by Nate Winkler
CHFF's AFC West Cattle Driver
The AFC West is shaping up to be another tight race this season.
The Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and Denver Broncos all sit with a 1-2 record while the San Diego Chargers fell to 2-1 with a Week 3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, who are now 3-0 against the AFC West with Oakland still on the docket.
Here are five things to watch for:
1. As the trail of hearbroken vixens in our wake can testify, confidence can be a powerful thing.
Both the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders needed late game heroics to earn their first victories of the season last weekend. The Raiders fought the Pittsburgh Steelers tooth and nail and won with a Sea-Bass-tian Janikowski field goal as time expired. Meanwhile in New Orleans, the Chiefs pushed the New Orleans Saints to the brink with an overtime victory after trainling 24-6 at one point.
Winning is a wonderful elixer, and now both franchises head into this week's matchups looking for a share of the division lead at the quarter-pole of the season. Look for Oakland to feed the ball to Darren McFadden, who had 113 rushing yards last week but is averaging just 4.49 Yards per touch this season, well below his career average of 5.70.
Kansas City's Jamaal Charles finally got going last weekend too, rushing for a career high 233 yards, including the longest run in Chiefs history, a 91 Yd touchdown where he showed a glimpse of the breakaway speed he had before tearing his ACL a year ago. Both teams will need big games from their featured backs to pull off the upsets again this week as well.
2. If Peyton can't get it going this week, John Elway might want to start at least considering that "Plan B".
Ok, so he's still not 100% recovered from his neck injury and has faced the best team in each conference in the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons, but the offense has sputtered early in the last two games, exposing a defense that was built to play with a lead. The elder Manning has been mediocre in the first three games, posting just an 85.56 Offensive Passer Rating (21st) and a 78.78 Real Quarterback Rating (18th).
Luckily, the Broncos get a visit from Oakland this week, who currently ranks 28th with a 108.30 allowed in our Defensive Passer Rating.The Raiders have recorded just three sacks (t-30th) and are dead last in the NFL with six passes defensed and zero interceptions. The Broncos and Manning will test that secondary until they can stop him.
3.Don't let that win against the 'Aints fool ya, these aren't your Daddy's Chiefs just yet.
Despite beating the rudderless Saints last week, the Chiefs still rank dead last in CHFF's Quality Stats Power Rankings. They are also in the bottom five or worse in our Quality Standings (32nd), Scoreablity (29th), Bendability (32nd), Real QBR (28th), Defensive Real QBR (31st), Defensive Passer Rating (31st), Passer Rating Differential (32nd) and Defensive Rushing YPA (28th).
What's it all mean? When you're looking up in the rankings at the only two winless teams in the league, you're still not out of the woods yet. Fans are calling for Matt Cassel's head after he's posted just a 73.76 Passer Rating thus far, throwing for just three touchdowns while being intercepted four and fumbling another three. He is finding success on third down, with a 47.92 percent conversion rate that's good for fourth in the league, but hasn't done anything to prove he can lead the Chiefs to the promised land. If he can't improve, and fast, neither will the Chiefs.
4. Home field advantage isn't what it used to be in the AFC West.
From 1992-2001, the home team won the divisional match-ups slightly more than 60 percent of the time with a 75-49 (.605) mark in the AFC West. In the 10 seasons since, the home team is just 62-58 (.517). We thought the higher mark was because the Seahawks were still in the division in the prior decade, too, but that's not the case as the 'Hawks were just 19-21 in divisional home games before being simultaneously possessed by the NFC.
The San Diego Chargers have been the best road warriors, moving to 18-13 (.580) after their Week 1 win in Oakland. That's bad news for the Chiefs, who are just 40-41-2 against the spread in all home games since 2002.
5. Ryan Mathews and Willis McGahee will be the AFC West running backs everyone is talking about Monday.
Sure, we'd take their counterparts, Jamaal Charles and Darren McFadden in a vaccum, but the numbers tell us that Mathews and McGahee will have more success on the ground this weekend. The Raiders have the worst Defensive Hogs in the NFL through three weeks and the Chiefs aren't far behind at 25th. Oakland is allowing 4.2 rushing YPA while Kansas City is allowing 4.72 rusing YPA.
Their counterparts are both in the top 10 in Defensive Rushing Yard per Attempt allowed, however. McFadden will face off against a Denver front that is allowing just 3.34 Yds/Rush, good for sixth in the league. Charles will face the surprisingly stout Chargers front that's allowing just 3.61 Yds/Rush, good for ninth.
McGahee has shown flashes of the power and burst we saw last year but like the rest of the Broncos' offense he hasn't been able to establish a rhythm for any extended period of time. Mathews needs a big game to rebound from his goal line fumble that turned the tide against Atlanta last week, and he should gash the Chiefs in his second game back from the collarbone injury.