This Week in the Wild (AFC) West: Weeks 4-6

Written by Rhys

The 2021 NFL season is now well underway, and although the landscape can still change dramatically between now and Week 17, fans of the franchises will be starting to build a picture of what their teams will be this season. Perhaps key will be the looming trade deadline, and the last real chance to make significant roster adjustments prior to the off-season.
In the AFC West, there have been some big plays, big injuries and big results over the last three game weeks. Now with more data to draw from, it is possible to see how teams are performing in relation to the rest of the NFL, and what that can potentially tell us about who is most likely to come through this tough division. With so much of the season left to play, everything is still at stake for all those involved.

Week 4:
Bengals @ Chiefs – Final Score 21-24

At home for the second consecutive Sunday, the Chiefs welcomed the Cincinnati Bengals to Arrowhead in a repeat of the Divisional Round playoff game between the sides which ended the Chiefs’ campaign in 2020. On that day, a near-perfect Mahomes was victorious over his former team, but Kansas City exacted some modicum of revenge in this fixture.
The Kansas City defense was much more prepared for the threat of Patrick Mahomes this time around. The former Texas Tech passer was restricted to just 7 completions, being picked off twice by Tyrann Mathieu and Quincy Wilson respectively. When the Bengals offense clicked, they clicked big, it just didn’t happen often enough for Cincinnati in this game.
For the Chiefs, this result was a culmination of hard work and a fair amount of luck. In a crazy statistic, Kansas City have now doubled their tally for wins against teams outside of their division from last year’s record. Underneath the high spirits, a small minority of fans have begun murmuring about the propensity of Lee McFadden to throw picks. Despite the win, he threw as many interceptions as touchdown passes in this game, and the inconsistency he showcased in his first season at Arrowhead is still very present in his overall play.

Chargers @ Raiders – Final Score 37-14

JB’s Chargers team strengthened their grip on the AFC West with this impressive performance against the Raiders away from home, extending their perfect record within the division so far. Defensively dominant throughout, Derwin James would finish the day with an incredible three forced fumbles, whilst Joey Bosa was rewarded with four sacks for his relentless disruption of the Raiders offensive line, keeping Oakland regularly behind the chains.
For the Raiders this result would leave them 0-2 in divisional games thus far, in both cases struggling to halt the passing attacks of their respective opponents. This is particularly problematic for this offensive scheme because falling to large deficits early will negate the rushing offense that the team is built around. Lamar Miller was restricted to only 36 yards from 15 attempts in this game, and Myles Rafferty is yet to show that he can carry this team if running the ball stops working. On paper, the Raiders defensive line is imposing, but on the field more is required from the likes of Calais Campbell, Clelin Ferrell and Akiem Hicks.

Jaguars @ Broncos: Final Score – 38-16

If Denver Broncos fans has pencilled this game against the then-winless Jaguars as an opportunity to energise their campaign, then it is safe to say Leonard Fournette had other ideas. Rushing for over 120 yards, and scoring three touchdowns in the process, the former 4th overall pick in the 2017 Draft kept this game firmly in Jacksonville’s control. For Denver, neither Matt Ryan nor Nyheim Hines managed to unlock a stern Jacksonville defense which hasn’t given up many points this season despite the team’s record overall.
Worthy of note also is the evolution of James Greene, the second year Jaguars quarterback out of USC. His disciplined display (12-16 for 188 yards and a touchdown) was a notable development for a passer who threw 39 interceptions in his first year in the league. With the game now slowing down for Greene, he could be about to start fulfilling his significant potential.
As for the Broncos, they will face the Raiders on the other side of their early bye-week, and will need to use this time wisely to come out on the right side of this must-win battle. The first match-up of the season for these teams back in Week 2 was a nail-biter, and given the form for both these teams since, the pressure has only increased. The loser in this one may already be out of contention for the AFC West.

Week 5:

Denver Broncos on Bye

Browns @ Raiders: Final Score 21-7

The Cleveland Browns have Damarious Randall to thank as they left Oakland win a valuable win. In a game that was much closer than expected given the records of these opponents coming into the contest, Cleveland have managed what no other team has achieved so far this season, which is to defeat Oakland whilst allowing Lamar Miller to torch them on the ground. The Raiders were made to rue some key drops and misplaced passes as the result could have been very different on another day.
Oakland will host Denver next week in a clash which could have major implications for the Division this season, but they will need to find a way to win at home. As it stands, they have not delivered a win for their home fans since Week 14 of last season. Pushing a team as consistent as Cleveland all the way may give the team confidence, but breaking the losing cycle at the Coliseum would have been better. For the Browns, they will look to make it 2 out of 2 against the AFC West when they travel to Arrowhead Stadium next time out. Given how they stuck around in this contest, it would take a brave person to bet against them doing just that.

Chiefs @ Eagles: Final Score – 3-31

Lincoln Financial Field is never an easy place for a visiting team to play, but when the Chiefs went 3-0 ahead in the 1st quarter they were not expecting for those to be the only points they would score for the whole game. Prior to this match, there had been some changes in Kansas City, as the impressive Tyrann Mathieu departed for Dallas in exchange for a 2nd Round Pick, with the Saints’ Vonn Bell travelling to Arrowhead Stadium as a ready-made replacement. Rumour has it that Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert was also on Jenkins’ shopping list, and based on the way he performed on Sunday, the Chiefs Coach/GM is probably wishing he had offered more to prize him away from the Eagles.
Lee McFadden cut a frustrated figure as he managed only 5 completions for a paltry 39 yards, in what proved to be a harsh lesson in how the better NFL teams can scheme to capitalise on his weaknesses. Carson Wentz in contrast showed his experience by capitalising on virtually every opportunity presented to him by Chiefs defense. To remark specifically on the Kansas City defensive unit, which had been improving up to this point, this game shows that they clearly still have a way to go, although losing Mathieu and Reuben Foster to trade and injury respectively cannot have helped.

Ravens @ Chargers: Final Score – 27-6

Kansas City were not the only AFC West team to struggle in Week 5, as the Ravens were able to successfully diagnose the Chargers offense. On paper, the Ravens have fielded stronger defenses in recent seasons, but their secondary still contains the formidable Marlon Humphrey and Earl Thomas. By restricting Melvin Gordon to 23 yards from 10 carries, the Ravens forced Aaron Rodgers to win the game in the air, gladly pouncing on some uncharacteristic mistakes from the veteran passer to take the game out of reach for Los Angeles.
Baltimore entered the game without a win on the season, but since a disappointing performance against Miami in Week 3, there had been signs of improvement. Fans can possibly expect a little more from Lamar Jackson, however. He was well contained by the Chargers defense, by and large, completing only 6 of his 10 attempts and throwing an interception. Despite the threat he poses with his legs, on the ground the story was similar. Jackson gained a rushing touchdown, but rushed for only 14 yards in total. In the end, Melvin Ingram’s 5.2 yards per carry average was enough to keep the chains moving for Baltimore, and lead them to their first win of the season.

Week 6:

Broncos @ Raiders: Final Score – 14-21

There were times during this game where it was difficult to believe these two opponents had struggled so much early on in this NFL season, and there were other phases of play that were something like watching two boxers in the ring hitting themselves in the face rather than each other. Such is the way of the AFC West, I suppose. Nevertheless, Oakland have recorded a potentially vital victory in front of their home crowd and resigned the Denver Broncos to a position where it is now impossible for them to gain a record better than .500 in the division this season.
For a time, Denver were executing their gameplan against Lamar Miller very well, with the normally explosive back not able to break into positive yardage until well into the second half. They also took the lead in the contest, as Matt Ryan somehow connected with Tyler Lockett for a 65 yard TD drive despite having a defender in his face. A long rushing TD from Nyheim Hines from the first play in the second half would put Denver up 14-7, but from that point on the Raiders fightback gained traction.
With a minute remaining in the 3rd quarter, Lamar Miller broke free for a 70 yard TD run to tie the game, visibly lifting the home crowd. It was a blow to the Broncos from which they never recovered, as Matt Ryan was picked off on their very next drive. By the start of the final quarter, the Broncos were behind. Denver would have possession of the ball for a significant portion of the remainder of the game, but a combination of aggressive defense by the Raiders and some questionable play-calling choices meant they couldn’t get back into the contest.

Browns @ Chiefs: Final Score – 20-30

Vonn Bell introduced himself to the Arrowhead crowd by intercepting Baker Mayfield on his home debut for the Chiefs in a thoroughly professional all-around performance by Kansas City. Emerging victorious from a contest which was predicted to be close-fought has boosted the players and fanbase ahead of the bye-week, and keeps the pressure on the LA Chargers at the top of the Division. The Chiefs have all of their divisional matches left to play, including a run of only divisional games from Week 13 through to Week 17, but to have fought through a challenging start to their schedule at .500 has put them in a solid position to challenge for a post-season berth.
Frank Clark was a constant menace for the Browns offensive line, and finished the day on 12 sacks for the season from six games played, showcasing why he is the highest paid athlete on the team. The Chiefs offense was also humming, as Lee McFadden produced some truly lovely touchdown throws and recorded his first interception-free game of his second year. Damien Williams also conjured up a big performance as he secured his first two rushing touchdowns of the season. The Browns best hope of a comeback lay with Odell Beckham Jr, who tallied over 100 receiving yards for the day, but the Chiefs were able to ensure that the Browns high-powered offense only caused minimal damage.

Steelers @ Chargers: Final Score – 16-21

The Chargers responded to the Chiefs’ victory by gaining an AFC North scalp of their own in this fixture, and showed how dangerous they can be in all phases of play in doing so. In a game where neither team ran the ball especially well, Aaron Rodgers would emerge victorious in the battle of the Quarterbacks here. The Chargers would complete over 80% of their pass attempts and reliable weapons Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler capitalised to score a touchdown each.
For the Steelers, the performance of Dwayne Haskins contained a number of positives, but Pittsburgh will be happy that they do not have to face Joey Bosa and company every week. The Steelers would throw for as many touchdowns as the Chargers, and for more yards, but the team’s offensive line gave up an astonishing 7 sacks during the tie to limit their momentum. The loss would leave Pittsburgh rooted to the bottom of the AFC North, and a changing of the guard within the organisation is now underway. Despite making the playoffs last year, popular coach Moose has decided to step away from team duties after the poor start to this campaign. His successor will inherit a good roster and potentially a high draft pick, making this an attractive proposition for prospective candidates.

Commissioner Note – Id just like to take a moment to thank departing Moose for everything he has done for OoH over the years. Good night sweet prince!