It is difficult to recall one single division in the NFL that has packed a punch quite like 2016’s AFC West. All four teams have merit to be in the playoffs, even the maligned 5-7 San Diego Chargers who have a number of quality scalps under their belt this campaign.
As the guys at In The Pocket look ahead to Week 14’s opening blockbuster for Thursday Night Football, the football public at large will get to see two of the best in this class face off potentially for the number one position if the Chiefs can do a number on their Oakland rivals.
On the podcast this week, Steve Salisbury struggled to split the 10-2 Raiders (his new beloved since switching from the woeful 49ers) from the 9-3 Kansas City as it appears to be a case of the immovable object facing the unstoppable force.
Only the Dallas Cowboys (.917) in the NFC East have a superior win percentage to the Raiders (.833) who are equal with AFC East giants the New England Patriots. While the Atlanta Falcons (386) are the only outfit to surpass their scoring record at 345.
Pit this against a Kansas City Chiefs franchise who are the champions at winning the 1% plays that ultimately count most – coming on top in the turnover battle. As ESPN explain, the Chiefs are the best team in the league for taking away interceptions (14) and fumbles (11) on defence while minimising those same errors when they have possession.
In the final wash after 13 weeks of hard football, they are sitting on +14 in this column. To illustrate the strength of the AFC West via some perspective in this category, the Raiders sit third on this respective table on +12 while the Broncos are next in fourth on +7.
Out of 32 teams in the nation-wide competition, 3 of the top 4 teams in the NFL for take-away over give-away leaders derive from a single division. This is not an anomaly and is the type of statistic that carries teams to Super Bowls, and wins them in the process.
With Derek Carr and his young Raiders team riding the crest of a wave and Alex Smith’s Chiefs earning their plaudits, last season’s Super Bowl champions the Denver Broncos are having a decent follow up but are still in major threat of missing the playoffs.
A record of 8-4 has the Broncos winning most divisions, yet here they sit in 3rd as they face an anxious tie away to the Tennessee Titans this weekend. Despite MVP Von Miller leading the league in the sack count (13.5) and limiting their mistakes, there is no guarantees the locals at Mile High will get to tap into the euphoria they had 12 months previous.
Pushing this point further, the “worst” team in the AFC West is the San Diego Chargers who are pushed to their limits just to compete in this foursome. A maligned franchise at the best of times, the bolts scoring power at 334 beats out 4 divisional leaders (Baltimore Ravens 256 at AFC North, Houston Texans 207 at AFC South, Seattle Seahawks 264 at NFC West and Detroit Lions 275 NFC North).
Should quarterback Philip Rivers ever find some consistency and the defence muscle up on the road, they have the makings of a terrific football outfit. Throw in running back Melvin Gordon who sits 4th overall in the league for rushing yards on 992 and there is in the ingredients to create a genuine playoff assault in 2017.
Friday lunchtime AEST is must-watch television with the Raiders and Chiefs clash, seen by many as a clutch moment for both teams looking to make their mark on the toughest division in the NFL. The NFC East might come close, but taking in the offensive, defensive and psychological strengths as a collection, none can claim to be a better division than the AFC West.