AFC West: audibles 11 AFC

Audibles: AFC West Week 11 preview

November, 14, 2008
11/14/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Denver Broncos (5-4) at Atlanta Falcons (6-3), 1 p.m. ET

 

It was late last season and the Denver Broncos brought in kicker Matt Prater for the stretch run. Yes, a kicker.

Jason Elam was there, as he had been since 1993. Asked why Prater was brought in, the Broncos' brass bristled. No, it had nothing to do with Elam, who would be a free agent after the season, management said. Prater had a strong leg and the team was just looking at him as an option for kickoffs. Still, Elam was confused. The move made him wonder if his Denver days were about to end.

Elam, a career-long Bronco, said he could never imagine himself in another uniform. He is the most "clutch" kicker in team history. He had been a member of the Broncos' two Super Bowl-winning teams. He decided four of Denver's seven victories in 2007 with last-second kicks. He's even married to a former Broncos cheerleader.

Then in March, Denver didn't pay him what he asked for and he signed with his home-state Atlanta Falcons. The Broncos, who now employ Prater as their field-goal kicker, will visit Elam and the Falcons on Sunday.

While Elam's departure seemed unfathomable last season, it has worked out for both parties. Prater has a huge leg and has been excellent on field goals and on kickoffs. Elam has been his reliable self for the surprising Falcons.

Could Sunday's game come down to a game-winning field-goal attempt by either Elam or Prater? That would be some good theater.

New Orleans Saints (4-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-8), 1 p.m. ET

  

It may have been lost in the Chiefs' three devastating losses in a row, but Tony Gonzalez is playing at an All-Pro clip.

The future Hall of Famer is playing like a 27-year-old. It seems Gonzalez's nontrade at the deadline has inspired him. He deserves a lot of credit. He wanted to be dealt to a contender last month. When potential deals fell apart, Gonzalez admitted he wasn't happy, but he promised he would give the team his all for the rest of the season.

Gonzalez wasn't kidding. Since the trade deadline, Gonzalez has made 29 of his 50 catches. He's playing with a purpose and Chiefs fans have another reason to salute him.

Oakland Raiders (2-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-4), 1 p.m. ET

  

Tony Sparano should prove to the Oakland Raiders what a difference a new coach can make, even in just one season.

The Raiders will, in all likelihood, try to get it right again after the season, hiring a new coach for the fifth time in seven years. From Bill Callahan to Tom Cable, the Raiders have struggled mightily.

As the Raiders travel to Miami to face the resurgent Dolphins, who were 1-15 last season, they can look at Sparano and see hope for next year and another new Oakland head coach.

San Diego Chargers (4-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

  

Like Gonzalez in Kansas City, the Chargers' tight end is getting his groove back.

Antonio Gates is coming off his two best games of 2008. Gates has 14 catches for 162 yards and two touchdown catches in the past two games. He has 38 catches this season.

Gates appears to be nearly 100 percent healthy after struggling to return from surgery on his left big toe. Gates didn't play in the preseason, and he said the toe injury hampered his play earlier in the year. At one point early on, Gates admitted that he didn't think he'd be able to help the Chargers this season.

But in the past two games, Gates has been playing at a high level. If the Chargers win the AFC West title, their All-Pro tight end probably will be a major reason why.

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