After an exciting week in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders have emerged as the only team in the division with a winning record. The Raiders sit atop the West with a 5-4 record after defeating the San Diego Chargers on Thursday. Though the Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chargers are not far behind — all of them toting identical 4-5 marks — the Raiders are the team most deserving of a winning record. I predict they will win the division title and earn a spot in the playoffs.
Had Oakland’s star running back Darren McFadden and quarterback Jason Campbell not gone down with injuries earlier this season, the Raiders would probably have secured at least one — if not two — more wins against their division rivals. Former Cincinati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who replaced Campbell, earned a 17.3 QB rating in a 28-0 loss to the Chiefs in week seven but assumed a quick learning curve. He had a 79.9 QB rating in week nine against the Broncos and upped his game to a 125 QB rating the following week to beat San Diego, averaging 15 yards per attempt with a 70 percent completion rate for 299 yards in the game. If Palmer continues this trend, the Raiders should be able to win most of their upcoming games — the only exceptions might be the strong defense of the Chicago Bears and the undefeated Green Bay Packers.
Injuries have prevented Oakland’s good season from being a great one. Campbell has not yet healed from a broken collarbone, while McFadden and wide receiver Jacoby Ford are in walking boots. Running back Michael Bush has gone above and beyond the call of duty, fighting for 482 total yards and two touchdowns over the past three games. Rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore has stepped up as well, racking up 396 yards and four touchdowns while establishing himself as one of Palmer’s most reliable receivers. The receiving corps has been further supplemented with Palmer’s old teammate, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
The Chargers have been plagued with the same bad luck that the Raiders have. Linebacker Takeo Spikes went down last Thursday and wide receiver Malcolm Floyd missed the Chargers’ past two games with a hip injury. That said, rookie wide receiver Vincent Brown, who replaced the inactive Floyd, has racked up 202 yards and a touchdown since taking over, making receiving a non-issue for San Diego.
The main difference between the Chargers and Raiders is at the quarterback position. Palmer had not played football in months before going in against the Chiefs in week seven, yet he has managed five touchdowns and cut down on the interceptions in recent games. Since the Chargers bye week, quarterback Phillip Rivers has thrown eight picks and only seven touchdowns, while throwing so many incompletions that I don’t think he is even aiming at his receivers any more. Rivers and his team are in a slump, and unless something changes, they won’t be in the playoffs.
As for the Chiefs and the Broncos, there isn’t much to say. The situation is getting more and more pitiful after every game. Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has been as ineffective as Rivers since his team’s week six bye, having supplied four interceptions and a fumble to his team’s offense while throwing only two touchdowns. His injury last Sunday may actually help the Chiefs, as backup Tyler Palko has not made any major mistakes so far. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow’s two for eight passing this past weekend was painful to watch, as talented receivers like Eric Decker and Eddie Royal are being passed up by a running back in quarterback’s clothing.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.