by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)

CHFF's AFC West Deciding Vote

The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders were the only two teams in action for the AFC West on Sunday, and each took big steps in opposite directions. The San Diego Chargers took care of the Kansas City Chiefs 31-13 on Thursday night to round out the division action for Week 9.

Denver overcame adversity on the road, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns en route to a 31-23 victory in a highly contested game in Cincinnati. The Broncos won their third straight game and now lead the division at 5-3.

Oakland trailed by as many as 18 against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVII.  Unlike that game, the Raiders feverishly fought back to within a field goal before falling short in the end by a score of 42-32. Oakland now sits in third place in the division with a 3-5 record.


Here are 5 Things we Learned:


1. The Denver Broncos passed another hurdle towards legitimacy with a 31-23 road win against the under-achieving Cincinnati Bengals.

Getting a win on the road is something any NFL coach will gladly take, regardless of the opponent. Winning on the road when allowing 21+ points is a rarity and a blessing.

According to Spreadapedia, the amazing point-spread database exclusive to CHFF Insiders, the Broncos are now 7-32 (.179) since the beginning of 2004 when allowing 21 or more points on the road. As bad as that seems, the good news is four of those wins have come under John Fox, who is now 7-5 on the road overall as the Broncos' head coach.

The Broncos were able to overcome back-to-back interceptions of Peyton Manning by Terrance Newman in the third quarter to improve to 5-3 at the halfway point of this season and in position to contend for the 2nd seed in the AFC.

Both interceptions were intended for Eric Decker, who finished with eight receptions for 99 yards and two touchdowns, giving him seven on the year and a TD reception in five straight games.

Manning fell just nine yards short of reaching 300 yards and three TDs for the fifth consecutive game, but he ended up with a 105.8 Passer Rating on 27/35 (77.1%) and 8.3 Yards Per Attempt. Manning now has 20 touchdown passes to just six interceptions through eight games and is on pace to throw for over 4,800 yards, which would be a career high.

Trindon Holiday, the shortest player in Broncos history at 5'5", returned the opening kickoff of the second half 105 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest scoring play in franchise history and a victory for short people everywhere. Holiday was cut by the Texans after Week 5 and claimed off waivers by the Broncos.


2. The Oakland Raiders' rush defense has been up and down this season, but they hit rock bottom Sunday thanks to Tampa Bay's Doug Martin.

The Raiders had allowed less than 55 rushing yards in four of their first seven contests and just 102.6 rushing yards per game, 11th in the NFL. Then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to town and first round draft pick Doug Martin and friends lit them up to the tune of 278 yards on 32 carries (8.69 YPA).

Martin became the first player in NFL history with three touchdown runs of 40 yards or longer with 45, 67, and 70 yard scores along with a fourth from one yard out to seal the Bucs victory.

The list of rookie running backs to rush for 250 yards in a game in NFL History now looks like this:

MIKE ANDERSONDENVER (@ NEW ORLEANS 12/03/2000)372516.784
DEMARCO MURRAYDALLAS (VS ST. LOUIS 10/23/2011)2525310.121
DOUG  MARTIN TAMPA BAY (@ OAKLAND 11/4/2012)2525110.044

Martin became just the 12th running back total and fourth rookie since 1960 to eclipse 250 rushing yards, but lost 14 yards on his last three carries as the Bucs were attempting to run out the clock.

The Raiders allowed 515 yards of total offense to the Buccanneers, who now sit at 4-4 and right in the thick of things in the NFC. It was the second time this season the Raiders have allowed 500 yards. You have to like the "never say die" spirit this team is playing with but they don't have the talent on defense to stop competent NFL offenses.


3. The match-up between former Georgia Bulldogs Champ Bailey and A.J. Green was better than advertised with the judges scoring a split-decision draw.

Bailey missed the game against the Bengals last season as he was nursing a hamstring injury but was excited for the opportunity to square off against the emerging Green.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati's Red-Rifle, showed no fear in going after the 11-time pro-bowler, targeting Green 12 times including three plays with penalties.

Green came down with seven receptions for 99 yards including a toe-tapping goal line fade for a 10 yard touchdown and a 37 yard strike down the sideline that made Bailey look every day of his 34 years old as he ran right by him.

Champ had the last laugh however, setting up the game clenching touchdown after his first interception of the year with 11:47 left in the game on a pass intended for Green.

Bailey added six tackles and two passes defended along with a defensive holding call against in the battle against Green.


4. It seems like we've been saying this for 10 years, but it's one step up and two steps back again for Carson Palmer.

Palmer has been one of those guys who is "this close" his whole career. Just when you think he's going to put it together he has a three interception game that costs his team dearly, and he's right back in the middle of the pack.

The 2002 Heisman Trophy winner from USC had a career high 61 pass attempts against the Bucs, completing 39 of them for 414 yards and four touchdowns. It was only the fifth time in Palmer's career he's exceeded 400 passing yards and the sixth time he's had four or more touchdowns in a game. That was the step forward...

His three interceptions mark the fifth multi-interception game to his credit since he joined the Raiders six games into last season. All three picks came in the second half against Tampa Bay, including game-killers on the last two drives.

With security blanket Darren McFadden making an early exit due to a leg injury in the second quarter, the onus was on Palmer to step up and lift the Raiders to victory against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that had been 4-10 on the road against the AFC/NFC West since that 2002 Super Bowl victory. Palmer and his Raiders gave a valliant effort but once again came up short, which epitomizes his career.


5. Peyton Manning has improved the Broncos' defense almost as much as he's legitimized their offense. 

Last season we heard over and over about how it was Denver's D, not Tim Tebow, that enabled their unlikely surge to a division title. Truth is, the 2011 Broncos finished 20th in Yards Allowed and 24th in Points Allowed, hardly elite despite having a Defensive Coordinator in Dennis Allen that was deemed good enough to become the Oakland Raiders new head man.

In 2012, the Broncos brought in Manning and a new Defensive Coordinator in Jack Del Rio. Younger, faster players at all three levels of the defense have the Broncos playing a more physical brand of defense and knowing #18 has their back if they make a mistake has allowed Denver's defenders to play with more confidence than they ever showed in 2011.

The Broncos held Cincinnati to 5 for 14 (.357) on third downs and sacked Andy Dalton five times. Three of those sacks came from Von Miller, who is now tied for second in the NFL behind J.J. Watt with nine sacks on the season.

Denver once again was without CB Tracy Porter but didn't miss a beat with Chris Harris and Tony Carter stepping up in his absence. Porter may have a hard time getting onto the field if and when he recovers from his seizure-inducing condition.