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“Will The Raiders Win the AFC West? A 2nd Half Breakdown of All 4 Teams”

 

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Who will win the AFC West?  Let’s look ahead to the rest of the season and see what may be in store for all of the teams.

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Oakland Raiders:

In the history of social media, there has NEVER been a tweet or Facebook post about the Raiders being in a playoff game. Let that sink in. In their glory days, for 25 years the Raiders were the winningest team of any Pro Sports team in the U.S. For the last couple of decades, they’ve been the worst. In their glory years, the Cowboys and the Raiders for almost 3 decades were the two most popular teams on tv ratings. Love them or hate them, it’s good that they are back.

The Cowboys Dak Prescott and Oakland’s Derek Carr are having great years.   They also are behind the 2 best offensive lines in the NFL. NOT a coincidence. Carr is the best protected QB in the NFL this year and that is important to his success.

The Raiders are now #4 in the NFL in rushing yards and #3 in passing yards.   Even though their skilled position players get most of the credit, their OL has been as dominating as any in the game this year and it’s the heart and soul of this team.

On defense it’s another matter. They struggle against good teams and occasionally look good against bad ones. The Raiders are 28th in sacks, 30th against the pass and 27th against the run.   And that is after a good performance against a bad Denver offense.

The Raiders have only played 3 teams with winning records; all at home; and are 1-2. They have not played a team who presently has a winning record on the road.

The Raiders schedule is interesting. They struggle against teams that can score points and they really don’t play a lot of good offenses the rest of the way. They still have a game in Denver, in KC and @ San Diego.   Outside of that they have Houston, Carolina and Buffalo. These are all good match-ups for them because those teams don’t have great offenses.   Even with their bad OL, the Colts will be a tough game because they can score.

Right now the Raiders have the upper hand in the AFC West and barring injuries to their OL; and even with a limited defense; they still should be considered favorites to win the division. This is not a Super Bowl defense in any way and offense may make headlines and put butts in the seats but defense wins championships.  Remember this is the salary cap era so every team has some sort of issue or weakness, but for now, the West comes through Oakland.

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Denver Broncos:

The Broncos are fading fast due to injuries and a poor offensive scheme.

On offense I really like their 2 young running backs. Rookie Devontae Booker hasn’t had much of a chance to run the ball but he has a lot of potential. Kapri Bibbs showed his playmaking ability on a 68 yard pass and catch late against the Raiders. On defense they still have an excellent pass rush but now they can’t stop the run. The  other problem on offense is head coach and play caller Gary Kubiak.

The Denver media; which is fairly soft; has been griping about him for 2 weeks.   They have brought up great points.  In the first 15 plays against the Raiders, Denver threw 13 times. In the last 5 games Denver has thrown almost 70% of the time in their first 15 plays.   Denver is 2-3 in those games.   With Siemian as a starter, Denver throws 72% of the time. That’s not Denver football.

Siemian is limited; he throws a nice deep ball but he needs protection; and lot’s of it. The offensive line at Denver has been inconsistent protecting the QB. He does not feel a rush at all and struggles under pressure as was seen with a loss at San Diego and again in Oakland.

Denver needs to go back to the ground and pound with young RB’s that are hungry. Both have mildly complained about their lack of touches in the running game. Kubiak is a borderline arrogant guy though when it comes to coaching and he can be stubborn. Analyst Cris Collinsworth brought up what I said last year. Why don’t they double team Kahlil Mack more? Last year in Mack’s epic game in Denver, they would not help out their tackles and Mack went off. Their tackles are not that great and it took until late in the game last Sunday for them to finally start helping out on him.

When asked about Siemian after the Raiders game, Kubiak said he was still making plays so there is no problem with the QB position. Now Paxton Lynch might not be the answer but if Denver throws 70% of the time for the rest of the year, they are toast.   Kubiak acted this way in Houston when Matt Schaub started to tank. Instead of using Arian Foster & Ben Tate with his run game to help him, he threw even more.

The Denver defense is now 30th against the run and can’t stop anybody.  The offensive line has also struggled. There may be changes there soon. Even so the Broncos have to go back to being a running team and take their chances. Their LB’s are no longer a strength of the team with changes there this year. Injuries have just killed the Broncos. Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster are still hurting and Brandon Marshall is hobbling badly.   DL Derek Wolfe’s injury is not as bad as first thought but he is another one on the mend. And those are just the bigger names on the list.

The rest of their schedule is rough. Their last 3 games are at home against New England, on the road to KC and back home to play the Raiders.  Before that they also have to play the Chiefs in Denver. Denver has a great home field advantage so they will need to use that to keep in the playoff hunt. Get healthy and run the ball should be their mantra.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs:

The Chiefs are a classic Andy Reid team. They are tough, disciplined and they find ways to win. If you watch their games and look at the stat sheet, you wonder how they can be 6-2. They are 22nd in rushing and 25th in passing offense. Their offense doesn’t scare anyone. On defense they are ranked 13th against the pass and 25th against the run. Their once feared pass rush with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali is now 21st in sacks. Houston is set to return this week or next and 33 year old Hali’s days are numbered as he has no cartilage in one knee and tries to play in a specialist pass rushing position. Pass rushing project Dee Ford has shown glimpses of great play and has come on of late, as has DB Steven Nelson who made the game winning defensive play against Jacksonville last week.

KC has had so many injuries; Charles, Maclin, Ware, Houston, Hali; a who’s who if you are a Chiefs fan.

The AFC West has pretty easy schedules this year and KC has played only 2 teams with winning records and are 1-1, and that obviously has helped them.

ESPN seemed to fall in love with the Chiefs last week but slow your roll.   The Chiefs have a brutal second half schedule that includes 2 games with Denver, a rematch with Oakland, and road games with San Diego, Carolina and Atlanta. They STILL might make the playoffs though because most of the AFC outside of the West is awful. Their second half schedule will greatly test them and may expose them.

I’ve never been an Alex Smith guy. He’s the Ichabod Crane of the NFL. He and Andy Reid play not to lose with their extremely conservative passing game and you can’t win big with 1-3 yard check down passes. They may make the playoffs but they are not going far.   What they will be though is hard playing and competitive. They have owned the Raiders this decade, and play Denver well so you can’t sleep on KC.   Their home field on a cold winter day is not the place to be if you are an opposing team.

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San Diego Chargers:

You have to give it up for the Chargers. With all of the turmoil surrounding their possible move, the terrible season ending injury to star WR Keenan Allen, and the drama with first round draft choice Joey Bosa, the worst was expected in San Diego. A funny thing happened. Bosa has been a breath of fresh air and has greatly helped the defensive line and pass rush and RB Melvin Gordon has had a great year behind an improved offensive line. If they don’t implode late against KC and go into a coma in the 4th in Oakland, their season could be much different. Their win in Atlanta was impressive and was not a fluke. They earned it.

Their schedule has been the hardest in the AFC West by far. They are 2-3 against teams with winning records. They split with Denver so they just have the Raiders and KC at home along with Houston on the road as their toughest remaining games. The AFC only has 5 teams with winning records and 3 are in the AFC West.   Watch out for the Chargers.   Stranger things have happened and a playoff push may not seem eminent but they could make some noise.  Their slow start really hurt them.

Philip Rivers is a good QB but just like Alex Smith I just don’t think either will win anything significant in their NFL careers. In Rivers San Diego career, the Chargers so often fall short in the second half of games, especially in the fourth quarter. They always seem to do just enough to lose.   Sometimes it’s not all Rivers fault but he’s the captain of the ship. A very good QB with great stats who never will win anything who I personally think gets a little too much love. Gordon and Bosa though could be great building blocks for the near future.  Add a healthy Keenan Allen and next year looks much brighter in San Diego.

If you sleep on these guys, they can beat you. I don’t think they make the playoffs but they could hurt someone else’s chances if they are taken lightly. They are intriguing.

Jims Jamz:

The NFL has what they want.  No more great teams; lots of average to good teams who all have a weakness.  Odds now show Seattle to be the #2 choice to win the Super Bowl and they have a bad offensive line that struggles in protection and at times running the ball.  Parity and average teams to keep all fans interested is what they want and they got it.  Everyone has issues, and what that means is that it is a toss up on who will get to the post season and who will win it all.  Most everyone has a shot if they get hot.

Can the Raiders offensive line stay healthy and will their defense hold up?   Can the Broncos stop supplying bodies for their medical staff? Will Head Coach Gary Kubiak forget about Siemian’s stats in the Cincinnati game and actually start running the ball again? Can the Chargers play 4 quarters of good football and come through in the second half of games? Can the KC Chiefs get healthy and their pass rush be restored with the return of Justin Houston? And will Alex Smith ever get over his deepballaphobia and throw the ball downfield in big games?

These are all questions that will be answered in the second half of the season. Right now the Raiders look like the odds on favorite but this is the NFL and things could change quickly.  Its’ not the good ol’ days when the AFC West dominated in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but for now it will definitely do.

“GRADES; Raiders Magic v.s. Chargers Curse; Looking ahead to rival Kansas City”

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Final Oakland Raider Grades @ Baltimore Ravens; Week 4:

San Diego Chargers  31 (1-4)

Oakland Raiders  34 (4-1)

In a crazy game in Oakland, the Raiders outlasted the San Diego Chargers 34-31.

Overview:

There are some years where everything seems to go right and so far all the bad years in Oakland are forgotten for the moment.  The San Diego media; usually very soft on their teams; sliced and diced the Chargers like a Ginsu knife commercial while the Raiders and their fans basked in the California sunshine.  The Chargers have been train wrecks late in games.  Add a punter who has now played key roles in losing 2 games, and the fervor for the city of San Diego to want to have the Chargers stay has waned a bit. With another fourth quarter fail which has been the downfall of QB Phillip Rivers career, the Raiders again did just enough to chalk up their 4th victory of the season.  Rivers is a good QB but I don’t like when they say all time great because he isn’t.

Don’t look now but the Raiders are now tied for first place with the Broncos who found out quick Rookie QB Paxton Lynch holds onto the ball longer than a 4 year old on Christmas morning.  As for the Raiders, the magic goes on.

Quarterback:

Carr had a pretty good day.  In the first 4 games of the season, Carr had been TOUCHED only 7 times.  (Colts QB Andrew Luck has been sacked 20 times and touched 39 times).  The offensive line has been amazing.  In the Chargers game they blitzed Carr often and he struggled at times.  Carr made a poor throw on the interception during the screen, and also avoided another interception when San Diego backup CB Steve Williams flat out dropped an easy pass.  On the good side Carr calmed down and clicked with Amari Cooper much of the day, and his long throws were great.

The Chargers brought up a safety much of the game to help with the run defense and that freed up Cooper in a lot of easy matches against backups due to injuries.  Easy pickings for a quality WR like Cooper.  If they play 2 deep, throw to Crabtree; if they try to stop the run, go to Cooper.

GRADE: B –

Carr’s connections to Cooper were nice to see.  He was sacked 3 times and his throws were rushed in the first half.  I like Carr and his poise.  The key though isn’t Carr, the key is keeping people off of him.

Running Backs:

Most fans don’t notice it but wow, do the Raiders miss TE Lee Smith who is maybe the best run blocking TE in the NFL.  The Chargers game plan was to rush Carr and stop the run.  They now have the 13th best run defense in the NFL.  The Raiders rushed for 89 yards but their RB’s also caught 12 passes for 97 yards.  Their pass blocking wasn’t bad as well having to deal with the blitzes of the Chargers.  They looked fast out of the backfield and were a key part to the win.

Grade B

In the 3 key facets of the game, they played well.  They didn’t have a lot of breakdowns in pass blocking.  The Chargers wanted to stop the run so they improvised.  I liked the effort, speed and the results of everyone.

Offensive Line:

The Raiders are now #1 in sacks allowed in the NFL.  The Raiders OL continues to be the glue that holds this team together.  The Chargers really came after Carr and disrupted his rhythm at times.  The OL also had several penalties that still are a problem.  Not the best day of the season for this group but they got the job done.

Grade B-

They still played fairly well but Carr did get hit more than any other game and the Chargers weren’t bad stopping the run.  The penalties eventually will catch up to the Raiders if they don’t fix them.

Wide Receivers:

Overall this was another quality game from this group.  As long as Crabtree and Cooper don’t start worrying about their TD’s and catches, this is a solid tandem that is as good as any in the game right now.  Crabtree had a drop but in the end came through with the key TD grab.  Cooper was given one on one coverage more than at any time this year and he made the Chargers pay.  Andre Holmes and Seth Roberts contribute as well.

GRADE: A

The Chargers defensive backfield is a mess with so many injuries but this was still a quality performance and break out game for Cooper.

Defensive Line:

I’ve been saying for a while that Dan Williams needs to be playing more and rookie Jihad Ward a lot less.  The Raiders listened and their run defense improved.  Williams played 28 plays; by far the most he’s played all year; and Ward’s playing time was cut in half.  Williams even had half a sack.  San Diego only had 72 yards rushing on 19 carries.

The pass rush was a little better getting to Rivers twice, but overall he had time to throw for most of the day.  The Raiders are now 27th in the NFL in sacks with only 7 in 5 games.

Grade: B-

The Raiders were good against the run and not so good against the pass.  This pass rush isn’t scaring anyone right now but with Williams playing more their run defense is much better.

Linebackers:

The Raiders LB’s played well against the run.  In the blitzes they did though, there was only occasional push.  Cory James struggled all day covering the pass.  Newly signed Perry Riley Jr. lead the team in tackles.  He was beaten on a couple of pass plays but his forced fumble on Antonio Gates was a huge play early.  The Raiders overall struggled with the tight ends again giving over 100 yards passing and 2 TD’s to Hunter Henry and Gates.

Grade C+

I said it at the start of the season; there are going to be plenty of highs and lows with this group.  Riley Jr. played instead of Malcolm Smith and he was a burst of energy to the team but at times its a struggle.

Defensive Backs:

The Raiders defensive backs are going to also have ups and downs all year.  They struggle against fast WR and they did again Sunday.  They gave up 3 plays over 50 yards and Rivers threw for 359 yards total and an amazing 17.1 yards a reception.  Amerson was beat deep twice and Travis Benjamin juked him for a long pass and run.  Sean Smith had an INT but he also was torched often.  The last 2 weeks Oakland played 2 teams with little team speed at WR and they looked good.  Against New Orleans, Atlanta, & San Diego who have fast WR, they struggled.  Not a coincidence.  The 2 starting WR for the Chargers caught 12 passes for 234 yards and a TD.  Smith and Amerson really struggled all day.

Karl Joseph several times played 5-8 yards near the line of scrimmage for much of the game to stop the run and the short TE pass.  It also freed up their WR’s though for the long ball with one less safety.  I’m not a Reggie Nelson fan; he takes a lot of bad angles when he helps.  Joseph got his first INT when Rivers just heaved one.

Grade D  

They will struggle against speed, and thrive against teams that lack it.  Giving up 17.1 yards a catch in today’s game is bad.  Really bad.

Coaching:

I didn’t get why the Raiders were so worried about the running game of San Diego when it’s ranked 20th in the NFL and really isn’t that great.  I also don’t get if you have a good offense why they just lay back.  Playing bad teams you can get away with that but they need a killer instinct.  With 4 turnovers and 4 drives starting in San Diego territory, this is a game you need to hang a 40 on them and send a message.  It’s just too conservative on offense for my taste.  Some fans want Rocky Road and the Raiders are serving Vanilla.  It’s not a huge issue but I dont like playing good enough to win because eventually you won’t.

Grade B

With the rules of today, there is no reason why the Raiders should not be hanging 40’s on these bad defenses.  What good is having a Hemi if you are driving the speed limit all the time; take it to the track and let it go!

Special Teams:

Marquette King is a force.  Janikowski was awful on one FG try; not close; but redeemed himself.  The return game wasn’t a big factor and the coverage teams were fine.

Grade A-

Solid day all around other than the missed field goal.

Conclusion:

Already in 4 losses this season Rivers had chances to seal the games or win them with 4th quarter drives and his offenses failed several times; the story of his career.  The Raiders played well enough to win but there still is work to do especially on defense.

Explaining the Raiders/Chiefs Rivalry:

Kansas City Chiefs:

When everyone was screaming the KC Chiefs will win the West, I said no way.  There are 3 reasons why; no pass rush, Alex Smith and Andy Reid.  I told 49er fans at the time after the 49ers beat the Saints in the playoffs that you are not going to hoist any trophies in the NFL throwing 1-3 yard passes with Alex Smith.  Reid and Smith are just too conservative.  Their unwillingness to take chances throwing to WR is of legend.  The Chiefs running game also has suffered and with an aging Tamba Hali and an ailing Justin Houston who will probably miss most of the season, this team has no pass rush and are now 31st in sacks.

Outlook:

Raider fans hold on to your seats because this is going to be a wild one.  Nothing is going to be easy but the Raiders should be favored for almost every game looking ahead.  Look for another close game with the Chiefs.  The Raiders defense has holes but this offense is good.  With Kansas City and Carolina struggling, the Raiders schedule is a lot easier than first thought.  Other than Denver the Raiders don’t play any elite team.  No Minnesota, New England, Dallas, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.  All of a sudden this really is turning into a magical year.  Fans can afford to go overboard but teams can’t.  Look for the Raiders to take every week the same and not overlook anyone.  For older Raiders fans the Chiefs are the big rival game that they look forward to every year.