It looks like the NFL has a battle going on in the AFC west, and it wont be over till the final week of the season. It’s been a tight race to the top of the division and it seems that neither of the teams are giving ground. A division that’s been somewhat predictable these past several years; suddenly has started to take on a new shape. The former AFL West franchises have been dominated primarily by the San Diego Chargers, who back in 1964 won the AFL Championship after a land slide victory over the then Boston Patriots. A team that once spent one season in Los Angeles was put in AFC WEST division after the merger of AFL and NFL back in 1969. Since then the San Diego Chargers have had their share of ups and downs, and their fans have bore witness to some of the greatest players to ever grace the gridiron. Since the days of Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow a new group of stars have come about. Today the Chargers are led by their QB Philip Rivers on offense while on the defense Linebacker Sean Philips sets the tone for the rest of his teammates. Rivers, who usually leads with his arm and his accuracy, has managed to find defenders hands more often than his own teammates and currently leads the NFL with 17 Interceptions. Rivers mistakes have been costly and the once dominant chargers have only managed to win 2 of their last seven games, while uncomfortably sitting in 3rd place. If the chargers can’t regain some consistency soon, I’m afraid their playoff chances might be over. It will be interesting to see if Rivers can carry his team to where they once were. They are scheduled face Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland in the final three games of the season.
Far to the North Bay of California the former AFL Oakland Raiders have been hard at work, trying to overcome years of turmoil. The once feared team, known for their tenacious play and deep passing game, had been ran primarily by the one they called “coach” Al Davis. The one time commissioner of AFL later retired in 1966, and later attained majority ownership of the Raiders in 2005. Davis’s name has become synonymous with the Oakland Raiders, and his decisions to act as general manager has led to some questionable firings, hiring’s, and draft choices. Until recently the raiders have only recorded one winning season back in 2002, when the raiders reached Super Bowl XXXVII, only to face defeat against their former coach John Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 21-41 loss. However, the Raiders fortunes have finally started change after improving to an 8-8 season while running over every team in their division with a 6-0 record. In early October of the current season the Oakland Raiders lost their long time leader in Al Davis, who at the age of 82 passed away, however his “commitment to excellence” and desire to “just win baby” is a staple point for which the Oakland Raiders have continued to play by. The former laughing stocks of the NFL have finally started to recapture their old swagger, while sitting in 2nd place, and have sent a clear message to the rest of division that the bully is back on the playground. With only a game back of 1st place the raiders have been plagued with multiple injuries on offense. Both young receivers Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore have been out the pass 4 weeks and Oakland’s lightning in a bottle running back, Daren McFadden, has been suffering from a sprained foot for nearly 2 months. A depleted offense means that the Raiders will require some much needed support from the back ups. Now newly coach Hue Jackson and the injury hindered Raiders offense, will look to aim their sights on sole possession of first place in the division and a much needed playoff birth, as they try to shake off the competition.
For a team that has accumulated 6 divisional titles and 12 playoff appearances, this year has been quite a disappointment for the city of Kanas City, Missouri. The former 3 time AFL and 1 time AFL-NFL world champions have yet to make it to a Super bowl since they became part of the now AFC West. After experiencing only 1 winning season under former coach Herm Edwards and seeing most of the franchise’s best player sent off, Current Chiefs Coach Todd Haley was given control of the team. In the first year Haley managed only to bring the Chiefs to a 4-12 record, then led the team to its first AFC West title since 2003 after ousting the Tennessee Titans at home. The possibility of what this year’s Chiefs was to look like became evident last year. It seemed like something was bound to give way eventually, and it appeared this was to be the potential year. However early injuries to key players, including star running back Jamal Charles, seems to have become another road block which, has prevented the Chiefs from unleashing their potential on the rest of the division. With a new coach and a young new team, that sent 6 players to the pro bowl in 2010, the future looks bright for this Kansas City Chiefs who currently sit tied for last place with a, only 3 games back of the division leader. The season is nearly over for the Chiefs, however they still look to face off against rivals Oakland and Denver, in hopes of spoiling their records.
More than 5,000ft and 1mile above sea level sits the “Mile High Stadium”. With a floor built of steel, and thin air that leaves the opponents gasping for air, Sports Authority Field at Mile High has more than attributed to its team’s home field advantage. The Denver Broncos, formally founded as an AFL Franchise back in 1949, struggled back then but is highlighted by two things it accomplished before the merger in 1970. The first accomplishment was its ability to be first AFL team to defeat an NFL team in the Detroit Lions. The second accomplishment was its ability to survive, due to new ownership, after almost being lost for good. In the 10 years the broncos existed in the AFL, not once did it play in a title game nor did it record a winning season. The Broncos of new have since surpassed any failure’s of their past and have established their name by winning 6 divisional, 10 conference, and 2 Super Bowl championships. This year’s edition of the Broncos has been no different than its predecessors. In what I would define as the year of the “Fox”, newly hired Coach John Fox came into the season with a long list of changes that needed to be made. For the past several years defense has been the Achilles heel, finishing within the top ten only once the past four years. With starter quarterback Kyle Orton at the helm and a fresh Moreno the Broncos looked as if it was about to replicate its offensive success. Yet, in week 2 we saw the Broncos overcome a sever injury to its running game, which has since thrust veteran Willis McGahee into the driver seat. McGahee finds himself with his 3rd team in his carrier, and yet despite his age, has managed to put up 6 games with 100 yards or more. What appeared to be early signs of struggle from Orton resulted in 7 interceptions and a four game losing streak, sending the Denver Broncos plummeting to the bottom of the division standings. However, somehow resilience showed its face since then and it came in the form of Tim Tebow. With the words of critics in the headlines and the cheers of fans in the stadium, Tim Tebow put on a show. Starting with a 2-touchdown comeback drive in a victory over Miami in overtime, Tebow Time had arrived. Since week 7 Tebow has lifted his team to first place with a record of 8-5. The team has managed to play themselves into overtime 3 times since the bye week and every time Tebow has been able to rise to the occasion. He has since thrown a total of 11 touchdowns, rushed for 3, and passed for more than 1,000 yards. The future of this team appears to be headed by Tim Tebow and however far he can take this offense. As long as he continues to confuse defenses and improve the play of his teammates, theirs no telling how this division might change.
The AFC West just got a lot more interesting.