- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN DIEGO -- Here come the Denver Broncos?
Why not? It’s the AFC West and everything appears to be on the table.
With half the NFL regular season remaining, anything is possible in what is developing into the NFL’s wildest race. It is plausible that any team in the AFC West could win the division crown and any team could finish in last place.
On a day the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders could end up long regretting, the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders started in a three-way tie and ended in a three-way tie after all three teams lost home games. They are all 4-4 at midpoint of the season. Denver -- yes, Denver -- looms at 3-5.
Week 9 has to be particularly disheartening for Kansas City and Oakland. Both teams had to be looking forward to improving to 5-3 Sunday and seeing if the other teams in the scrum would keep up. Kansas City was entertaining winless Miami and the Raiders were hosting hapless Denver, fresh off a 35-point home loss to Detroit.
“You never know what is going to happen,” San Diego defensive lineman Tommie Harris said after the Chargers lost 45-38 to Green Bay on Sunday. “That’s why we just have to bounce back quickly.”
The Chiefs – who came into Week 9 on a four-game win streak -- were dismantled 31-3 by the Dolphins. Oakland, in the first start of the Carson Palmer era, was run over 38-24 by the Broncos.
Both the Chiefs and the Raiders may be guilty of looking ahead. The Chiefs came out of a huge Monday night win over the Chargers last week thinking they’d be 6-3 after home dates against Miami and Denver. After starting 4-2, the Raiders had designs on going 6-2 with home games against Kansas City and Denver on the horizon.
Things can quickly change.
Just ask the Chargers. Three weeks ago, they were defending their somewhat shaky play by pointing out they were 4-1. Now, they are simply another shaky .500 team after three straight losses that featured critical fourth-quarter miscues by struggling quarterback Philip Rivers.
Rivers threw three interceptions (for the first time in his NFL career), including two that were brought back for touchdowns in the first quarter and another one that scuttled a potential game-tying touchdown drive in the final minute in a wild loss to unbeaten Green Bay.
Had the Chargers been able to come back to beat Green Bay, they would be looking good at 5-3 in this division. Instead, the three-way logjam continues.
None of these three teams can say they are currently a good team. All three have issues moving into the second half of the season.
If I had to peg a favorite to emerge from the AFC West heap right this moment, I’d probably say the Chargers -- who host the Raiders in a critical division game Thursday night.
It just seems that they currently have fewer major questions than the other teams in the division. The Chargers are skidding, but they aren’t playing terribly. San Diego needs some tweaking, but it doesn’t seem to be in any major upheaval. The Chargers could have won any one of the three past games.
While Rivers is clearly making way too many crucial mistakes, he is still making a lot of plays. It’s not like his game is in total disarray. If he can clean up the problems, the Chargers should be fine.
What's worrisome about Kansas City is that on Sunday it reverted to the poor form of the first two games of the season when it was beaten by a combined score of 89-10. No contending team should be hammered like that at home by a bottom feeder like Miami. Plus, the Chiefs’ schedule gets extremely difficult in Weeks 11-15. They have road games at New England, the Jets and Chicago and home games against Pittsburgh and Green Bay.
The Raiders are a bit of a mystery right now.
They are 0-2 since trading two premium draft picks for Palmer. He has thrown six interceptions in six quarters with the Raiders. Oakland has problems on defense and its offense is clearly out of sorts with the sudden quarterback change from Jason Campbell to Palmer. The Raiders have loads of talent, but they have to quickly get their house in order.
The Broncos are the least talented team in the division, but the truth is, they are still in the hunt. Truly, anything can happen out West in the next two months.
Count the Chargers among those who are grateful to be in the race.
“Whether we’re 8-0, 2-6 or 4-4, we’re tied for first place,” safety Eric Weddle said. “That’s all that matters … let’s see what happens after 16 games.”
There’s no question that this muddled, imperfect race has the feel of one that will go the distance.
18hEric D. Williams