(CBS Los Angeles) — The NFL has certainly found parity, and no division better exemplifies that going into Week 10 than the AFC West. The Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and Denver Broncos each have five wins. The Chargers edged out the Philadelphia Eagles on a last-second field goal last week. The Broncos surprised the Cowboys in Dallas. The Raiders, dealing with more distractions, fell to the New York Giants. And the struggling Chiefs held off the Green Bay Packers, who were missing Aaron Rodgers.
This week the Chargers face the Minnesota Vikings, another team with more than its fair share of close games so far. The Broncos, hosting the Eagles, look to complete their NFC East sweep. And the Chiefs hope to continue their dominance of the Raiders in this division rivalry.
All times listed are Eastern.
Minnesota Vikings @ Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, November 14, 4:05 p.m.
The Vikings and Chargers have both had more than their fair share of close games this season. The Vikings, who sit at 3-5, have seen seven of their eight games decided by a touchdown or less. Five of those were losses. Last week’s defeat on an overtime field goal came to the Baltimore Ravens, themselves no strangers to close finishes.
The Chargers, 5-3 so far, generally used to find themselves on the losing end of close games. But they’ve found a way to turn their fortunes around this season, winning four of their six games that were decided by a touchdown or less. The Chargers are coming off a close win over the Philadelphia Eagles, decided by a last-second field goal.
“This one could ultimately come down to coaching,” Hartstein speculates. “You have Mike Zimmer, who seems stuck in the dark ages. They get the ball in overtime against the Ravens. They’re very conservative. They throw a two-yard pass. They run the ball. They set up third and long, they don’t convert. The Ravens go ahead and win the game. And on the other side you have Brandon Staley, who instead of kicking a field goal with just under two minutes to go against the Chargers, decides you know what, I’m gonna go for it on fourth and one. I’m not going to let the Eagles get the ball back. I think most coaches in the NFL would have tried a 45-yard field goal. He did not. He left the Eagles no time. So I’m going to lean to the Chargers in this spot, but I do think it will be a very tight game.”
Justin Herbert is having a strong season, most recently going 32-38 for 356 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. Kirk Cousins was less productive for the Vikings — 17-28 for 187 yards and two TDs — but Dalvin Cook added another 100-yard game to his resume.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Denver Broncos, Sunday, November 14, 4:25 p.m. on CBS
The Broncos have been a little streaky this season, starting off with three wins, followed by four losses. They turned things around last week with a surprising win over the Cowboys in Dallas. And part of what made it so surprising was just how one-sided it was. At one point, they led 30-0, before the Cowboys made things a bit more interesting in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos controlled the game on the ground, with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon combining for 191 yards rushing. Teddy Bridgewater passed for 249 yards and a touchdown. And the Broncos defense held one of the NFL’s best offenses scoreless for three quarters. This was a Denver team playing at the peak of their game.
“That was the most surprising, aside from Buffalo losing in Jacksonville,” Hartstein noted. “We had two double-digit underdogs win outright. That hadn’t happened in about two years. It’s hard to back the Broncos. Usually you don’t want to back a team coming off the very top of the market. Is there any way they can possibly play any better?”
A win over the Eagles would give the Broncos a sweep of the NFC East. And the opportunity is certainly there.
“You get the Eagles coming in off of a loss,” Hartstein notes. “But as much as I want to lean towards the Eagles and the points… and the professionals have been on the Eagles a lot this year, believing they’re undervalued, they’ve played a tough schedule. They’re a little bit better there than their 3-6 record. This Eagles pass defense is so bad, and they are banged up. In fact, five times this season they’ve given up an 80 percent completion rate.”
Bridgewater is playing mistake-free football. He has a full complement of receivers at his disposal, along with a running game that can move the ball.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, November 14, 8:20 p.m.
The Chiefs have finally managed to climb above .500, which is a surprising thing to say about a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance last season. But it’s been a challenging season for Kansas City. The offense has been slow to get going, and the defense remains unable to stop pretty much anyone.
Lucky for them, the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers last week. So it didn’t take an exceptional performance on either side of the ball to eke out a 13-7 win.
“The Chiefs’ offense has struggled,” Hartstein pointed out. “In fact, each week they’re getting less and less efficient. They’re down to 11th in terms of the advanced metric called EPA per play. They were first after Week 4. Now they’re all the way down to 11th. But, that said, the defense is starting to play better.”
The Raiders have faced their own challenges, mostly off the field, with the resignation of Jon Gruden and the waiving of Henry Ruggs. In the standings, the Raiders sit at 5-3, and on the field, they’ve been solid. Their defense is a top-10 unit in terms of yardage, and even better against the pass. The offense also excels in the passing game behind Derek Carr, putting up 305.1 yards per game, second-best in the NFL.
Las Vegas is coming off a loss to the New York Giants. “The Raiders actually played pretty well against the Giants,” Harstein noted. “They were terrible in the red zone. There was a coaching mistake where they should have gone for it on fourth down. But the Raiders do look like they’re in a little bit better current form.”
And then there’s the division rivalry between these two teams. “This is a shocking spread to see,” Hartstein said. “You look back at the last six matchups, and the Chiefs have been favored by at least a touchdown every time, including double-digits four times.”
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