The AFC West might be the NFL’s weakest division, but it could deliver the most drama with four weeks left in the regular season.
The Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders are tied for first with 6-6 records. Kansas City holds the tiebreaker with a 2-1 division record. The Chargers and Raiders are each 2-2 against AFC West teams.
Here’s a case for how each team can win the AFC West:
Games remaining: vs. Raiders, vs. Chargers, vs. Dolphins, at Broncos
The Chiefs blew a 5-0 start to the season during a nightmare seven-game stretch that included inexcusable losses to the Giants and Bills at home.
Despite the free fall, the Chiefs still remain in first place and have the easiest remaining schedule among the three contenders in the AFC West. Kansas City plays its next three games at Arrowhead Stadium, ending the homestand against the lackluster Dolphins. The Chiefs end the regular season at the Broncos, who have lost eight straight games.
But before getting to the Dolphins and Broncos, the Chiefs must find a way to at least get a split against the Raiders and Chargers. Kansas City probably can’t afford to lose a second time to the Raiders, especially if the division comes down to a tiebreaker, making Sunday’s matchup a must win.
Quarterback Alex Smith saved his job by turning in a solid performance against the Jets a week ago. The Chiefs still have the best offense in the division with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce making plays.
The Chiefs can easily right the ship if Kareem Hunt can get back on track during the final stretch. But the offensive line will need to create holes for Hunt, who hasn’t rushed for more than 100 yards or found the end zone since October.
There’s probably not much hope for a defense that has struggled all season. But Tamba Hali recently said don’t give up on the Chiefs. He can prove people wrong by returning from his knee injury and applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks with teammate Justin Houston.
These next four games are vital for Smith and coach Andy Reid. They’re known for folding down the stretch. It’s time to change the narrative.
Games remaining: vs. Redskins, at Chiefs, at Jets, vs. Raiders
The Chargers had the opposite start the Chiefs had. Los Angeles opened the season with four straight losses but is 6-2 since.
The Chargers are viewed as the favorites to win the division because of their defense. They have arguably the best pass-rushing tandem in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. To go with the dominant front seven, they have a shutdown corner in Casey Hayward to defend Hill and the Raiders’ Michael Crabtree.
Los Angeles’ season turned around when quarterback Philip Rivers and the offense got hot. Wide receiver Keenan Allen is finally healthy from a torn ACL and has gone three straight games with at least 10 receptions, 100 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Rivers and Allen could have big outings against the poor secondaries of the Raiders and Chiefs. But they have a tough matchup Sunday against Josh Norman and the Redskins. If the passing game has an off day, the Chargers still have Melvin Gordon in the backfield.
But the biggest concern for the Chargers is not being able to close out games. They’ve lost close games to the Dolphins, Broncos, Eagles and Jaguars. The Chargers can’t fall for the trap game against the Redskins before a massive game against the Chiefs next week.
Games remaining: at Chiefs, vs. Cowboys, at Eagles, at Chargers
The Raiders have arguably the toughest schedule among the three teams with three road games, including one at Philadelphia on Christmas night.
But let’s say the Raiders do lose that game in Philly. Winning the division at 9-7 is still a possibility.
First, the Raiders need to beat the Chiefs a second time to get the tiebreaker. Then they face the Cowboys in Oakland. Win those two games, and the Raiders just need the Chargers to lose once more before getting to L.A. for the regular-season finale and the division possibly on the line.
Just imagine, the tiny StubHub Center filled with Raiders fans as the Silver and Black clinch the division at their home away from home. A nightmare scenario for the Chargers, who have yet to be accepted in Los Angeles.
There’s no fixing the bad Raiders secondary, but the front seven will need to continue to produce at the high level they have the past two games. Yes, it was against the Broncos and Giants, but NaVorro Bowman’s production has allowed Bruce Irvin to rush the quarterback, giving Khalil Mack much needed help.
The Raiders won last season despite a bad defense because of a high-scoring offense. The offense seems to be finally getting it together with Cordarrelle Patterson and Johnny Holton stepping up. That’s two more weapons for Derek Carr to go with Crabtree, Amari Cooper and Jared Cook.
Oh, and Marshawn Lynch is starting to hit Beast Mode at the right time.