A weird AFC West season ended in fitting fashion as the two teams that had everything to play for were both completely flat at home and were outplayed by two divisional foes that had nothing to play for. The result of the AFC West upheaval is the Denver Broncos, and floundering quarterback Tim Tebow, are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Denver will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Denver, Oakland and San Diego all finished at 8-8. The Broncos won the division on the virtue of tiebreakers. Kansas City finished a game behind at 7-9. The Chargers and Chiefs were eliminated from playoff contention last week, but they appeared to be the motivated teams Sunday.
Kansas City stymied Denver in a 7-3 bore in Denver, and the Raiders were lapped 38-26 by the Chargers in a game that ended minutes after Denver's loss. In Denver, small pockets of fans stayed after the disappointing loss to watch the Raiders lose on the big screen. In Oakland, some fans were chanting “Denver lost” in a desperate attempt to let their heroes know they still had a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. It was to no avail. Now, Oakland is tied for the second-longest playoff drought in the NFL.
After the game Sunday, Oakland coach Hue Jackson was furious at his players and vowed to be more involved in all phases of the organization next year. Of course, that is not his call. Mark Davis will decide how the team is run and the Raiders will likely try to add to the front office.
In Denver, the Broncos had to beat the Chiefs to make the playoffs. Instead, they had to wait for help. It was a bad day overall for Oakland, which saw its wild-card window close because the early games didn’t fall the right way.
Denver, which lost standout guard Chris Kuper to a broken leg, will stumble into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Denver became the eighth team since the merger to enter the playoffs on a three-game losing streak.
Oakland would surely trade spots. The Raiders were in control of the division at 7-4, but they lost four of their final five games, causing pundits nationally to wonder if trading two premium picks for quarterback Carson Palmer in October was worth it.
At this point, it would be a shock if interim Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel is not made the permanent coach. The Chiefs -- led by former Denver quarterback Kyle Orton in the final three games -- went 2-1 under Crennel, which included handing the Packers their only loss this season. The Chiefs nearly won the division for a second straight year. Kansas City’s players love Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli is a longtime fan.
Unlike Crennel, San Diego coach Norv Turner probably didn’t save his job with a win Sunday. The Chargers failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year and it has been expected that Turner will be fired, perhaps along with general manager A.J. Smith.
However, San Diego owner Dean Spanos told the San Diego Union Tribune on Sunday that he was impressed with the win over the Raiders and he will make up his mind in a couple of days. Expect a decision to be made by midweek.
With Denver moving on, Tebow has to wonder how much support he has going into the postseason. After being the story of the NFL for several weeks, Tebow has regressed terribly in the past two games. He was dreadful Sunday. Tebow completed 6 of 22 passes for 60 yards. He is no longer making an impact as a runner. He had just 16 yards on six carries.
His passes are sailing high and he is taking way too much time in his decision-making. Tebow is 30-for-73 for with four interceptions during Denver’s losing skid. He has lost a fumble in the past five games and there was no fourth-quarter magic as Denver, which won four straight games this season when it trailed in the fourth quarter, couldn’t do anything in four series in the final quarter.
Tebow lost a fumble at the Kansas City 11-yard line on Sunday in a play that was crucial to the Chiefs’ win. Denver simply can’t win with Tebow making these types of mistakes.
After the game Sunday, Denver running back Willis McGahee -- who had a tremendous game with 145 yards rushing on 28 carries -- said the Broncos must find an offensive balance against Pittsburgh and the passing game must pick it up.
“[The Chiefs were] playing just for pride and for us to go out there and play the way we did and expect to do anything in the playoffs, it’s not going to cut it,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said.
If Tebow continues to regress next week, the Broncos will likely have to consider what they want to do at quarterback. But the bottom line is, he has another week to impress the brass.
Backing into the playoffs does take some of the shine off a turnaround season for Denver. The truth is, Denver is the division champion and no one expected that when 2011 began.