By Rich Kurtzman
Five weeks into the 2012 season and the AFC West has been far from the conference’s best. Only one team, the San Diego Chargers (3-2) are above .500, with the Broncos (2-3), Raiders (1-3) and Chiefs (1-4) bringing up the rear.
Last week, Kansas City suffered through a tough defeat and lost much more than a game. The Chiefs hosted the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens (4-1) and were physically dominated all day long. KC turned the ball over four times on the day, two fumbles and interceptions each, including a crucial turnover by quarterback Matt Cassel in the third quarter when he tried to sneak the ball over the goal line. Overall, the Chiefs played a sloppy game against one of the most domineering defenses in the league, as Cassel could only pass for 92 yards while the team committed eight penalties on the day.
And to add injury to insult, Cassel was hit in the head near the end of the 9-6 loss, sustained a concussion and was pulled from the game. Chiefs fans cheered in a disturbing display that has received much coverage in the wake of their quarterback’s serious injury. It’s unknown how long Cassel will be held out of competition, but ex-Broncos’ backup Brady Quinn will be under center for however long their starter is sidelined. This week, Kansas City travels to Tampa Bay (1-3) before going on their bye in Week Seven.
The Raiders were on their bye last Sunday, which was needed even though it’s so early in the season. They have already fought through many injuries and a week of rest was likely beneficial for their wounded players. This Sunday, the repulsively bad Raiders head to Atlanta to face the undefeated Falcons (5-0).
Denver got down early against the Patriots and could never come all the way back. Three turnovers—all at key points in the game—were too much for the Broncos to overcome despite Peyton Manning actually out-playing Tom Brady.
It was similar circumstances for San Diego, as Phillip Rivers fumbled once and threw and interception, and the Chargers lost the turnover battle and the game to the New Orleans Saints 31-24.
Now the Broncos and Chargers meet up in San Diego in a game that means an early lead in the AFC West. If Denver wins, each team will be 3-3 with the Broncos holding the head-to-head tiebreaker for now, but if the Chargers are victorious, they’ll hold a two game lead in the division.
Denver is superior in nearly every statistical category, though both teams are extremely close overall. The Broncos out-score the Chargers 27-24.8 points per game, but San Diego allows 2.4 less points (20.4-22.8). San Diego is a slightly better running team, using both Jackie Battle and Ryan Matthews, and they’re much better at stopping the run, giving up only 74 yards per game on the ground.
Of course, the battle is headlined by star quarterbacks Rivers and Manning—whichever one can perform at a higher level will likely lead their team to victory Monday night. Manning is proving once again he’s an elite quarterback, ranking in the top five of passing yards, touchdowns, completions and all-important passer rating, while Rivers is the 11th rated QB.
It all sets up for a massive Monday night matchup that will prove which team is the best in the AFC West.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.