AFC West: Andre Johnson
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whenever a name from the Denver Broncos' hefty list of prospective free agents has been tossed toward John Elway, the team’s executive vice president of football operations/general manager has almost always answered the same way.
Something on the order of, "Sure, we want (insert free agent’s name here) back," but then Elway added -- every time -- something about how the open market would set the price tag for the player.
He would then add something about how difficult it is to sign a player before the market value for the player has been established, and how difficult it is for a player to sign before he knows how much he can get. In short, he has characterized it as: How much you want? I don’t know, how much you got? I don’t know.
He has said that about every prospective Broncos' free agent except one -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas isn't going anywhere, and the franchise player tag is proof. The Broncos know what they have in Thomas, they know what he means in their offense, and they want him to stay.
Now, they have to close the deal. The franchise player tag essentially keeps Thomas on the roster.
It’s a one-year deal for $12.797 million guaranteed the moment Thomas signs it. And there is the rub.
A player, especially an elite player like Thomas, would always prefer a long-term deal with guaranteed money.
A franchise player tender is a hefty bag of change, but it’s not a long-term deal. And long-term deals for a player like Thomas look like the seven-year, $113 million deal Calvin Johnson signed in 2012 that is significantly back-loaded and includes $48.8 million in guaranteed money.
Or the seven-year, $67.8 million deal that Andre Johnson signed in 2010, or Mike Wallace's five-year, $60 million deal ($30 million guaranteed) signed in 2013.
Elway has said he could easily see a scenario where the Broncos used the franchise player tag, then the sides agree to a long-term deal after free agency opens.
After free agency opens the market will dictate what the likes of Randall Cobb. Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree receive, and those would only be handy reference points for where the Broncos will have to go on Thomas.
For Thomas, the team has tinkered with a five-year deal. So, start at the $12.787 million of the tag (UPDATE: the actual amount based on the confirmed 2015 salary cap is $12.823 million) -- the Broncos have already shown they believe Thomas is worth that -- and multiply by the years on any prospective deal, and bump it a bit.
So, the Broncos are likely looking at a deal averaging more per year than the recent deals for elite wide receivers, save for Calvin Johnson's $16 million per-year average.
Despite the temporary relief the Broncos get from the franchise player tag, at least in terms of keeping Thomas off the open market, it’s still eats a little less than half their current available salary-cap space, and it's still best for all involved to get a long-term deal done.
They have spent the past few weeks outlining to quarterback Peyton Manning how a new offense, with a new playbook and at least some new terminology, would be of benefit to him. And they have also likely outlined what they could do if they were to get some salary-cap relief by tweaking his contract.
Thomas is Manning’s No. 1 receiver, and as a quarterback who has long extolled the virtues of repetition in developing the on-field chemistry, Manning wants to throw to that No. 1 receiver -- a lot.
Thomas doesn’t have to sign the franchise tender any time soon, until Week 10 of the regular season in the most extreme of cases. The Broncos have until July 15, roughly two weeks before training camp opens, to sign Thomas to a long-term deal. If that deadline passes, they'd have to wait until they’ve played their last regular-season game in ’15 to try again.
Most players who receive the franchise tag don’t sign the tender early because they want time to work on a long-term deal. And those players usually, at minimum, take a pass on the team’s offseason work if no new deal is done.
That’s not something Manning would be excited about; that’s not something a team trying to put in a new offense should be excited about; and it’s not something that would help anyone on any side of the equation. The Broncos have had success in this position before, having used the franchise tag on tackle Ryan Clady and kicker Matt Prater in previous years before signing each to long-term deals before the start of training camp.
So, it means when free agency opens, the Broncos will really need to get down to the business of signing the guy they’ve already shown is their top priority.
And whenever Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has been asked to rank receivers in the league it doesn't ever take long for Andre Johnson's name to find a way into the conversation.
Asked about the prospect of facing Johnson this weekend, Bailey said:
“Bring you're A-Game, first of all. He's still one of the best in the game. People don't talk about him as much because they're not winning right now. But he's one of the best, hands down. He shows up on the tape every week.”
Bailey has played just one full game this season -- the Broncos Nov. 24 win over Jacksonville -- and played just 30 snaps in the team's Dec. 1 game in Kansas City before, after talking to defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, Bailey pulled himself out of the game. The Broncos dialed Bailey back some since, naming him a game day inactive in each of the last two games and limiting his participation in several practices.
But Bailey has practiced fully throughout this week, pronounced himself “ready to go'' and that likely means plenty of work when the Broncos go into the nickel and dime packages. Chris Harris Jr. and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are expected to play as the two cornerbacks in the base defense. And in that scenario if the Broncos wanted to match a player on Johnson it would likely be Rodgers-Cromartie on Johnson because of Rodgers-Cromartie's speed and reach.
But when the Texans go to their three-wide receiver set and the Broncos answer with more defensive backs, Bailey would be in the mix. And since the Texans move Johnson all over the formation -- he has played in an outside position as well as in the slot on both sides of the formation at different points this season -- there will be times when the two veterans are once again squared off against each other.
Bailey would likely work out of the slot at times and those matchups could take place on the inside. Though Harris has routinely been the player the Broncos play in the slot in recent seasons, Bailey has played there many times in his career, especially when the Broncos have matched him on a receiver no matter where the receiver lined up or when Bailey was asked to cover a tight end like Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez.
With Matt Schaub back in the lineup as the Texans quarterback, Johnson is expected to be busy Sunday. He has, by far, been the Texans' most targeted receiver, with 159 passes having been thrown his way in 14 games.
In Schaub's six starts earlier this season Johnson had games where he was targeted 16, 13, 12 and 10 times in those six games. Johnson had 110 yards receiving against the Seahawks' physical secondary in September and had 121 yards receiving against the Patriots earlier this month.
Tania Ganguli: How has the atmosphere in the organization changed with GM Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy taking over?
Matt Williamson: A change in San Diego was certainly needed. The environment had become stale and the once wide-open window under former coach Norv Turner and a roster stocked with great players has closed. A rebuild is needed, and a new general manager and head coach are what is needed to potentially get this team back where it once was -- or maybe beyond. Has the right side of the Texans’ once-great offensive line been fixed?
Ganguli: It's certainly on its way. The Texans are rightfully very high on right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Derek Newton is healthy. They didn't mind rotation in those spots last year, but stability will definitely help.
Can McCoy turn Philip Rivers (back?) into an elite quarterback?
Williamson: I feel as though we have seen the best of Rivers’ impressive career, unfortunately. That being said, the scheme change, which stresses getting the ball out of Rivers’ hands quicker, could be an advantageous move to boost Rivers. He does have a quick release and makes quick reads, making him a good fit for what McCoy is looking to accomplish.
What is the status of Arian Foster, and might Ben Tate have an expanded role for the season and to open the year?
Ganguli: Tate will have an expanded role, especially early in the year. The Texans won't ride Arian Foster too much given he missed all of the preseason, training camp and most of organized team activities (OTAs). He was working, but they're intent on being smart with his return to make sure they have him at full strength late in the season.
What are the biggest problems with the Chargers' offensive line?
Williamson: Once again, the scheme switch to a short passing game should help the protection of this line -- a line that is better-equipped to run block than protect. Still, the true problem with this line is they simply lack good players up front. They added a few free agents, but no one that is even a league-average starter, and they used their first-round pick on D.J. Fluker to play right tackle. However, I have my doubts that Fluker is quick or light enough on his feet for edge protection. Instead, I think Fluker could be a Pro Bowler at guard.
What impact does first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins have on the Texans' offense?
Ganguli: It's difficult for rookie receivers to put up big numbers, but Hopkins will have a major impact on the Texans' offense. He'll take pressure off Andre Johnson, on whom the Texans were overdependent last season in their passing game. He is very skilled on contested catches and will help Houston's red zone efficiency.
What impact does Dwight Freeney have in San Diego?
Williamson: Can he still be productive at 33? Of course it would be ideal to have Melvin Ingram in the fold as well as Freeney, who could be the perfect mentor, but Freeney has looked quite spry through the preseason and should have plenty left in the tank. The concern for me is that San Diego will be forced to play the 33-year-old too many snaps, which could lead to less effective play late in games and especially late in the season.
How big a boost to this team -- tacitly and emotionally -- is it to get Brian Cushing back on the field?
Ganguli: Cushing makes a difference in both ways. He creates mismatches in the pass rush that free up the outside linebackers. His presence in the middle makes things easier on the Texans' defensive backs, too. Emotionally, Cushing provides an edge for the Texans' defense. His maniacal intensity is contagious and the Texans feed off it.
How will Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews impact each other?
Williamson: While Mathews is a decent pass-catcher, Woodhead is an exceptional all-around contributor in the passing game. Their roles should be very distinctive, with Mathews -- who has looked excellent this preseason -- as the early-down workhorse (if he can hold up) and Woodhead being the specialty movement player that is equal parts running back and slot receiver.
Watt is a rare interior pass-rusher, but does Houston have enough pressure coming from their 3-4 outside linebackers?
Ganguli: That remains to be seen. It's definitely been a focus for the Texans' outside linebacker group. Whitney Mercilus, now in his second year, has taken over as a starter opposite Brooks Reed after the departure of Connor Barwin. Mercilus set a franchise record for rookies with six sacks last season, but he missed most of training camp and the preseason. Reed is healthier than he was at the end of last season when he returned from a groin injury. He had an offseason surgery to repair it fully.
Miller has been named the AFC defensive player of the month. The second-year outside linebacker was outstanding in November as Denver went 4-0. He had eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries. He had at least one sack in four games in November. He was the only player in the NFL to do that.
Miller is a leading candidate for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
In other AFC West news:
Here is another reason why the Raiders need to continue to give Marcel Reece the ball when Darren McFadden returns this week from an ankle injury: Reece has 400 yards from scrimmage in the past three weeks. It’s third in the NFL during the stretch behind Houston’s Andre Johnson (496) and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (490). Reece needs to keep playing.
The Chiefs claimed offensive lineman offensive lineman Hayworth Hicks (he might have the best name in the division) off waivers from the Jets. The Chiefs are banged up on the offensive line, and he will provide depth.
Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said Tamba Hali, Branden Albert and Ryan Lilja are all not going to practice Thursday. They all missed practice Wednesday. Thus, there chances of playing Sunday against Carolina may not be great.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:
Raiders likely to miss Andre Johnson again: For the second straight season, the Raiders are expected to face the Texans without having to defend superstar receiver Andre Johnson. He has a hamstring injury that will likely keep him out of the Raiders' visit to Houston on Sunday. Houston beat Oakland 31-24 in Week 4 of 2010. The Texans relied on 249 yards rushing in the game.
Crucial Luck game: If the Kansas City Chiefs win at Indianapolis on Sunday, they will push further away from the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The Stanford quarterback is considered the best prospect to enter the NFL in years and he will surely be the No. 1 overall pick. The Chiefs beat Minnesota in Week 4 in a battle of winless teams. Now, the Chiefs play the 0-4 Colts. If the Chiefs lose this game, they’ll still be in contention for Luck. Although getting Luck is one heck of a consolation prize, no one involved in Sunday’s game is hoping to have the No. 1 pick.
Raiders need to show they can win a non-divisional road game: The Raiders have ended a lot of nasty streaks lately and they are currently enjoying the NFL’s longest division win streak, which stands at eight. Oakland can end a bad streak at Houston. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oakland has lost seven consecutive non-divisional road games since a win at Pittsburgh in Week 13 of 2009. Since the start of 2006, the Raiders are 3-23 in non-divisional road games. It is the worst record in the NFL during that stretch.
Chargers like playing in Denver lately: The Chargers are averaging nearly 23 points a game. They scored a season-high 26 points in a Week 4 win over Miami. Perhaps Sunday’s trip to Denver will spark an explosion by the Chargers’ offense. They have loved playing in the Mile High City the past five years. Since 2006, the Chargers have scored 179 points in five games in Denver. Their lowest output in that stretch is 32 points. The Chargers are 4-1 in their past five trips to Denver. Their only loss in the stretch was the infamous Ed Hochuli game in 2008, when the Broncos won 39-38 in a classic game that was marred by a controversial late call by the official.
This week is no different.
The injury storyline will focus on star receiver Vincent Jackson. He suffered a leg injury in the Chargers’ win over Miami on Sunday. He had been dealing with an abdomen injury and he suffered the leg injury while compensating for his original injury. San Diego coach Norv Turner indicated he doesn’t think the injury will be overly serious. It will be determined if Jackson can play Sunday at Denver later in the week.
The Chargers expect cornerback Quentin Jammer back this week. He didn’t play against Miami because of a hamstring injury.
Turner said tight end Antonio Gates is making progress from his lingering foot injury that has kept him out of the past two games. I could still see Gates being held out of the Denver game so he can come back. That would include the Oct. 16 bye with about a month’s rest.
In other AFC West nuggets Monday:
San Diego general manager A.J. Smith paid homage to Raiders’ owner Al Davis while assessing his own team after a win over Miami on Sunday.
Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel continued to downplay a heated exchange he had with coach Todd Haley in Sunday’s win in a radio interview.
It is looking like the Raiders won’t face Houston star receiver Andre Johnson on Sunday. He has a hamstring injury.
The NFL officially approved of the Broncos to make their orange jerseys their primary home jersey. It will begin in 2012. The Broncos made the decision to make their orange jerseys (they are currently an “alternative” jersey) several months ago, Denver’s current primary home jersey is dark blue. Now, here’s the real question: Who is going to be the quarterback in orange next year?
Former Broncos receiver Rod Smith reflects on the devastation in Joplin, Mo., where he attended Missouri Southern State University.
Jeff Legwold weighs in on the Broncos' running back situation.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are donating $35,000 to the relief efforts in Joplin.
Arrowhead Pride takes a look at which rookies have the best chance to make an immediate impact.
Texans receiver Andre Johnson is doing his best to sell cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on coming to Houston once free agency begins.
The Sporting News lists the Raiders as one of four teams that would be a good pick to be featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks."
San Diego Chargers
Becoming a complete team is a top priority for Chargers coach Norv Turner. Turner: “The big thing for me in looking at our team for the season is how we find a way to get the three units to be as productive as possible and feed off each other. To do that, obviously, it’s playing great in the kicking game in terms of coverage and then improving our returns because our returns have slipped over the last couple years.”
Denver, Zane Beadles, right tackle: Beadles played at right tackle last week and it looks like he is replacing veteran Ryan Harris. It is a bit of a surprise. Beadles is a second-round pick and Denver is excited about him, partly because of his versatility. Now, he has a chance to be he full-time right tackle. Harris was one of the bright young offensive linemen and he still has a good future, but if Beadles performs well, the regime that drafted him in Denver will make sure he stays on the field.
Kansas City, Brandon Flowers, cornerback: It will be interesting to see how Flowers responds Sunday against Jacksonville. He was in the spotlight Sunday as Kansas City allowed Houston to come back in the fourth quarter. Flowers was called for a very questionable pass interference call on Texans’ receiver Andre Johnson on the game-winning drive. It appears that Johnson pushed off. Flowers was heated after the play. He is a fine young player. He needs to forget about last week and move on and help his team in a winnable game Sunday.
Oakland, Tommy Kelly, defensive tackle: Kelly is nowhere near the player Oakland gave $50 million to keep on the open market a couple of years ago, but he has his moments. He is a big plugger and he can be a help to the Oakland defense, which is still struggling against the run. Kelly needs to make some plays at Denver if Oakland wants to avoid falling to 2-5.
San Diego, Buster Davis, receiver: The 2007 first-round pick is finally producing some for the Chargers. He may need to have a big game against New England. Malcom Floyd, the team’s No.1 receiver is expected to be out with a hamstring injury and No. 2 receiver Legedu Naanee is trying to come able from a hamstring injury and tight end Antonio Gates will try to play with a toe injury. The Chargers are potent on offense, but because of all the injuries, Davis will have to step up.
Believe it or not, amid a terrible collapse Sunday in Reliant Stadium, strides were made.
Haley said his team was in major anguish after seeing the explosive Houston offense score 21 points in the fourth quarter to beat a green Kansas City team, 35-31. The Texans won the game on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to receiver Andre Johnson with 28 seconds remaining. The Chiefs had led 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
It’s all part of the Chiefs’ growing phase, Haley believes.
“What’s critical is to understand is we’re not there yet,” Haley said. “We are in still actually in the foundation stage … We’re going to come on the road and we’re going to win these big games and I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later. We’re obviously just not there yet … We have a lot of guys in deep, deep pain and that’s why I’m encouraged.”
The mouth-smashing defeat dropped the Chiefs to 3-2 after they started the season 3-0. They were the last team with an undefeated record this season. They still remain in first place in the AFC West. However, they could have taken another big step away from the four-time defending AFC West champion San Diego Chargers, now 2-4, after losing to the St. Louis Rams.
Kansas City has a chance to get well soon. Next Sunday the Chiefs return to the New Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since Week 3 when they play host to Jacksonville . They have a home game against Buffalo in Week 8 before visiting Oakland in Week 9. The Chiefs’ schedule is very manageable in the final 11 weeks. They play just two 2009 playoff teams -- San Diego and Arizona -- the rest of the way.
In two road losses to the Colts and Texans, the Chiefs have played hard. It should be a good sign moving forward this season.
The Chiefs battled the Colts hard in a 19-9 loss and their defense often confused Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Kansas City beat up the Texans on both sides of the ball much of the game before falling apart.
Still, it was impossible to find satisfaction in the Kansas City locker room Sunday. It was as quiet as any locker room I‘ve been in after a playoff loss.
“Obviously, everyone’s extremely disappointed,” Kansas City safety Jon McGraw said. “This is a tough one to stomach.”
While this loss kept Kansas City from stretching its lead in a tight AFC West, it could end up being a positive turning point for a young team that should continue to improve. They learned that they have to play a full game and was hardened by a match they know they had already won.
Here are other key aspects of the game:
The final scoring drive: Trailing 31-28 with 2:22 to play, Houston took over on a punt on its own 20.
The Texans' offense cruised down the field as it had all second half. That wasn’t the case for the first three quarters for the Texans, who had five first downs, 115 yards and seven points in the first half. But Houston dominated the fourth quarter.
It was clear the Texans were not looking to tie the game with a field goal and to go to overtime. The Texans zipped down the field in nine plays, culminating in the Johnson touchdown.
“We did enough things in that game to keep us from winning," Haley said. “What a game.”
Offense can’t make a key play: Kansas City made a lot of big plays on offense. After converting on 1-of-10 third downs last week, it made 9-of-16 third downs Sunday.
However, the Chiefs couldn’t make their biggest play of the game.
Kansas City took over on its own 33 with 3:25 to play after Houston scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 31-28. On third down and two from the Chiefs' own 41 with 2:36 to play, quarterback Matt Cassel couldn’t connect with rookie tight end Tony Moeaki on a deep route down the Kansas City sideline.
Had the Chiefs converted the first down, they likely would have been able to run out the clock.
“That was the play I wanted,” Haley said. “That was the first option. We just couldn’t make that last play. It’s another step we have to take.”
Offense shows growth: While the Chiefs’ defense was schooled late, their offense showed signs that it can move the ball both on the ground and in the air consistently.
The Chiefs’ run offense continued to shine. Thomas Jones had 100 yards rushing on 19 carries and Jamaal Charles added 93 yards on 16 carries. Kansas City had 228 yards rushing on 38 attempts.
After struggling at Indianapolis, Cassel and receiver Dwayne Bowe each had fine games. Cassel completed 20 of 29 passes for 201 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and he wasn’t intercepted. Bowe had six catches for 108 and he caught two touchdown passes.
It’s all part of the process, Haley said.
“We did a heck of a job trying to keep it alive as long as we did,” Haley said.
What It Means: The Chiefs are a competitive team, but they are still learning how to win. They were outclassed by the Houston Texans in the fourth quarter, losing the game on a short pass from Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson with 28 seconds to go. The Chiefs had a 24-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Chiefs are now 3-2 after starting the season 3-0.
Tomorrow’s Talker: The young Kansas City defense fell apart in the fourth quarter, allowing the Texans to score three touchdowns. It was strong prior to that point. Houston is an explosive offense and it made the plays it had to, ruining the Chiefs' day.
Big Revelation: Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe can be a positive for the Chiefs. After both played poorly last week at Indianapolis, the two hooked up for two touchdown plays Sunday. Both players looked good and showed they can make plays.
What’s Next: The Chiefs’ schedule starts to ease. They play Jacksonville at home next Sunday, which will be Kansas City’s first home game since Week 3. It then hosts Buffalo the following week.
What it means: If the Raiders were going to pull off the upset against the Texans, you would have thought Sunday was the day. Houston receiver Andre Johnson didn’t play and top running back Arian Foster was on the bench to start the game. Yet, the Texans ran out to a big lead anyway and held on for the win. Oakland is now 1-3 and alone in last place in the AFC West.
Tomorrow’s talker: Bruce Gradkowski makes his share of mistakes, but he’s a gamer. He tried his best to bring Oakland back but didn’t get the help he needed. Tight end Zach Miller had 11 catches for 122 yards and a score. This combination could be dangerous.
Trending: The run defense had trouble. This has long been an issue in Oakland. Foster ripped the Raiders for a 74-yard touchdown run and had 131 yards rushing on 16 carries. Yes, John Henderson was out, but the Raiders have to do better in this area.
What’s next: Oakland will try to keep its season afloat at home against San Diego, which has beaten Oakland 13 straight times. If the Raiders lose their second straight home game to fall to 1-4, expect to coach Tom Cable to be on the hot seat.
Now that he has been cut by Oakland, quarterback JaMarcus Russell has to be considered the biggest all-time NFL draft bust. Here is my list of the five greatest busts in draft history:
1. JaMarcus Russell: He is 7-18 as an NFL starter, which is the worst record by a quarterback who was a No. 1 overall pick. He is the fastest quarterback who was a top pick to be released by his drafting team. Russell, 24, lasted three years in Oakland. He cost the Raiders $39 million.
2. Ryan Leaf: Leaf was the No. 2 pick in 1998, being taken one pick after the great Peyton Manning. Leaf was a disaster on and off the field in San Diego. He lasted three injury- and controversy-plagued seasons with the Chargers. He won four games with the Chargers. Still, Russell is a bigger bust because he was a top pick and he was much more expensive than Leaf.
3. Charles Rogers: The Lions took Rogers with the No. 2 pick, one slot ahead of when Houston took Andre Johnson. Rogers lasted three seasons in Detroit. His stay there was marred by injuries and off-field issues.
4. Tim Couch: Cleveland picked him with the first pick in 1999 over No. 2 pick Donovan McNabb. Couch lasted five horrible seasons in Cleveland.
5. Tony Mandarich: The Packers took the tackle No. 2 in 1989, ahead of the likes of Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders. He lasted three years in Green Bay and never made an impact.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
This afternoon, we are going to look back at the last 10 years for every first-round pick held by an AFC West team. First up is the No. 3 pick, which is held by Kansas City:
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
A couple of weeks ago in Denver, Tony Gonzalez was using the Miami Dolphins as inspiration. He noted that the Dolphins were challenging for a playoff berth after going 1-15 last season. Gonzalez said that if the Dolphins could turn around their fortunes so quickly, so could the Chiefs.
With the season lost, the Chiefs will get a close-up look at Miami and see how the team has pulled it off.
Chiefs ownership will likely note the change at the top. The Dolphins cleaned out their front office and coaching staff after last season. Of course, this will be the Chiefs' first game since general manager Carl Peterson announced that he'll step down after 20 years with the team on Dec. 28. This will be Peterson's final home game at Arrowhead Stadium and it wouldn't be a shock if it's coach Herman Edwards' final home game, too.
Ultimately, the Chargers don't control their own destiny. But for a three-hour window on Sunday, they do.
If the Chargers win at Tampa Bay, Denver will be under pressure to beat Buffalo at home to avoid a winner-takes-the-division game against San Diego on Dec. 28.
If the Chargers lose to the Buccaneers, who are battered and dealing with a two-game losing streak, their season will be over, concluding one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. The Chargers entered the season with Super Bowl hopes. Falling short of the playoffs would be disastrous.
If the Chargers are victorious Sunday, it will be interesting to see whether they wait to watch the Denver game. That would be a very anxious five-plus-hour airplane ride home wondering what's happening at Invesco Field.
However, San Diego must win first before worrying about that problem.
This game offers the Denver Broncos redemption -- a chance to avoid repeating one of the most regrettable moments in their history.
Two years ago, Denver ended the season at home against San Francisco. The 49ers had a losing record and were playing out the string. All Denver had to do was beat the lowly 49ers and it would have advanced to the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Instead, Denver played nervously and sloppily all game and lost in overtime, ending its playoff hopes.
The Broncos are in a similar situation this season. They can end a two-season playoff drought and win the AFC West by simply beating Buffalo on Sunday. Like the 49ers were two years ago, the Bills are under .500 and out of the playoff mix.
Will Denver avoid disaster or add to the misery?
There will be a world-class wide receiver on the field in Oakland's final home game of the season. Perhaps he'll inspire the Raiders to get one of their own in 2009.
The Raiders host the Texans and star receiver Andre Johnson on Sunday, who should remind Oakland how much a top-flight receiver can help an offense.
The Raiders will enter the offseason with wideout being one of their greatest needs. Oakland has gotten the second-least production from its receivers in the NFL. Oakland thought it solved its issues at receiver with Javon Walker in the offseason. But the big-dollar acquisition has been a bust and he is out for the season with an ankle injury.
Now, Oakland will have to look toward the future. It could try to pursue Cincinnati's Chad Johnson in a trade or maybe bypass other needs and draft Michael Crabtree if he declares himself eligible. However the team does it, Oakland needs to find its own Andre Johnson.
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