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Friday, December 26, 2008
Audibles: AFC West Week 17 preview


Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (3-11-1), 1 p.m. ET

It's the end of an era for the Chiefs. Considering they are 2-13, it may be best the era is ending.

It was announced earlier this month that the 20-year relationship between general manager Carl Peterson and the Chiefs will end at the conclusion of the season.

The Chiefs will hire a new general manger, probably in the coming weeks. The new general manager will have a major say in whether current Chiefs coach Herm Edwards stays or not. Usually, new general managers bring in new coaches, so Edwards could very well be preparing for his final game in Kansas City.

This could be the final game for some key Chiefs players as well. Controversial running back Larry Johnson probably is on his way out. Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez wanted to be traded to a contender in October. He said earlier this month he isn't sure if he wants to return to the Chiefs. If Gonzalez doesn't like the direction the team is going, he could leave as well.

On the surface, the Chiefs are just playing out the string, but this game could long be remembered as the final game for several key members of the organization.

Oakland Raiders (4-11) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6), 1 p.m. ET

It's very fitting the Raiders are ending the worst six-season stretch in the history of the NFL in Tampa Bay.

In the 2003 Super Bowl, Tampa Bay and coach Jon Gruden -- in his first season in Tampa after coming from Oakland -- destroyed the Raiders.

It has only gotten worse over time. Since that game, the Raiders are an NFL-worst 23-72. Oakland became the first team in NFL history to have six straight seasons of at least 11 losses.

Denver Broncos (8-7) vs. San Diego Chargers (7-8), 8:15 p.m. ET

The pressure is on the Denver Broncos.

It is the Broncos who are a loss away from humiliation and a miserable offseason. For the past several weeks, it was the San Diego Chargers who appeared to be headed for a long, turmoil-filled postseason.

That's no longer the case.

After they won three straight games and Denver lost two straight games, the Chargers control their path. If the Chargers beat the visiting Broncos on Sunday night, they will win the AFC West championship.

That was unlikely three weeks ago when Denver had a three-game lead. Chargers coach Norv Turner's job security dominated talk in San Diego and the team was considered one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL this decade.

Now, it's Denver on the hot seat. The Broncos and coach Mike Shanahan are feeling the heat. If Denver, a heavy underdog, loses, it will become the second team in NFL history to blow a three-game lead.

If Denver loses, no one will remember that the Broncos weren't expected to win this division anyway. No one will remember the slew of rookies who made strides this season. No one will remember the injuries. All they will remember is the Denver collapse.

The Chargers and their slow start will be off the hook. The Chargers will be in the playoffs and Denver will make the kind of history no team ever wants to make.

Yes, all the pressure is on Denver.

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