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AFC West Week 14 Preview

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers will stay at home to face the Kansas City. They will attempt to both avenge a week 1 loss and stay relevant in the playoff picture. That game in week 1 came down to three big plays. A 56 yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles, a recovery of a Ryan Mathews fumble by Brandon Carr and a 94 yard punt return for a touchdown by Dexter McCluster. Other factors in that game included a wet conditions that bogged the game down limiting both offenses, and a Chargers offense that buckled under the pressure of playing a primetime game on the road in week 1 causing it to commit 3 delay of game penalties and a false start.

In my opinion, we'll see a completely different game this time around. Sunny San Diego will keep the conditions favorable, the Chargers offense should be a little more poised, the special teams probably won't give up big, game-changing plays and chances are that even if there are fumbles by the Bolts they won't have big returns. Jamaal Charles will still be a factor, that will remain the same. He's shown a couple times against the Chargers than he can get big runs. The one thing working against him is that the Chiefs may have to go with Brodie Croyle at QB and that could increase San Diego's focus on stopping the run. The Chargers have done well in that area before and it could bounce back from last week's embarrassment to become a factor Sunday. I'm very curious to see how things play out when the Chiefs have the ball.

I'm also curious to see how things turn out when the Chargers go on offense. Last week the Raiders pass rush caused problems for Rivers. That extra pressure is especially effective right now with a hobbled receiving corps. The Chargers last year and this year could make up for struggles running the ball or bad passing plays by getting chunks of yards on single plays. This year that's much harder since Gates, Floyd and Naanee all have a little trouble getting separation, especially down the field. The Chiefs also have a pass rushing menace in Tamba Hali that could end up being the game MVP for Kansas City again this week. The Chargers might be wise to base much of their protection schemes around stopping him.

It's do or die for the Chargers. A loss and the division crown will be out of their hands for the first time since 2005.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos will play their first game for their new coach. They'll do it in Arizona against a team that, according to DVOA, is one of the absolute worst in the NFL right now. It will also be a battle between two teams going nowhere. The Broncos are already eliminated and the Cardinals are one loss away from suffering the same fate. Also, both have clinched losing seasons since they already have 9 losses. The biggest winner could be the loser since draft position is at stake. This is probably more important for the Cardinals since they desperately need a QB, while the Broncos would do well enough drafting for defense anywhere in the top 10.

As for the game itself, the Broncos would seem to have a huge advantage in this one. The Broncos highly ranked passing game and revitalized running game should easily be able to tear through a Cardinals defense that isn't adept at stopping either. The Cardinals offense is second to only Carolina in how awful it is. The Broncos secondary has the potential to make teams like that look good, but its run defense should be good enough to shut down that half of the Cardinals' attack. The only thing that could hold the Broncos back is their own level of effort. Will the concentration level and preparation be high after losing their Head Coach or will the wheels start to come off more than they already have?

Kansas City Chiefs

In the Chargers section I covered many of the details and history that go into this game, but let's start here by focusing just on what DVOA says:

Chargers Offense Defense Special Teams
DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Passing Rank Rushing Rank DVOA Rank Passing Rank Rushing Rank DVOA Rank
16.4% 8
19.7% 4
0.0% 17
-8.7% 4
-11.9% 3
-4.7% 15
-11.9% 32

Chiefs Offense Defense Special Teams
DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Passing Rank Rushing Rank DVOA Rank Passing Rank Rushing Rank DVOA Rank
8.1% 13
13.9% 8
33.4% 9
8.5% 6
8.6% 14
-3.5% 18
-2.1% 25

Not knowing anything else about these teams, here's what I see. The Chargers have a good enough passing game that should easily be able to move the ball against the Chiefs middling pass defense. The Chiefs run defense should be able to slow down the Chargers running game, but will probably get run over if the Chargers get a lead. The Chiefs passing offense will face a significant challenge trying to move the ball with drives stalling out in potentially key situations. The Chiefs running game would be a 50/50 proposition. It might just be good enough to be an asset in the game, but probably won't survive without help every once in a while. Both teams shouldn't expect to get anything out of their special teams, but maybe the Chargers commit a blunder or two.

That all sounds mostly favorable for the Chargers, which makes sense since they have the higher overall DVOA. Do I see it all playing out that way? Probably not, mainly because of both teams' passing games coming into this game so questionable, and also the Chargers defense coming off a bad week. That bad week could turn into a trend with a runner like Jamaal Charles taking the ball and Chiefs line blocking for him.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders go on the road again, this time to EverBank Field (tell the truth, you didn't know that and also haven't heard of EverBank) to face the surging Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags have won 4 of their last 5 and the one loss was a barn burner against the 8-4 New York Giants. Last week, Jacksonville was absolutely dominant offensively against the Tennessee Titans (one of the top defenses in the NFL). QB David Garrard has shown since returning from injury that he's capable of exploiting opportunities in the passing game and RB Maurice Jones-Drew is starting to heat up. Their defense has been able to do a decent job containing the running game lately, but the pass defense can make anyone not named Kerry Collins look like a star.

Last week, I wrote in this space that the Raiders would need Jason Campbell to step up in order to get a victory in San Diego. I see that as something that will continue to be important for the Raiders to have any chance at the playoffs, especially in this game. There are going to be plenty of opportunities for the Raiders to make plays down the field and Campbell, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy and Zach Miller will have to take advantage in order to steal another road win. Carrying some of that defensive intensity that was present in San Diego over to this game would also be of great benefit to the Silver and Black. Slowing down MJD or making David Garrard uncomfortable could be enough of to make a big difference in this game.

It's also worth noting that this is practically a must win game for the Raiders. A loss guarantees that either they'll remain 2 games behind the Chiefs and fall 1 game behind the Chargers (this is the scenario where the Chargers win) or that they'll be 3 games behind the Chiefs with 3 to play (if the Chiefs defeat the Chargers).