- Bill Williamson, ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Has the San Diego Chargers' defense improved in the last three weeks under new coordinator Ron Rivera?
Yes, for sure. The unit is giving up fewer points than it did under former defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who was fired after eight games. Rivera's defense is much more aggressive, and it seems tighter than it was before the switch.
But there is one major, scary similarity between the San Diego defense prior to and after the coaching change. The Chargers cannot stop offenses when it counts.
In the three games under Rivera as defensive coordinator, the opponent cruised down the field in the final minute and scored. San Diego lost in those instances to Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. The only reason the Chargers survived against Kansas City in Rivera's first game was that the Chiefs missed a two-point conversion.
The Chargers are going to have to learn to make stops when they need to. I could easily see the situation arising again against the Falcons. Atlanta has a very strong offense and it can move the ball quickly.
If the Chargers are going to stay in the AFC West race, they will have to come up with big stops for the first time in Rivera's tenure. Things are better in San Diego on defense, but it is not to the point where it needs to be. If the Chargers don't fix that problem this week, the Falcons will beat them and the Chargers' season will be in dire straits at 4-8.
Will Brett Favre have another career moment against the Denver Broncos?
The Broncos thought they'd seen the last of Favre, who burned them last year in his final season with Green Bay. Now, Denver has to deal with him again as it tries to hold onto its lead in the AFC West with a 6-5 record.
Last October, on "Monday Night Football" in Denver, Favre stunned Denver with an 82-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings on the first play of overtime to beat the Broncos, 19-13. Favre said after the game that the Packers noticed something they could take advantage of and they decided to try it on the first play of overtime. Jennings cruised by Denver cornerback Dre' Bly and Favre had virtually no pressure on him. Favre easily made the play, and it was one of Favre's signature plays of 2007.
The stinging loss was with Denver all season. The one solace Denver had was that it was likely the last time it would ever have to deal with Favre. Wishful thinking.
Now Denver has to deal with Favre again, and he's playing as well as he has all season. Moreover, the Jets are arguably the hottest team in the NFL right now. Not a perfect scenario for Denver to deal with on the heels of an embarrassing loss at home to Oakland.
After they stunned the Broncos in Denver last Sunday, several Raiders players said in the winning locker room that they think they are still in the AFC West race. Was this postgame giddiness warranted?
Well, in the AFC West anything is possible. The 3-8 Raiders trail division leading Denver (6-5) by three games with five games remaining. San Diego, 4-7, is also in the way. Is it possible?
Sure, but until the Raiders, who have not won back-to-back games in three years, show they can string together a few victories in a row, it is not warranted. If the Raiders beat Kansas City, which has lost 19 of its past 20 games and surrendered a franchise-high 54 points against Buffalo in Week 12, and Denver loses to the Jets and then the Raiders beat the Chargers in San Diego next Thursday, then the Raiders can start believing. They'd be 5-7 and Denver would be 6-6 going into its game against Kansas City.
The Raiders would still be a long shot if these three things happen. But at least they'd be in the division conversation. Until that happens, they are not.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at San Diego Chargers (4-7), 4:05 p.m. ET Has the San Diego Chargers' defense improved in the last three weeks under new coordinator Ron Rivera?