we witnessed the healing aspects sport can provide. The Chiefs' staff, players and fans were galvanized by yesterday's tragedy and gave their best performance of the season, improving to 2-10 and no longer seemingly a lock for the top overall draft pick. The emotions of the day were captured here as Romeo Crennel delivered the post-game locker room speech.
After being criticized for not going for it in two key situations against the Denver Broncos last week, the Chiefs converted 3 of 3 fourth-down conversions on Sunday, including a Brady Quinn touchdown pass as time expired in the first half that put the Chiefs ahead to stay at 17-14.
Quinn finished the day 19/23 (82.6%) for 203 Yds (8.7 PY/A) with two TDs for a Passer Rating of 132.1. It was the second highest-rated game of Quinn's career and just his fourth multiple touchdown game in 21 appearances since entering the league in 2007. Given the circumstances, it was easily the finest game of his professional career.
Jamaal Charles added his 5th 100+ yard rushing performance of the season (27-127, 4.7 RY/A) as the Chiefs ran 67 offensive plays to just 51 for Carolina while possessing the ball for nearly a quarter more (37:13-22:47) than the Panthers. Cam Newton's three touchdown passes weren't enough as they ran out of time in Kansas City falling to 3-9 to guarantee their third consecutive losing season.
2. Not even Greg Schiano proving how tough he is at the end of the game can prevent Peyton Manning from having the best season ever by a Broncos quarterback.
Schiano went after Peyton in the "victory" formation the same way he went after Eli back in the New York Giants' victory over Tampa Bay in Week 2. The last time we met someone who hated the Manning family as much as Schiano does was at the Spurrier family reunion a few years ago.
As for the plays that actually mattered, Manning had the last laugh, throwing his Broncos' record 27th, 28th, and 29th touchdown passes of the season, two of which were caught by Demaryius Thomas. He was 27-38 (71.1%) for 242 yards with one interception and a 101.3 Passer Rating; his eighth game this season with a Passer Rating of 100+, tying him with Matt Ryan for most in the NFL.
As our CHFF Insiders know, teams that won the Passer Rating battle in individual games had an 82.3% (144-31) Correlation to Victory entering Week 13. True to form, the Broncos are 9-1 this season when Manning has a higher Passer Rating than the opposing quarterback and 0-2 when he doesn't.
Manning broke the Broncos single-season touchdown record of 27 shared by John Elway and Jake Plummer and also topped 3,500 passing yards and 26 TD passes for the 14th time in his career. By comparison, Elway only topped 3,500 yards in five of his 16 seasons and had 26 or more touchdown passes just three times. (In a much different era, of course.)
3. Norv Turner is the crazy girlfriend who refuses to get the hint that you're trying to break up with her.
We've all been there. You know it's doomed so you just start acting like a jerk with the hope that she'll finally grab her toothbrush and get the hell out of your apartment once and for all. Of course, this just emboldens her to stay the course while your future is put indefinitely on hold.
Philip Rivers had 48 pass attempts and was sacked four times for a total of 52 pass plays to just 11 runs called by Turner, who was once-upon-a-time considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL. It's amazing what having Hall of Famers at quarterback (T. Aikman), running back (E. Smith), and wide receiver (M. Irvin) can do for a guy's perceived aptitude.
The Cincinnati Bengals were 7-14 (50%) on third down and overcame three turnovers to get their fourth straight victory on the season. San Diego had been 24-4 under Norv when forcing three or more turnovers but ultimately collapsed as they couldn't overcome another untimely fourth quarter interception by Rivers.
The Chargers were held under 300 yards of total offense for the seventh time this season after failing to do so just five times in the previous three seasons combined. Norv, its not you, its us...so don't walk away mad but please, please, please walk away.
4. The Oakland Raiders thought they were getting an up-and-coming defensive genius when they hired Dennis Allen. Hopefully they kept the receipt.
Allen was courted away from division rival Denver last off-season after leading the Broncos to finishing with the 24th ranked scoring defense (24.4 PPG Allowed) and 20th ranked in yardage allowed with 357.8 per game in his one and only year with the team.
The Raiders have given up 450+ yards of total offense in four games this year after allowing Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns to rack up 475 yards on 7.1 Yards Per Play, easily their best offensive performance of the season. Weeden threw for a career high 364 yards on 25/36 (69.4%) passing with one TD and two INTs.
After showing promise of a new era earlier in the season the Raiders took another step back on Sunday, racking up 10 penalties for 65 yards while never really threatening to take control of the game. Carson Palmer threw for a bazillion meaningless yards once again (34-54, 351, 2, 1, 86.3) but there is just not enough talent or coaching on the defensive side of the ball to make the Raiders competitive.
5. Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning and Von Miller have a chance to do something that has only been done once before.
Miller may have took the lead by a nose in the Defensive Player of the Year race with his six tackle, one sack, performance that included his first career interception which was followed promptly by his first career touchdown 26 yards later. Last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year now has 53 tackles (25 for loss), 15 sacks, 4 Forced Fumbles, 4 Passes Defensed and 1 INT on the season while being asked to drop into pass coverage often unlike his chief competitors. Miller has become the undisputed leader of a Broncos defense that entered Week 13 4th in the NFL in yardage and 8th in scoring.
It is well documented that Peyton Manning is having a remarkable season at age 36 and is a front-runner for Offensive Player of the Year along with Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson and a handful of others. It's a flip of a coin between Manning and Peterson for Comeback Player of the Year, but it's more likely Peyton will get his unprecedented fifth MVP award. He's on pace to finish with 405 completions on 596 attempts for 4,669 yards and 38 touchdowns, all marks that would be the second best of his career behind his record-setting (and MVP) season of 2004.
Only once in the 40 year history of the Player of the Year awards have teammates collected the Offensive and Defensive honors in the same season. In 2003 the Baltimore Ravens even took it easy on the league engraver when running back Jamaal Lewis took home the offensive award and linebacker Ray Lewis earned the defensive hardware. Manning and Miller will need to play when it counts down the stretch for playoff positioning and both could be considered favorites to take home the honors with four games left.