AFC West: Rex Ryan

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – A somewhat beleaguered voice, the one belonging to New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, took a few moments to recite what he believes awaits his struggling defense Sunday when the Denver Broncos arrive at MetLife Stadium.

Ryan, asked about what he sees in Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning since Manning’s return to the field in 2012 following his fourth next surgery, said in a conference call Wednesday;

“I don’t see a difference. I just see one of the best, if not the best player in the league, like always. To say he’s a machine, he’s not a machine. The guy’s just awesome. He’s the best offensive coordinator in the league; he just happens to be playing quarterback, and a Hall of Fame quarterback at that."

And on the Broncos’ offense in general, Ryan offered, with tongue in cheek at times;

“This [Demaryius] Thomas kid might be as good a receiver as there is in the league and by the way you’ve got the best slot receiver in [Wes] Welker, [Emmanuel] Sanders is second in the league in catches. The good news is this [Julius] Thomas kid has only got 19 touchdowns since last season. Really a group that’s struggling. It’s a joke; they’re loaded offensively."

As an NFL defensive coordinator or head coach, Ryan has faced a Manning-led offense seven times. Manning is 5-2 as a starter in those games, though in one of the losses – in the 2009 regular season – then-Colts head coach Tony Dungy pulled Manning from a Week 16 game after one series in the third quarter against the Jets because they Colts had entered the game at 14-0 with their playoff seeding already determined. The Colts beat Ryan's Jets in the AFC divisional round four weeks later.

In their four losses, the Jets have surrendered at least 272 yards passing in three games, and opposing offenses have averaged 5.7, 4.1, 5.5 and 6.2 yards per play. In the last two Jets losses, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 70.6 percent of his passes and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed 71.4 percent of his. They combined for five touchdown passes and one interception.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 21, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

No Luck in 2013 draft: The Kansas City Chiefs will get an up-close look at what it means to be able to get a star quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Chiefs host the Indianapolis Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, has led the Colts to the cusp of the playoffs. The 2-13 Chiefs are on pace for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, and quarterback is their greatest need. But there are no Lucks in the 2013 class, so the Chiefs will have to either take a chance on someone like West Virginia’s Geno Smith or acquire a veteran and take the best player available. Seeing Luck on Sunday won’t make reality easier to take.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesThe Broncos got their top QB choice in the offseason by acquiring Peyton Manning, but Brandon Weeden was on their radar.
Denver Broncos will get close look at Weeden: Brandon Weeden will be quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns in Denver on Sunday. It could have been different. Weeden could have been Denver’s quarterback. Had Peyton Manning not opted to sign with the Broncos, they very well could have tried to move up a few spots from No. 25 to take Weeden. But, of course, Manning signed with Denver in March and the Browns took Weeden at No. 22. The Broncos were scouting Weeden when they sent their jet to fetch Manning for an early-March meeting that set the signing into motion. It is clear the Broncos wanted to move away from Tim Tebow, and the strong-armed, pocket-passing Weeden impressed Denver’s brass. But in the end, Denver got its ultimate quarterback choice and did not have to draft its fallback choice.

Raiders trying to salvage NFC South slate: The Oakland Raiders’ game at the Carolina Panthers completes the AFC West-NFC South series this season. It has not gone well for Oakland or the AFC West as a whole. The Raiders are 0-3 against the NFC South and the AFC West is 5-10. Denver has three wins and both of Kansas City’s wins have come against the NFC South. Considering Oakland coach Dennis Allen’s roots are with the Falcons and the Saints, I’m sure he’d like to end this series on a high note. By the way, the AFC West plays the NFC East next season.

Could Chargers take another look at Ryan? The San Diego Chargers are ending the Norv Turner era and the Rex Ryan era could be coming to a close as well. Sunday’s game between the Chargers and the host New York Jets may mark the end of two tenures. If Ryan is fired by the Jets, could he be a possible replacement for Turner? The team interviewed Ryan and he was a top candidate before Turner was hired in 2007. If ownership likes Ryan, perhaps he will be on the list again. I’m not sure he would be the right choice. Ryan is a defensive coach and the Chargers need to get their offense and quarterback Philip Rivers right. We’ve seen Ryan’s New York offense flounder. The Chargers can’t risk that again.

Manning owns the Browns: Last week, Manning beat the Baltimore Ravens for the ninth straight time. It was the Broncos' first win at Baltimore. Denver’s opponent this Sunday is Cleveland. Manning owns the Browns, too. He is 5-0 against them. He also has been stellar at home this season. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions in Denver this season.

AFC West coaching possibilities

November, 30, 2012
We are exactly a month from the end of the NFL regular season. Thus we are a month and one day from the start of the first process of the 2013 season: the firing of head coaches.

With five games remaining, both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers have to be considered prime candidates to make a coaching change. The Chiefs are 1-10, and Romeo Crennel has to be in danger even though he is in his first full season as coach. In San Diego, Norv Turner’s team is 4-7. It was a major surprise that the team kept Turner after last season. I don’t see any way he makes it to another season, barring an unlikely playoff berth.

The coach firings might not be the end in both cities. If Crennel is fired, general manager Scott Pioli will likely suffer the same fate. I get the feeling Kansas City owner Clark Hunt wants to keep both Pioli and Crennel, but the fan fury is so great, I doubt he'll be able to. San Diego general manager A.J. Smith may also be on the firing line, but I can see a situation where he is kept and Turner is not.

There is always a chance Oakland owner Mark Davis can lose patience and end the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen tandem after one season (or just get rid of coach Allen). But I believe Davis will stick with the current situation despite a disappointing first year.

With potential change in the air, let’s look at some of the coaching candidates, in alphabetical order, who could be available:

Brian Billick
AP Photo/Gail BurtonBrian Billick went into broadcasting after he was fired by the Ravens in 2008.
Bruce Arians, interim Indianapolis head coach: I’m intrigued by Arians. The longtime offensive coordinator is doing a fantastic job with Colts coach Chuck Pagano out because of his fight with cancer. This is a unique situation. Teams could hire a coach who may lead a team to the playoffs without any restrictions -- and what an audition Arians is having. He has worked with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. I could see the Chargers being interested in pairing him with Philip Rivers. The Chiefs could also be a fit for Arians.

Brian Billick, former Baltimore head coach: Billick is interesting because he is a Super Bowl-winning coach who might be reasonably priced. He has a reputation for being a strong offensive mind and a strong leader. He could fit in both San Diego and Kansas City, and I think he could work with an established general manager.

Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh head coach: When Cowher decides he wants to come back, he will likely have his pick of jobs. I’m not sure if any of the AFC West jobs would be more attractive to him than others. Still, Cowher has a history in Kansas City and is the dream coach for many Chiefs fans. But he may be way too pricey for the team.

Jack Del Rio, Denver defensive coordinator: Del Rio has done a terrific job in Denver and had lots of head coaching experience in Jacksonville. I have a feeling he may remain Denver’s defensive coordinator, but he could be a reasonably priced option for the Chiefs or Chargers.

Jon Gruden, former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach: The most frequent question I get from readers is this: Is there a chance Gruden could come back to coach the Raiders? I’ve heard that countless times since Gruden was fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season. My answer now is the same as always: Probably not. There have been plenty of opportunities for Gruden to come back to Oakland and it has not happened. Never say never, but I’d be surprised. If there is a fit this offseason in the division, I’d say it would be San Diego. I think Gruden -- some reports say the University of Tennesee wants to hire Gruden -- would love to live in San Diego, and he’d love to work with Rivers. I’m not saying Gruden is a favorite to end up in San Diego, but it wouldn’t shock me.

Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach: See Cowher. Kelly will get his pick of jobs and he will cost a ton. I’m not sure he’d fit in the AFC West, although working with Rivers could be intriguing to him.

Mike McCoy, Denver offensive coordinator: He is going to be a hot candidate. I think the preferred destination for McCoy, a former Panthers assistant, is to go to Carolina if the Panthers fire Ron Rivera; he is highly regarded there. I could see him receiving interest from the Chiefs as well. He is young, bright and won’t break the bank.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly/David Shaw
AP Photo/Paul SakumaOregon's Chip Kelly, left, may be too pricey for the AFC West; Stanford's David Shaw could fit better.
Wade Phillips, Houston defensive coordinator: The only reason I put Phillips on this list is if Smith remains in San Diego. Smith admires Phillips from Phillips' days as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator. I think he’d be a candidate if Smith is making the choice.

Andy Reid, Philadelphia head coach: Reid is very likely entering his last month in Philadelphia after a tenure that started in 1999. The word around the league is that he will get instant interest. If Reid doesn’t opt to take time off, I could see San Diego being a fit. He has a home in the area and he’d work well with Rivers. But would the Chargers want to replace Turner with a veteran coach who just flamed out after a long stay with a team?

Rex Ryan, New York Jets head coach: It is no sure thing he will be fired, but there’s a chance. I think he could get some interest in the AFC West. He was a finalist in San Diego when Turner got the job. I think the Chiefs could also be interested. They have the makings of a good 3-4 defense -- Ryan’s specialty. Putting him in a small media market could also save Ryan from himself occasionally.

David Shaw, Stanford University head coach: This is one of my favorites. I can really see Shaw ending up in San Diego. He was born there and may be one of the hot young coaches available. I think he’d be perfect for San Diego whether Smith is there or not. His father, Willie Shaw, was a longtime NFL assistant. David Shaw played for Bill Walsh. He worked for Al Davis. He was an assistant to Jim Harbaugh and he has coached Luck. And he has won as a head coach. If I was hiring a coach next month, I’d seriously investigate this 40-year-old.

McKenzie: Jackson had no chance

January, 11, 2012
In a radio interview, new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said Hue Jackson had no chance to talk his way into starting the Raiders’ job.

McKenzie said he made up his mind about firing the man who said last week he wanted input in hiring the new general manager.

“To save it? No. My mind was made up as I told him that,” McKenzie said in an interview with Bay Area radio station, 95.7 the Game. "My mind was made up when me and Mark Davis had talked about it. No that was not. I did want to hear what Coach Jackson had to say which he laid it down.”

There you have it. Jackson has said since being fired that it was Oakland owner Mark Davis who made the decision to fire Jackson. McKenzie insists it was his decision. My take? I think Davis and McKenzie were on the same page to dismiss the loose cannon that is Jackson.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times looks at the chances of the Raiders coming back to Los Angeles.

Davis re-opened the possibility Tuesday when he acknowledged that he has talked to Los Angeles about returning. Davis said the team’s preference is to remain in Oakland, but he wants a new stadium, wherever that may be. There is not expected to be any team to relocate to Los Angeles this year. The Chargers are also considered a possibility to move to Los Angeles.

None of this is anything new. But the fact that Davis went public with it may be an indication of Davis’ growing restlessness.

In other AFC West news:

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting former Kansas City coach Todd Haley is interviewing with the Jets. Could you imagine Rex Ryan and Haley on the same staff? That is a lot of entertainment. Haley has also been connected to Arizona. Haley has coached with both the Jets and the Cardinals in his career.

ESPN Stats & Information looks at the Broncos-Patriots AFC divisional playoff game based on clues given from their Week 15 matchup. New England won, 41-23, in Denver.

ESPN looks at the power of Tim Tebow.

New Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel talks about his new role in a radio interview.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 9, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziTim Tebow keeps on finding ways for the Denver Broncos to win.
Can the Oakland Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers at their own game? The 12-0 Packers are winning because they have perhaps one of the most dangerous passing games in the history of the NFL. If the Raiders are going to be the team that knocks Green Bay off its historic pace, they may have to beat the Packers with their passing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer is leading the NFL with an average pass of 10.9 air yards. Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell was among the league leaders in the category before he was injured. The Packers have allowed 21 pass plays of 30 yards or more this season -- the most in the NFL. Raiders coach Hue Jackson likes to air it out, so don’t expect him to get shy in Green Bay as the Raiders try to pull off the upset.

Will Tebow’s epic fourth-quarter heroics continue? The allure of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is how he has become such a clutch performer. Denver has won five games in a row. Of the past seven matches, five were decided late in the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tebow has a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or in overtime in five of his 10 career starts. He is tied with Scott Brunner and Marc Wilson for the most by any player in his first 10 career starts since the 1970 merger.

Could the San Diego Chargers try to beat the Buffalo Bills with the shotgun? Chief among Philip Rivers' struggles this season was passing from the shotgun. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that was not an issue in a 38-14 win at Jacksonville on Monday night. Rivers completed 14 of 15 passes, averaged 13.6 yards per attempt and threw touchdowns from the formation. In the first 11 games of the season, Rivers completed just 60.3 percent of his passes and averaged just 7.6 yards per attempt in the shotgun. He has also thrown 14 of his 17 interceptions in the formation.

Coaching class of 2009 battle: When the Kansas City Chiefs visit the New York Jets on Sunday, it will pit two of the more successful coaches of the 2009 class. Nine coaches were hired after the 2008 season, including Todd Haley in Kansas City and Rex Ryan with the Jets. Many of the nine coaches have struggled, including Denver’s Josh McDaniels and the Raiders' Tom Cable (who was hired as the full-time coach after ending 2008 as the interim coach). McDaniels and Cable have already been discarded. Ryan and the Indianapolis Colts' Jim Caldwell are the only coaches in the class to have a winning percentage above .500. Ryan’s winning percentage is .613. Caldwell, of course, is in danger of being fired with his team 0-12 without star quarterback Peyton Manning. Haley joins Ryan and Caldwell as the only coaches in the 2009 class to take their teams to the playoffs. Haley is 19-25 as the Chiefs’ coach. A win over Ryan in New York could keep at bay the speculation that Haley could be fired at the end of the season.

Raiders need to get Bush going: In addition to hitting big plays in the passing game, Oakland will need to run the ball well to control the clock. The Raiders have one of the best running attacks in the NFL, but it was kept in check at Miami. Oakland had just 46 rushing yards and Michael Bush had just 18 yards on 10 carries. Bush has to have a big day in Green Bay. He has been mostly good as Darren McFadden's injury replacement. Bush has two games this season with 30 carries. The only player in Raiders history with more is Marcus Allen, who had three in a season. If Bush ties Allen’s mark Sunday, it would go a long way in keeping the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands.

Does Denver have any other option?

November, 25, 2011
Tim TebowChris Humphreys/US PresswireAs long as Tim Tebow continues to win, Denver has no choice but to keep him as the starter.
How long will the Denver Broncos' option offense work?

The team clearly hopes it works as long as possible, hopefully through this season so the Broncos can make their final decision on quarterback Tim Tebow's future in the offseason.

Denver coach John Fox believes it's the offense Tebow is most qualified to run right now. So it's either option or bust for Denver.

“We’re just trying to win football games, that’s all we’re trying to do, take advantage of the guys on our football team and utilize their talents the best we can to win,” Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy recently told reporters in Denver.

With the 5-5 Broncos in the AFC West hunt -- they are 4-1 in Tebow’s five starts – there’s little chance the Broncos will risk changing the offense now. There’s not enough time to make Tebow an NFL-quality pocket-passer during the rest of the season.

While Denver has been hot, relying on the option offense is still a major risk in the final six weeks of the season. What if the San Diego Chargers completely shut down the option offense on Sunday?

After the Broncos had terrific success using variations on the option at Oakland and Kansas City, it was shut down for a big portion of Denver’s Week 11 game against the New York Jets. But the offense clicked when Tebow led an aggressive, 12-play, 95-yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown run by Tebow.

The truth is, the Broncos have become better in every phase of the game since Tebow took over. The key for him is to continue to buy himself time. For each victory, Tebow will earn another chance to convince Denver football leader John Elway he can be the long-term solution at quarterback.

Despite the win-loss success, there have been red flags. Tebow has had a completion percentage of less than 50 percent in all four victories. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is only the second quarterback to do that in four wins in one season in the past 20 seasons -- and there’s plenty of time left in this season.

The legendary Elway is one of the strongest-armed quarterbacks ever to play. He can’t be thrilled to see his first team as an NFL executive play leatherheads football. Who would have ever thought an Elway team would be a gimmick-led offense? Shannon Sharpe -- a fellow Hall of Famer who was one of Elway’s favorite targets -- said Denver’s current offense is straight out of the “Big Eight days." After he watched the offense beat his brother Rex’s Jets, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said seeing the option offense in the NFL made him “vomit.”

Elway is clearly not convinced, either. He angered many Denver and Tebow fans earlier in the week when he said on radio that he is not yet committed to Tebow for the long term. In the meantime, Elway and his staff have scouted many of the top collegiate quarterback prospects this fall.

It’s difficult to find anyone who thinks the option offense can really fly in Denver in the long term. Countless analysts have panned the offense, calling it nothing more than a survival move. Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young was one of the most ardent opponents of the idea. He said several times on the air that it is a disservice to Tebow because it is stunting his development and he guaranteed it will not work for the long haul. ESPN’s Merril Hoge and Mel Kiper have also chimed in with similar thoughts.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. agrees. He can’t see the Broncos’ offense lasting even long enough to let the Broncos overtake first-place Oakland (6-4) in the division race. Plus, Williamson is unsure if Tebow can withstand the pounding he’ll take using this offense the rest of the season.

“I do not think it can be the long-term answer,” Williamson said. “The quarterback just takes too much of a beating and this league is won through the air.”

The key for Denver to continue to have success with the offense for the rest of the season, Williamson said, is to add wrinkles. The Broncos added different option plays each week and that probably will continue Sunday at San Diego after a 10-day break since the Jets game.

For the team’s short-term success and Tebow’s long-term future, the Broncos must continue to develop their take on this ancient offense or the back-to-the future experiment could all go away in a cloud of dust.

Fox beats Tebow's drum

November, 18, 2011
A day after Tim Tebow, once again, saved the day for his team, Denver coach John Fox referred to him as a “great player” and he wished the oft-examined player wouldn’t be so “scrutinized.”

Also Friday, Fox told the Denver Post that he regretted comments he made to earlier in the week. Fox told the website that the second-year quarterback would be “screwed’ if he had to play in a “regular” offense.

Tim Tebow
AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez"Time will tell when our body of work is done, but I think Tim has done a terrific job," Denver coach John Fox said of Broncos quarterback Tebow.
The Broncos have been relying on the option offense the past three games to best utilize Tebow's running abilities and minimize his throwing issues. Denver has won all three games and it is 4-1 this season with Tebow as its starter. Tebow has energized the entire team: It is 5-5 and it is a half-game out of first place in the AFC West.

After struggling much of Thursday's game, Tebow led Denver on a stirring 12-play, 95-yard touchdown drive – culminating on a terrific Tebow 20-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds to knock off the visiting Jets 17-13.

Thus, the magic of Tebow continues. No matter his struggles, he has found a way to win. While Denver is not ready to commit to Tebow beyond this season, Fox surely appears to enjoy watching Tebow play. Fox expects him to continue to grow — and says he would love to see the appreciation of Tebow grow, too.

“I get to be with him every day, and ‘horrible’ isn’t in the vocabulary, but I think a guy like him — he’s real; he walks the walk — a guy like that in today’s society, in my mind, ought to be celebrated and not scrutinized to the level that he is,” Fox told reporters in Denver on Friday. “That’s just one man’s opinion, but he’s got our team from 1-4 back to 5-5. … Time will tell when our body of work is done, but I think Tim has done a terrific job.”

There’s no doubt Tebow is doing a lot of great things, despite his lack of ideal pocket-passing ability. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Tebow's clinching score was the longest game-winning touchdown run by a quarterback in the final minute of the fourth quarter in NFL history. Yes, NFL history. Not too shabby, huh?

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow has been more clutch to start his career than legendary Denver quarterback John Elway. It’s the same John Elway who is now Denver’s top football decision-maker and who will ultimately decide if the Broncos move forward with Tebow calling the signals. Comparing Tebow’s eight NFL starts to Elway’s first eight starts, Tebow has a better record, has thrown for more yardage, has thrown more touchdown passes, has thrown fewer interceptions and has run for more touchdowns than Elway, who ended up in the Hall of Fame.

It should be noted, though, there was never any doubt about Elway’s potential as a pro-style quarterback. That’s what Denver’s brass wants Tebow eventually to show.

Until then, the Broncos will continue to run the option with Tebow. Still, Insider in an ESPN Insider piece, Mel Kiper thinks it is a mistake for Denver to run the offense; on Friday, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan – whose brother Rex Ryan is the coach of Tebow’s last victim – added his voice to the legions who don’t think running the option will result in long-term NFL success.

Still, none of this matters at this point. Tebow is leading the Broncos to victories, and as Fox has pointed out, that is all that matters at this point.

Five things to watch: Broncos-Jets

November, 17, 2011
The Denver Broncos have a key game against the visiting New York Jets on Thursday night. Denver has won three out of the past four games under new quarterback Tim Tebow. The Broncos have gone from a serious contender to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes to a 4-5 team that is one game off the pace in the AFC West. Let’s look at what Denver must do against the 5-4 Jets, who are 1-4 in the past five road games in the regular season:

Keep your options open: Perhaps the Broncos are bringing the 1950s back, but as long as they continue to win with the option offense, it will continue to be used. Denver has been using the option (it even broke out the triple option Sunday at Kansas City) well under Tebow. It will be challenged Thursday night because New York coach Rex Ryan is known as a creative defensive coach. Still, Denver will give Ryan plenty of chances to stop it. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Broncos gained 95 yards on 16 rushes at Kansas City. Tebow kept the ball four times for 31 yards while using the option. Tebow ran the ball nine times and passed it just eight times at Kansas City. According to Elias, Tebow became the first quarterback with more rushes than passes in a game in which the quarterback threw every pass for his team since 1974 when Buffalo’s Joe Ferguson threw twice and ran 10 times in a game that was affected by high winds. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow dropped back to pass on 14.3 percent of the Broncos’ plays at Kansas City. It’s the lowest percentage of drop backs by a team in a game since the start of 2008. Don’t expect Denver to suddenly change course on a short week and have Tebow unleash 40 passes. The option offense should continue.

Keep on running: Tebow’s presence has made Denver a great running offense. It his averaging more than 200 yards on the ground in the past five games and has led the NFL in rushing in that time span. For the season, Denver is second in the NFL in rushing, averaging 158.2 yards per game. The presence of Tebow has enhanced the Broncos’ running backs. Willis McGahee, who is enjoying a career resurgence at the age of 30 and in his first season in Denver, had 640 yards this season. He suffered a hamstring injury at Kansas City. But the Broncos hope he can be a factor. With Knowshon Moreno out for the year with a torn ACL, new backup Lance Ball will be given a chance to continue to impress. He had 96 yards on 30 carries against the Chiefs. Expect the Broncos to try to ram the ball down the Jets’ throats. The Jets are giving up 116 yards on the ground per game, which is 15th in the NFL.

Doing it Fox’s way: This game will give the Broncos a chance to show a national audience they are improved under first year John Fox. He deserves a lot of credit for this turnaround. The Broncos are starting to play just the way Fox likes -- by running the ball and by stopping the run on defense. Denver’s ownership has to be thrilled with the work Fox is doing with this young roster that is still very much rebuilding.

Hit Mark Sanchez: The Broncos have become a strong pass-rushing team in recent games with Elvis Dumervil finally becoming healthy. Dumervil and rookie Von Miller are a nasty pass-rushing duo. Denver had four sacks and constantly harassed Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel (who suffered a serious hand injury in the game) Sunday. Watch for the Broncos to try to unleash Dumervil and Miller -- who has eight sacks and who is a legitimate defensive rookie of the year candidate -- on Sanchez.

Secret weapon: Denver punter Britton Colquitt has become a strong weapon for the Broncos in his second full season with the team. He has become particularly solid in pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line. He pinned the Chiefs between their own 7- and 15-yard line four times in Week 10. Putting New York in poor field position will be critical in this game.
The San Diego Chargers trip to the media capital of the sports world resulted in salacious comments and headlines.

Of course, it started last week when Jets coach Red Ryan – who thrives on making headlines – said he’d have a couple of Super Bowl rings had the Chargers hired him and not Norv Turner in 2007. Turner retuned a zinger of his own.

Then, the real fireworks started. The Chargers saw the Jets come back from a 21-10 deficit at halftime to win 27-21 and drop San Diego to 4-2, promoting the Chargers to get some national criticism in their spotlight game.

San Diego tight end Randy McMichael refused to credit the Jets for the win, saying the Chargers blew the game and it was all on them. Monday, Ryan had his usual witty retort for McMichael.

San Diego cornerback Quentin Jammer did his part to keep the headline writers happily in New York, by questioning the officials. San Diego was called for 13 penalties Sunday after not being penalized in their last game, a Week 5 win in Denver.

“No way it was called fairly,” Jammer told the New York Post. “No way. Not at all. It wasn’t called fairly at all. Maybe I’m being biased, but I’m just judging off what I saw. It wasn’t a fair game called."

Don’t be surprised if Jammer receives a fine from the NFL, which doesn’t take kindly to their officials being publicly criticized by players and coaches.

In the meantime, the Chargers need to put all the New York drama behind them and prepare to face host Kansas City in a big Monday night game next week. If the Chiefs win, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West between Kansas City, San Diego and Oakland. Now, that would be dramatic.

Wrap-up: Jets 27, Chargers 21

October, 23, 2011
What it means: The San Diego Chargers have been living dangerously. They opened the season 4-1, but none of their four wins was impressive. Folks around the league were wondering when it would catch up to them. Ironically, in the first half Sunday, the Chargers did look good. They led 21-10. Then, it all fell apart as LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie’s Jets outscored the Chargers 17-0 in the second half to drop San Diego to 4-2.

Tomorrow’s talker: The Chargers’ passing game lagged Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers couldn’t get much going vertically. Star receiver Vincent Jackson was targeted just four times. He had just one catch for 15 yards. In the first five games, the Chargers completed six passes of 30-plus yards. They didn’t have any Sunday. Quarterback Philip Rivers had his worst game of the season. He was 16-of-32 for 179 yards. He was intercepted twice and he has now thrown nine interceptions this season. He had nine interceptions in the entire 2009 season.

Mathews contained: The Chargers’ problems on offense weren’t just in the air. Second-year running back Ryan Mathews had just 39 yards rushing on 13 carries. He had been very strong this season, but the Jets’ defense shut him down.

What’s next: The Chargers play at Kansas City on Oct. 31 on "Monday Night Football."

Tomlinson to start against Chargers

October, 20, 2011
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has announced LaDainian Tomlinson will start against the Chargers on Sunday.

It will be his first start of the season. Shonn Greene is expected to get most of the carries for the Jets. Tomlinson’s start is likely out of respect to his time in San Diego where he become a legendary player. The Chargers cut Tomlinson in 2010 and he signed with the Jets shortly thereafter.

In other AFC West nuggets Thursday afternoon:

Oakland middle linebacker Rolando McClain is among the players not practicing in Oakland Thursday. It is his second straight day he has missed with a foot injury. If McClain doesn’t practice Friday, he could miss Sunday’s game against visiting Kansas City,

Tim Keown offers tremendous insight into TebowMania in ESPN’s Hot Read. Check it out.

Here is a video debate on Ryan’s comments that he would have won rings with the Chargers had he, and not Norv Turner, been hired in 2007.

Antonio Cromartie said he wasn’t happy in San Diego and it was time to go when the team traded him to the Jets in 2010. I know for a fact the feeling is mutual.

An Insider piece looks at the Raiders’ playoff chances.

In a radio interview, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers discusses the addition of the newest quarterback in the AFC West.

The Chargers have already announced the Nov. 6 game against Green Bay will not be blacked out and the team expects one of the biggest home crowds in team history. Recently, the Chargers haven't been announcing the lifting of blackouts until days before games. The team’s last home game, against Miami in Week 4, was blacked out.

Rex Ryan talks rings with Chargers

October, 19, 2011
Rex Ryan's bombastic ways has struck the AFC West.

The New York Jets coach took a big shot at San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner (he claims he wasn’t ripping him) on Wednesday. He told San Diego reporters that the Chargers would have won a couple of Super Bowl titles had they chosen him over Turner in 2007.

“Well, I think I would have had a couple rings," Ryan said when asked about how things would have unfolded if he were hired in San Diego. "I'm telling you, those teams were loaded. There's no question about it. But things happen for a reason. Obviously, Norv Turner has done a great job there. And A.J. (Smith) and everybody. That's a great franchise, and he's probably the best guy for the job at that time."

Ryan called Turner to clarify his comments by saying it was a complement to what the Chargers have built.

OK, coach.

Ryan said he would have won Super Bowl titles with the Chargers. They haven’t with Turner. Make your own conclusion of what Ryan meant.

Don’t expect Turner to publicly show anger about the comments. But I know Turner a little bit. I know he is a competitive guy. I would not be surprised if he now has extra motivation to have his Chargers leave New York with a victory on Sunday.

UPDATE: Turner came back with his own snappy line.

Moving on: Oakland Raiders

September, 26, 2011
Here are some areas the Oakland Raiders need to focus on after a 34-24 home victory over the New York Jets:

Recap: Be fired up, Raider Nation. Be very fired up. This was a huge early-season win and I love everything about it. It was just so impressive. I loved the way the Raiders came back from a 17-7 deficit and took it to a tremendous team. Oakland showed legitimate signs it is a quality team that is ready to battle anyone. That wasn’t the case last season. This was an opportunity for the Raiders to show they belong in the conversation with some of the AFC’s better teams. They succeeded beautifully.

Biggest area to fix: I’m still not crazy about the penalties. The Raiders were flagged seven times for 55 yards against the Jets. It’s improving in the area, but the Raiders have to show they can play a clean game.

Biggest area to build on: That running game is good. Darren McFadden averaged 9 yards per carry and the Raiders averaged 7.3 yards a carry as a team. Oakland’s 234 yards rushing was the most allowed by a team that had Rex Ryan on the coaching staff since he was an assistant with the Cardinals in 1995, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Oakland is going to win a lot of games by dominating on the ground. It takes pressure off quarterback Jason Campbell and allowed him to pick his spots. Oakland, though, has to hope McFadden’s groin injury (he left the game in the fourth quarter) is not serious. We should learn more about it Monday. McFadden said after the game he doesn’t expect it to be serious.

What to watch for: Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour will lead his new team against his former one. Seymour, who was traded from the Patriots to the Raiders in September, 2009, has made it clear he wasn’t thrilled with the way New England coach Bill Belichick handled his departure. I’m sure Seymour will be motivated to knock Tom Brady down a few times to let his former boss know he made a mistake in dealing him. A motivated Seymour is often a productive Seymour.

Final Word: AFC West

September, 23, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Tolbert not a force at the goal line: The San Diego Chargers would like to see bowling-ball running back Mike Tolbert regain his mojo at the goal line Sunday against visiting Kansas City. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tolbert has scored on just one of six goal-to-go situations in two games. Last year, he was 10-of-21 in those situations. Tolbert was stopped on fourth-and-inches at the goal line at New England last week. It was one of the most crucial plays of the game.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Mike Tolbert
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe Chargers need to get more production around the goal line from running back Mike Tolbert.
Raiders need to put hex on Rex: One of the reasons New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has been so effective as a head coach is his confidence. He is not afraid to play anywhere. He certainly won’t fret about entering the Black Hole on Sunday. Since he took over the Jets in 2009, Ryan’s team is 6-0 against non-divisional AFC competition on the road. It’s up to the Raiders to show Ryan the road can be a tough place.

Last trip to San Diego not good karma for Chiefs: The last thing the Kansas City Chiefs need right now is bad memories. The Chiefs are floundering at 0-2. They have been outscored 89-10 in two games, they have injury issues, and coach Todd Haley is reportedly on the hot seat. A win at San Diego would solve a lot of problems, but the Chiefs will not be hitting the field in San Diego with terrific memories. The Chargers hammered the Chiefs 31-0 in Week 14 of last season -- Kansas City's last visit. The Chiefs were without quarterback Matt Cassel, who had an appendectomy earlier that week.

Did the Titans pick the right QB? Before the end of the lockout, there was speculation the Tennessee Titans would pursue a veteran quarterback to help groom first-round pick Jake Locker. A lot of the speculation centered on Denver’s Kyle Orton. However, instead of trading for Orton, the Titans signed Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck. In the end, Orton didn’t get dealt, and now the two veterans will face each other Sunday in Nashville. So far, Hasselbeck is enjoying a fast start for the Titans, so they probably don’t have any regrets going into this matchup.

Raiders defensive front could have a field day: New York star center Nick Mangold is out for Sunday’s game. Rookie free-agent Colin Baxter is expected to start in his place. Baxter was claimed off waivers from the Chargers after the Chargers cut him with the intent of stashing him on the practice squad earlier this month. Baxter has had nine practices with the Jets and will be in charge of protecting Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has a bruised arm. The Raiders’ defensive front, one of the best in the league, must take advantage of this. It has to attack the middle of the Jets’ line and try to make life as difficult as possible for Baxter. If Baxter fails, the Jets are prepared to use left guard Matt Slauson at center. That would put the Jets’ offensive line in even more upheaval.
Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson has long talked about building a “bully” in the Bay Area. He wants his team to be tough and rough. He wants to set the tone on offense with physical play up front and he wants knock you silly on defense. A model for Jackson is the New York Jets, who the Raiders host Sunday. He calls the Jets the “bully of the East.”

He wants to build in Oakland what former fellow Baltimore assistant Rex Ryan has built in New York.

“I'm not Rex and Rex is not Hue, but I'm sure we have a lot of similarities," Jackson said. "We believe in violent, physical, tough, aggressive football teams. And I'm going to build it here. I didn't tell you it was going to happen overnight, but I'm going to build it."

If Oakland can outmuscle New York, it would go a long way for Jackson in his attempt to build the bully he wants.

In other AFC West nuggets Thursday:

Like the Chargers themselves, Philip Rivers takes time to warm up. So far this season, Rivers has been good, but he’s made some key mistakes.

San Diego defensive tackle Antonio Garay was fined $15,000 by the NFL for hitting New England quarterback Tom Brady below the knee Sunday. I was there and the entire New England crowd gasped at the sight of seeing its legendary quarterback go down, especially since he missed virtually the entire 2008 season after tearing the ACL in his knee.

The Broncos re-signed tight end Dante Rosario. Rosario, who played for Denver coach John Fox in Carolina, was signed and cut this summer. Rookie tight end Julius Thomas is out with an injury for the next couple of weeks. To make room for Rosario, Denver cut draft pick Mike Mohamed. I could see him being a candidate to go to the practice squad if he is not claimed elsewhere.