The AFC West is going through an interesting time right now. While the Chiefs and Broncos continue their climb to the top of the NFL, the Chargers and Raiders have stumbled a little in recent weeks, creating a little bit of a separation between the top and bottom of the division.
This week, everyone’s focus is on the showdown in Denver between Broncos and Chiefs, but the Chargers also have an extremely important matchup that they need to win if they plan on staying in the playoff picture.
San Diego Chargers (4-5) @ Miami Dolphins (4-5) (1:05 PM PT, CBS)
Going into their bye week, the Chargers were being looked at as a dark horse team to reach the playoffs. Two weeks later and now the Chargers are facing an extremely important game against the Dolphins, as a third consecutive loss could put them behind a number of teams as the playoff picture begins to take shape.
Offensively, the Chargers are fine. Philip Rivers has a number of weapons at his disposal with Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and Danny Woodhead creating matchup problems all over the field. But the Dolphins defensive line lead by Cameron Wake can create pressure against anybody. If they start getting in the backfield it will be difficult for Rivers to make plays.
Defense is where the Chargers have had their issues ranking in the bottom half of the league against both the run and pass. Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has improved greatly in his second year, but very few have noticed. Mike Wallace is one of the most dangerous deep threats in the game and Brian Hartline always seems to get open when he needs to.
If the Chargers defense, particularly their secondary, they could struggle to contain Tannehill and Wallace, but their offense is good enough to get points on the board against anyone and I think that will be the difference as long as they keep the Dolphins defensive line out of the backfield.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) @ Denver Broncos (8-1) (5:30 PM PT, NBC)
This is the marquee game of the week, hence why it will be played under the bright lights of Sunday Night. The Broncos have looked almost unstoppable this season, but were only able to score 28 points against an average Charger defense last week. Combine that with the Chiefs having an extra week to prepare for this Broncos offense and it could be a rough night for the Broncos.
Peyton Manning is not 100 percent due to sprained ankles, and a leaky Bronco offensive line, combined with two excellent pass rushers on the Chiefs, could lead to some big hits on Manning. But if there is one thing we know, it’s to never count out Peyton Manning. And with guys like Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas at his disposal, the Broncos can score on anyone.
It will be imperative for the Bronco offense to score early as the Chiefs offense is not good enough to play from behind. The Chiefs defense bailed them out of their last game against the Buffalo Bills, but doing that against the Broncos seems unlikely. The Chief offense has to generate some points and against a defense as shaky as the Broncos, Jamaal Charles should be able to make some plays.
The Chiefs have won games due to an offense that doesn’t turn the ball over and a defense that creates points or great field position. The start of this game will be the key. If the Chiefs defense can set the tone and they are able to get out in front, it could lead to some turnovers and Jamaal Charles running through the Bronco defense. But if the Broncos are able to jump out to a quick 10 or 14 point lead, the Chiefs offense isn’t good enough to keep up with this high powered attack.