(CBS Los Angeles) — The Kansas City Chiefs still have the inside track on the AFC West title. But there could very well be some bumps in the road. Their remaining schedule features a few tough matchups, not to mention rematches with each of their three division rivals. That starts this Sunday with the Las Vegas Raiders, the only team to beat them so far. The Raiders, at 6-3, are coming off a thrashing of the Denver Broncos, and will be looking to stay in the mix of what’s become a very competitive AFC playoff race. Six teams hold a 6-3 record in the AFC, but only one of them leads their division.
The Broncos host the resurgent Dolphins, one of those 6-3 playoff contenders behind rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Miami is riding a five-game winning streak, the Broncos have lost two straight. Their last win came against the Los Angeles Chargers on a last-second touchdown catch. That was the first of three straight Chargers losses. But they draw a favorable matchup in Week 11, with the winless New York Jets flying in.
CBS Los Angeles sports anchor Jaime Maggio looks at this week’s matchups in the AFC West.
All times listed are Eastern.
New York Jets @ Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, November 22, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
The Chargers probably aren’t as bad as their 2-7 record suggests. They’ve lost some close games to some good teams. The Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints both needed overtime to get past the Chargers. “Of those seven losses, six have been by seven points or fewer,” as Maggio points out. “And actually the greatest margin was last week, which was eight points, and that was against the Miami Dolphins.”
Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert is putting up Rookie of the Year-type numbers so far, with 19 TD passes against just six interceptions. He’s averaging 291.6 yards per game, with rating of 102.8. “I think that they have a very talented quarterback in Justin Herbert, having a heck of a rookie campaign,” says Maggio. “They’ve seen a lot of positive stuff from him.”
The Jets, on the other hand, haven’t seen much of anything positive from anyone. Their defense ranks near the bottom in yards and points allowed per game. Their offense ranks dead last in yards and points per game. On the offensive side, maybe some of that can be blamed on Sam Darnold’s lingering shoulder injury. And, indeed, backup quarterback Joe Flacco did almost lead the Jets to their first win of the season against the New England Patriots a couple weeks back.
Coming off the bye, Flacco will start again against the Chargers. The Jets also have some motivation to not go winless for an entire season, with this being their best chance at a victory. Maggio doesn’t think it will happen, however. “There is no chance that the Jets get a win against the Chargers this week,” she says. “This is an opportunity, I think, for the Chargers to go out there and have kind of a bully performance and get back on track. They are the fourth-ranked offense in the NFL. Justin Herbert, like I said, one heck of a rookie year. He has six consecutive games with multiple touchdown passes. I think that will continue.”
Miami Dolphins @ Denver Broncos, Sunday, November 22, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
The Dolphins opened their season losing three of their first four games. They’ve since won five straight, three of them under the leadership of Tagovailoa. In those games, he’s thrown five touchdown passes, but only topped 200 yards passing once. The Dolphins may also lean on undrafted free agent running back Salvon Ahmed with lingering injuries hindering their backfield.
But it’s the Dolphins defense that could pose some problems for the Broncos. “They boast a defense that can really do damage to teams,” says Maggio. “And that’s a perfect matchup for their defense against this Broncos offense, which leads the league in picks and giveaways. And I’ll tell you why that’s important, because last year, they were one of the best teams at protecting the ball. They’ve actually regressed. This year they are one of the worst teams at protecting the ball. And I think you can attribute that directly to the fact that they have used three different quarterbacks in the last nine games.”
Those three quarterbacks — Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien — have tossed a league-high 16 interceptions. The Broncos offense, unsurprisingly, has sputtered for much of the season, both in terms of yards and points. They rank near the bottom of the league in both categories. The defense isn’t all that much better.
Broncos starting quarterback Drew Lock is questionable this week with a rib injury, but it might no ultimately matter. The Dolphins are rolling. “This is going to be a feast for the Dolphins defense ahead of Thanksgiving,” says Maggio. “So I’m going to go with the Dolphins in this one.”
Kansas City Chiefs @ Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, November 22, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
The Chiefs come into this game as 6.5-point favorites over the Raiders, the only team to beat them this season. That first matchup, “…was like a coming-out party for the Las Vegas Raiders,” as Maggio puts it. “That was pretty something else. Derek Carr has an unbelievable outing in that Week 5 matchup… 347 yards, three touchdowns for him in that game.”
Another key component in that win was the running game. Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker combined for 139 yards on the ground. “One of the weaknesses for the Chiefs is protecting against the run,” says Maggio. “And you’ve got Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker, the two running backs for the Raiders, who are coming off big performances last week.”
The pair combined for almost 200 yards and four touchdowns, each averaging over five yards per carry in their runaway win over the Broncos.
The Chiefs offense remains among the best in the NFL. They average a league-leading 294.7 passing yards per game and also put up 31.8 points per game. And they’ll be well-rested and well-prepared from a bye week.
For all the firepower that will be on display, this game could come down to defense. “What makes this matchup even more intriguing though is that practically the entire Raiders starting defense right now is on the COVID-19 list,” says Maggio. “They are on the list because of a high-risk exposure. If they continue to test negative throughout the week, then they’ll be eligible to play on Sunday. And this is a big Sunday-night matchup, so you know those guys are going to want to play.”
Clearly a severely short-handed Raiders defense would change the complexion of the game. As Maggio sees it, “if the defense is intact, we’re going to see a really close game. If not, I would have to go easily to the Chiefs. If everyone’s playing, if everyone’s at full strength, I’m going to say it’s close, and I say I give it to the Chiefs.”