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Sunday, November 16, 2008
Denver grabs control of AFC West

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Denver Broncos, with all of their pockmarks and injury issues, control the AFC West.

On the strength of back-to-back road wins in Cleveland and in Atlanta, the Broncos are now 6-4 and have a commanding two-game lead over San Diego (4-6) with six games to go. If Denver goes 3-3 the rest of the season, the Chargers would have to go 6-0 to win the division outright.

I am not saying Denver is guaranteed to win the division or that it's even in good shape moving forward, but after two tough wins on the road, there is no denying that Denver is in control of the AFC West. Just three hours after Denver upset the Falcons on Sunday, the Chargers lost their third game of the season in the final minute in an 11-10 heartbreaker in bad weather in Pittsburgh.

Denver has had a strange season. It started out 3-0 and then lost four of five games including three in a row before the bye week. Denver's explosive offense was crippled by silly mistakes, the defense was porous and injuries attacked the team.

Denver has 11 players on injured reserve this season, the second highest in the NFL. The Broncos are currently playing without five defensive starters including starting linebackers and is on its fifth tailback of the season. Still Denver has some momentum with these two wins. San Diego has zero momentum.

If San Diego comes back to win this division it will have done something that it has not done all year. And that is to become consistent. The Chargers will have to roll out victories in a hurry. However, their longest winning streak this season, thus far, is two games.

If Denver doesn't fall apart again it could easily win this division.  There is only one team in the  AFC, Tennessee, has a bigger lead in its divisions than Denver does.

Denver quarterback Jay Cutler has seemed to control his turnovers epidemic and he is playing very well. The Broncos are fairly healthy on offense and if rookie Peyton Hillis can run as hard as he did against the Browns and Falcons, the rest of this season, the Broncos should be okay on offense.

Defensively, the team has a chance to get healthier for the stretch run. Star cornerback Champ Bailey and outstanding linebacker D.J. Williams, should be back soon as should be middle linebacker Nate Webster.

Denver has a chance to be fairly strong healthwise in December and be prepared to try to hold off the Chargers. Neither Denver nor San Diego has a tough remaining schedule. Denver has three home games remaining while San Diego has four home games left. The Chargers have their next three games at home, and then host Denver in the season finale on Dec. 28.

However, Sunday's developmentsis give Denver a chance to put away the division before the season finale.