San Diego Chargers
The Zombie Chargers took a break this week. They re-attached a foot or an arm, checked out the surrounding area sniffing for brains and watched as a couple of potential victims get ever so close to the patch of ground from which it is emerging. Violence is coming, somebody's brains will be eaten, but will our favorite zombie survive it all?
With no game played this week for San Diego I thought we could take a look at some pretty DVOA graphs. Here's two that shows DVOA by week. The first is the single game DVOA and the second is the team DVOA as the season progressed:
Here's where the Chargers stand on the season:
The Chargers remain ranked 7th in the NFL, but one key thing changed that you will see later on. The Chiefs no longer have a high DVOA. That combined with the Raiders and Broncos still having negative DVOAs means that the Chargers now ranked first in the AFC West. According to Football Outsiders' Playoff Odds Report the Chargers still aren't the favorites because KC still has an easy schedule, they still have a one game lead and they still have a theoretical tie-breaker over the Chargers.
For more pretty Chargers graphs, click the link below to continue reading.
As promised, here are the week-by-week breakdowns by unit:
The Denver Broncos came off a bye week to trounce the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. It was a momentous, division-changing win that avenged their 44-24 loss to Kansas City at Invesco in week 17 last year. It moved their overall record to 3-6 and their divisional record to 1-1.
Here's what the Broncos best game of the season looked like on paper:
It should be no surprise that their offensive DVOA, passing DVOA, rushing DVOA and rush defense DVOA were the highest marks of the season. It was also their second best game in overall defense (that's not a typo, this was their lowest below average performance on defense with their only above average performance oddly enough occurring in a loss to the Jets) and their second best special teams performance. Their pass defense still left something to be desired.
Here's where the Broncos stand on the season:
The overall DVOA is much improved, but is still ranked in the bottom third. The offense slips into the top ten on the back of a #2 ranked passing game. That very passing game is only outpaced in DVOA by the Patriots. I got criticized last week for calling their pass game crazy good, but for it to carry that wretched running game all the way up to a top 10 offense is crazy. The defense still looks porous, and watching the game last weekend you could see that Kansas City wasn't having too much trouble moving the ball, it just wasn't enough to overcome all the points put on the board early.
I don't watch much professional wrestling, but I'm familiar enough with the theatrics to make this analogy. The Chiefs are like that wrestler that just body slammed his opponent a bunch of times, so he takes a victory lap. He soaks in the cheers or jeers from the crowd only to have the opponent get off the canvas and hit him over the head with a folding chair. After losing to Raiders one week, Kansas City gets a beatdown at the hands of the Broncos. They fall to 5-4 and no longer have sole possession of first place in the division. They are also now 1-2 against AFC West teams and 4-4 against AFC teams.
Here's how the game went down by DVOA:
Plain and simple the Chiefs were just far too vulnerable for game like this one. In a way, this was like their loss to Houston, except that instead of how the Texans scored a bunch in the fourth quarter to win the game. The Broncos instead got it done in the first quarter. That difference took Kansas City out of their comfort zone. The Chiefs have done well passing the football this season, but it just seems as if their playbook and experience isn't quite adequate enough to drop back and throw all the times it takes to keep up in a game like this. I also imagine that the Chiefs spent some preparation time in denial that the Broncos would be so aggressive and had a run-heavy game plan ready for this game.
Here's where the Chiefs stand on the season:
Amazingly enough, after just two games the Chiefs went from Top-of-the-AFC to middle-of-the-pack. Nothing in that table says, "Playoff team". What it does say is "Also ran".
The Raiders sat on their Silver and Black butts and found themselves tied for first place. On top of that they currently have the advantage of being 3-0 against the AFC West. Not a bad spot to be in if you're dressed like Darth Vader.
The Raiders now have a top 10 offense, a top 10 running game and a top 10 defense. Their overall DVOA is not quite as good as the Chiefs, but because they have some strong units they pose more of a matchup problem for certain teams.
Charger fans and, most likely the players too, watched the Chiefs-Broncos tilt intently because a Broncos win would turn the division on its head. Now the Chargers can win out and end up at least tied for the divisional lead with Kansas City, Oakland or both. Oakland can win a tie-breaker with the Chargers in that scenario, but that's a better problem to have than what the Bolts were faced with a week ago. Winning out can seem daunting, but there are just 7 games left and the team has shown in the past the capability to pull off a streak like that. In 3 of the last 4 seasons the team has had at least an 8 game winning streak. They've also had winning streaks of 5 games or more in each of the last 6 seasons.
The team is also attempting to sell a minority stake in the franchise in order to do, what the team is referring to as, "Estate Planning." I'm not a business expert so I'm not sure if that's code for something or not. I imagine it has something to do with the state of Spanos family patriarch Alex Spanos starts to experience the effects of his age. However, with a buzz in Los Angeles about a new football stadium and talk from those developers about wanting a stake in a franchise that moves there, some of the rumor mills have begun to churn concerning the future location of the franchise.
Get excited Broncos fans. Like I said to the Raiders fans last week, what fun is it being a fan if you can't get irrationally excited following a big win? Actually, there's a little more than just one win to get excited about. At 3-6 the Broncos are just 2 games out of first place and still have 4 divisional games remaining. Beating the Chargers twice would probably put San Diego's playoff hopes to bed. However, they'd need help with the Chiefs and Raiders. I'm sure as a Broncos fan it's nice to dream.
Bi-weekly Tim Tebow update: He threw for his first touchdown pass this past weekend. He also ran for a TD. The passing TD is a bigger deal with regards to the current season. Teams will now have to respect the pass in his red zone packages. Well, maybe. I'd still sellout against him running the football.
As you can see from the picture at the beginning of the article, Todd Haley was upset with Josh McDaniels for running up the score in the 49-29 victory. I don't think McDaniels was trying to show up the Chiefs and I don't really have a problem with getting as many points as you can in this league. I do think McDaniels was a little foolish to be as aggressive as he was. There's just a way to play the game that makes sense and one where you're flying by the seat of your pants. I think McDaniels was a little closer to the latter there. Some may like that, but I think that stuff like that ends up with plays like we saw from the Cowboys in week 1 before halftime where they gave up a needless touchdown or, in this game, where the Broncos almost gave up a field goal return TD by Eric Berry.
Everybody off the bandwagon. Wait, they're still tied for first place? Fine, some of you can stay on. Rumors out of the land of Arrowhead Pride are that many Chiefs fans could see the sky falling as the scoreboard kept getting uglier in Denver last Sunday. I don't really see the sense in that. Teams, playoff teams, Super Bowl Champion teams can lay an egg sometimes. The 2007 New York Giants got killed by the 8-8 Vikings 41-17 in week 12 and the 2003 Patriots got demolished by the 6-10 Bills 31-0 in week 1. Sure, it's not that common (at least not in recent history), but it's not the kiss of death either. I also will bring back up what I mentioned last week and that's that this team probably was due for a wake up call. As a fan you'd hope that the veterans would keep the kids grounded and prepare them for the pressure the team will face, but things don't always work out how you'd like. There's still time left to right this ship and the team certainly has a good schedule with which to do it.
The sleeping giant is awakening. I just took a peek over at Silver and Black Pride and they have a poll up for the final win-loss record for their team. 10-6 is the clubhouse leader with 41% of the vote. 9-7 is in 2nd. A winning season? From the Raiders? It couldn't be. It can't be. And the Chargers helped them do it by ending their streak against them. Very disheartening. That's all I'm going to say. I can't continue this week to say happy things about the Raiders. Let them prove it on the football field before I compliment them anymore. I have a lot of faith that this upcoming schedule will swallow them whole. Please, please, please...
For the first time since week 1 the Chargers are back on prime time with a Monday Night Football showdown against the emboldened Broncos. We all just saw the best the Broncos have to offer and there's every reason to think that Denver will come out swinging just like they did against the Chiefs. In all likelihood, barring some funny bounces that become turnovers or something, the Bolts will go down early because of that. Unlike the Chiefs, the Chargers have Philip Rivers to lead the charge back. They also will have a healthier receiving corps than they've had in weeks and maybe, if we cross our fingers, could give the Broncos a taste of their own medicine and jump ahead and never look back. Yeah, I chuckled when I typed that just as you did as you read it.
Denver can check out the Chargers last game if they want an idea of what to expect. The Texans had a top passing game and a poor defense and came out on the losing end against the Chargers. There are a couple of differences in this upcoming game though. The Broncos running game isn't nearly as good as the Texans (there's no way Knowshon Moreno can pull off anything close to the moves Arian Foster whipped out) and the game is in San Diego. There is the possibility that the recent bye weeks for both teams changed some things. Perhaps the Broncos running game got coached up enough to be significantly better than its first half performance. Perhaps the Chargers fixed their special teams. We'll see.
The Chiefs return to Arrowhead and host the Arizona Cardinals. A loss here would mean that Kansas City would be officially declared a disaster area. By DVOA the Cardinals are 31st overall and the 30th team is closer to the 21st team than they are to the Cardinals (In the NFL stratosphere there's about 12 teams at the top, then some mediocre teams, about 14 bad teams and then the Cardinals and Panthers). They are also the 31st ranked offense and the 24th ranked defense by DVOA. Their best assets are their 6th ranked special teams and a 19th ranked run defense by DVOA. That semi-not awful run defense is probably the most important since they could potentially slow down the running game that the Chiefs are always so insistent about using in excess. However, I just don't know how the Cardinals could score enough points even against a slowed Chiefs running game and Cassel doing his normal not-too-bad act in the passing game.
The Raiders pack up the ship and sail for Pittsburgh (wait, is that geographically possible?). The Steelers are one of the better teams in the NFL both in won-loss record and by DVOA (3rd overall). Despite what people will try to tell you, the Steelers aren't a good running team. They do have a talented back in Rashard Mendenhall, but they just don't have the stability and talent on the offensive line to make it work consistently.
Instead their offensive strength comes from the passing game where Mike Wallace and his speed can create matchup nightmares, Heath Miller makes good catches in the middle of the field and Hines Ward (if healthy) does his thing. Ben Roethlisberger isn't able to do all the things that other top QBs do, but he can extend plays, his strong arm can connect on deep passing plays and he makes plays on third down. However, that same offensive line that hasn't been stable enough to establish a run game also can be a liability in the passing game. That's where the Raiders have to attack because all the injuries have forced in players that can't always be trusted.
The Steelers defense and special teams are also vulnerable. Two of their starting defensive linemen (Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel) have missed a lot of time. Their replacements are adequate, but can be worn out. The Steelers also have trouble getting enough push with them to really support their blitz packages. There's a chance that Jason Campbell could have more time the pocket than you would expect. On special teams the Steelers cut Jeff Reed who had been a very reliable kicker for years (including the two Super Bowl Championship years) and replaced him with journeyman Shane Suisham. Each field goal attempt has been an adventure lately for the gold and black.