The Denver Broncos are suddenly facing challenging times.
The defending Super Bowl champions quickly went from one of three teams in the NFL to be 4-0 to just another 4-2 team.
And the Broncos found themselves with some issues during their current two-game losing skid served at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons and the San Diego Chargers. Their young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, are showing their inexperience. The running game is inconsistent and head coach Gary Kubiak, who is back this week in preparation of Monday night’s game against Houston, has dealt with some health issues. Plus, the vaunted Denver defense has sagged some, although it is still playing winning football.
The Broncos’ problems extend out of their own control. They have seen their lead in the division shrink. After Kansas City’s critical 26-10 win at Oakland on Sunday, the Broncos and the Raiders are tied atop the AFC West at 4-2. The Chiefs loom at 3-2 and the San Diego Chargers, who finally showed they can, indeed, not blow a game late against the Broncos, are 2-4.
The Chiefs-Raiders game was critical for Denver. Yes, the Broncos had to be thrilled Oakland couldn’t improve to 5-1 and take full control of the division. However, the Chiefs winning is not great for Denver, or Oakland, of course. A Kansas City loss would have buried the Chiefs at 2-3. Kansas City, though, kept itself in the mix with the win.
There is no doubt, there is going to be an intriguing final 10-game stretch run in the AFC West. The question for Denver is, do they have to be more worried about the Raiders or the Chiefs the rest of the season? Let’s take a look:
Best things Raiders have going for them: Their offense is usually very solid. It had its toughest game of the season against the Chiefs. Oakland sprinted down the field on the first drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead. But it was controlled by the strong Chiefs defense for the rest of the game. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr has been terrific in his third season. He is extremely accurate and he is super clutch. His 44 touchdown passes since the start of the 2015 season leads the NFL in that time span. Carr is getting good protection and Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper are among the best receiving duos in the NFL. The Raiders are averaging 25 points a game with potential to get better because of their 25-year-old quarterback.
Best Things Chiefs have going for them: They don’t have a lot of weaknesses. They are well coached and it is a solid overall program. It is a confident team. Sunday’s game was a perfect example of the Chiefs’ resolve. They knew they couldn’t fall three games behind Oakland and they went out and dominated a first-place team on the road. It was a reminder of last year’s Kansas City team that won its final 10 games of the season (and a road playoff game) after starting 1-5. Andy Reid’s team doesn’t go away easily and both sides of the ball have the ability to carry the team to a win on any given week.
Trouble spot for Raiders: As strong and dangerous as the Oakland offense is, the defense is as weak. This is a big problem spot. Despite being 4-2, Oakland has been outscored (163 points allowed) because its defense can’t stop anyone. Oakland is allowing 6.9 yards per play. That is on pace for the worst average in the NFL since the 1970 merger. Oakland has a lot going for it, but it’s defense must get it together or it could sabotage a playoff run.
Trouble spots for Chiefs: Inconsistency. The Chiefs are talented enough to win every game they play, but sometimes they can’t put it all together. The perfect example is a Week 4 blowout loss to Pittsburgh on “Sunday Night Football.” The Steelers were leading 36-0 in the third quarter and ended up winning, 43-14. Good teams shouldn’t be blown out. It’s something the Chiefs need to show they are over moving on in the season.
Conclusion: Both Oakland and Kansas City have the ability to win this division. So does Denver. The Broncos are going to have to battle and worry about both teams. The Chiefs are probably more stable than Oakland, but Oakland has more explosion on offense. If the Raiders can figure out their defensive woes, watch out. If not, I can’t see that unit winning a division title. Kansas City has the experience of making a late run and it is more than capable of doing it again. The bottom line? The Broncos better fix their woes quickly or they have to dig out of a double hole in the AFC West.