11.02.2006

Rocky's Football Corner #9




by Rick Rockwell


The National Football League (NFL) attracts fans, because as the cliché goes, any team can win on any given weekend. That makes the NFL a very tough sports neighborhood.

And the toughest part of that neighborhood is the American Football Conference (AFC) West.

Over at NFL Gridiron Gab this week, the discussion is about who can win this very difficult division. That spurred this column, because the discussion of what is the hardest division to win is a staple among those discussing the NFL.

Being based in Washington, DC, of course, folks believe the universe revolves around the National Football Conference (NFC) Eastern Division. With the Cowboys and Giants, that division is certainly very tough. And the NFC South has the Falcons and Panthers. All of those teams might be in the post-season. And yes, there’s the AFC North with the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers (who aren’t out of it, yet).

But on my scoreboard, only the AFC West has three teams in the top ten in the league.

Yes, none of these teams may be as good as the Colts. But the Broncos made the Patriots pay early in the season.

All of these teams are closely matched. Denver just nosed past Kansas City early in the season by a field goal in overtime. Likewise, the Chiefs edged the Chargers by a field goal in a real shootout recently. That game put the Chiefs back into contention in the division.

My head says Denver will repeat as the division champ, because usually they have a stout defense, a smart coach, and a dynamic running game, plus a solid offensive line. But my heart wants the Chiefs again. I like how Coach Herman Edwards has slowly brought his team back into the fight. Backup quarterback Damon Huard (who backed up Tom Brady in New England and Dan Marino in Miami) is proving he can win games as a starter. And don’t forget running back Larry Johnson, who can be a bulldozer.

Who knows what to expect in San Diego? Phillip Rivers at quarterback has been a pleasant surprise after the team let Drew Brees trundle off to New Orleans. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the most exciting running backs in the game; he can explode for scores on any play. But can Coach Marty Schottenheimer get more consistency out of his club and push them to the next level? They do have the top defense in the conference and the second best offense. However, the Chargers sometimes let opponents back into games when they should be shutting them down early.

All three of these teams are capable of playoff caliber performance.

And then there’s the Oakland Raiders. Yes, the Raiders have slipped into the bottom tier of the league. But the last few weeks have shown they can bite the unsuspecting and unprepared. If any of the other teams in the division get caught taking the Raiders for granted, the boys in silver and black will likely get another upset for the mantle.

On any given day that the NFL is playing, the AFC West is bound to deliver some of the very best football. Count on it.




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