By Ben Warwick

DENVER (CBS4) – With three games left in the regular season, both the Broncos and the Chiefs have a good shot at representing the AFC West in the playoffs this year. Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest surprises in the division so far.

Peyton Manning throws more INTs than TDs.
This has to be the biggest shocker across the AFC West this season, and perhaps one of the league’s biggest surprises overall. Some small signs of decline started to show up in Peyton’s game last season, but no one could have predicted that after deciding to return for another year Manning –who dominated opponents in the division in his first three years in Denver — would perform this badly. In 9 games played, Manning has 17 interceptions and 9 touchdowns, with a measly 67.6 QB rating.

The Chiefs can win without Jamaal Charles.
The Chiefs started out 1-5, and most everyone quickly wrote them off of contesting for anything. Then star running back Jamaal Charles tore his ACL, and everyone really wrote them off for the season. But since that loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Chiefs haven’t lost. That’s seven straight wins, and with remaining matchups against the Ravens, Browns and Raiders, they could easily secure a wild card spot and possibly overtake the Broncos for the AFC West division title.

Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs is sacked by Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at O.co Coliseum on Dec. 6, 2015. (credit: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs is sacked by Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at O.co Coliseum on Dec. 6, 2015. (credit: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Teams would be fearful of playing the Raiders.
If we could go back and re-draft the class of 2014, Derek Carr should be picked a lot higher, and for someone who was taken in the second round, that’s saying something. Carr was the third quarterback taken in the draft, behind Blake Bortles (JAC) and Teddy Bridgewater (MIN). Both are doing well, but Carr is clearly the cream of that quarterback crop. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is better than both Bortles’ and Bridgewater’s, and his passer rating is higher as well. Pair him with the breakout rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper and young defensive stud Khalil Mack, and Raiders fans have plenty to look forward to over the next few years.

Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers warms up before playing the Chicago Bears at Qualcomm Stadium on Nov. 9, 2015. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers warms up before playing the Chicago Bears at Qualcomm Stadium on Nov. 9, 2015. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Phillip Rivers at or near the top of the league in many QB categories.
The Chargers are not a good football team, yet cannot be counted out of games due to their quarterback play. Rivers has thrown 23 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions through 13 games, and is on the cusp of throwing for 4,000 yards for the seventh time in his career. The Chargers defense hasn’t been able to protect the lead when they’ve had it, and thanks to the injury bug, the offense hasn’t been able to rally when it has needed to. Rivers proves, though, that with a good quarterback, a team is never completely out of it. Maybe it’s the bolo tie.

Alex Smith throws touchdown passes to wide receivers.
Remember last season, when exactly zero wide receivers had touchdown catches for the Kansas City Chiefs? It took 659 days, but that changed this past September. Their receiving offense isn’t potent, by any means (ranking just 20th out of 32 teams), but nine receivers have caught touchdown passes, and Alex Smith has quietly been one of the most effective signal callers in the league. The Chiefs are rolling right now, and when a team’s receivers have a 900% increase in touchdown efficiency, that’s a sign of a pretty solid offensive system.

Gary Kubiak (credit: CBS)

Gary Kubiak (credit: CBS)

Gary Kubiak-led Broncos fail to have much ground game success.
With Kubiak chosen as the new coach of the Broncos, it was clear from the start the offensive emphasis would be primarily about running the football. As a head coach and an offensive coordinator Kubiak has always made rushing his teams’ forte. This year there have been a few games where C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have found some success, but overall, the ground game has not nearly been as potent as expected. Anderson was projected to be one of the league’s elite running backs, and his production was so weak in the early going that Hillman was named the starter. The Broncos are currently ranked No. 17 in the league for rushing offense.

Ben Warwick is a writer and producer at CBS4 and a huge sports fan. He is an avid fan of most Colorado teams, but was raised to watch the Dallas Cowboys play on Sundays. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenCBS4.

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