The AFC West is deadlocked, if you discount the Denver Broncos, with three teams tied at 4-3. The Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers all hold a piece of first place, but only one can win that stately Division Champs banner.
The Chiefs are hot—having won four straight games—and have their next two games at home against the winless Miami Dolphins and the hapless Denver Broncos. Smother those games in a tangy bar-b-que sauce and nosh down that delicious six game winning streak. Wash it all down with a stiff drink, though, because after that the next five games on the schedule include road trips to New England, Chicago, and New York to play the Jets; with two home games sprinkled in that bring Green Bay and Pittsburgh to town. The final two weeks carry match-ups against Oakland and Denver. Count them all up and 8-8 seems to add up. If they can manage to steal a win during that brutal five game stretch, then a nine win season is possible.
The once-surprise Oakland Raiders seem to be ready to fall off the cliff. With Jason Campbell injured, the offense took a dive. Kyle Boller was ineffective and the freshly dusted off Carson Palmer looked too much like the Palmer we had seen the last few years in Cincinnati. Neither of these two quarterbacks has the makings of a glorious savior. The Raiders have posted two wins against decent teams in the Jets and Texans and two more against the Broncos and Browns. Their three defeats came at the hands of the Patriots, Bills and Chiefs. With a defense giving up red-zone touchdowns at a 64% clip (29th in the NFL), and an offense that will struggle, Oakland has only three more games on the schedule that they should win—Denver, Minnesota and Miami. They will have to take a game or two from the Chargers (twice), Bears, Packers, Lions or Chiefs in order to contend for the prize.
Are the San Diego Chargers playing their struggle-early-surge-late role, again? Their four wins are against the Chiefs, Vikings, Dolphins and Broncos. The latter three teams have a combined record of 4-18 and the average score in those four wins was 24.75 – 18.5. Not terribly impressive. All three of the loss column tallies were against 2010 playoff teams. The Chiefs avenged their earlier loss, and the Patriots and Jets both notched wins. San Diego will see three more teams from last year's post-season with Green Bay, Chicago and Baltimore coming up. Mix in two of this season's playoff hopefuls in the Bills and Lions. Add in those two games against Oakland (who swept San Diego in 2010) and things do not look so good in San Diego for a winning record.
The Denver Broncos have Tim Tebow. Good luck with that.
On a sad note if you are a Chiefs fan, do no expect the 2011 playoffs to look any different than 2010. The Chiefs may get their AFC Division Champs T-shirts and caps, but that won't change the facts. After seven games, the offense is ranked 25th in points allowed (24.3/game) and 22nd in yards allowed (373.6/game). There is little reason to think that that will change. Two games against Denver and one against Miami might help the numbers a bit, but it will not fix a poor defense. They have managed a paltry 9.0 sacks (32nd), given up 5.7 yards/play (22nd), and have freely handed over 415 yards in penalties (20th) to opposing offenses—just in case you needed more proof.
If defense wins championships, then logic dictates that offense loses them, and the Kansas City offense is lackluster at best. The passing game has completed just 17 plays over 20 yards (26th) and a svelte 6.7 yards/attempt (22nd); while the offense is 25th in points scored (18.3/game) and 24th in yards with 308.4/game. Factor in a time of possession of 28:57 (25th) and it does not look good for a post-season run. I say: dress up in your finest ketchup and yellow mustard gear and cheer your team to another first-round bounce, but at least the Chiefs are better than the rest of the AFC West.