AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
The AFC West is the NFL’s version of a great movie trailer that gets everyone excited, only to be disappointed once the film begins. Expectations can ruin the actual experience.
A supposed arms race took place this offseason. The Las Vegas Raiders traded for Davante Adams and signed Chandler Jones as a free agent. The Los Angeles Chargers brought in Khalil Mack and JC Jackson and fortified their previously soft defensive interior.
The Kansas City Chiefs moved on from the likes of Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu but made sure to beef up the defense with the first-round draft selections of Trent McDuffie and George Karlaftis. The Denver Broncos’ made arguably the biggest move by acquiring future Hall of Fame quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks.
The Broncos’ appalling 11-10 victory Sunday against the Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco 49ers provided the perfect ending to an awful day for the division.
Yes, a win is a win. But not all wins are the same. And not all wins are good wins.
Denver played terribly throughout the night. Garoppolo’s futility allowed the Broncos to escape with an underserved victory, which is becoming a regular occurrence against subpar competition.
Last week, the Broncos trailed the Houston Texans by three points entering the fourth quarter. The Texans are one of two winless teams currently found around the league.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are dealing with the fact they’re now starting the quarterback they wanted to rid themselves of but didn’t have a better option other than cutting his salary and having him serve as a backup.
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett (Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
To underline how poorly Denver’s offense played Sunday, the team went three-and-out on nine different occasions, which is the most by a Wilson-led offense during the quarterback’s 11-year career.
During the team’s initial 11 drives, Wilson averaged a putrid 5.4 air yards per attempt, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. In total, the team has converted one of seven red zone trips into a touchdown so far this season.
In all fairness, some of the quarterback’s old magic appeared with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. With 10:12 left to play and down five points, Wilson completed five of seven passes and created with his legs to avoid pressure and pick up 12 yards on a crucial 3rd-and-6 at San Francisco’s 36-yard line.
Even so, the sight of errant throws, miscommunication on routes and an inability to properly block the 49ers’ defensive front shows how disjointed the Denver offense is at the moment.
“We’re still all learning each other,” Wilson told reporters. “We’re so close. I’ve been a part of some good offenses, and I think we have a chance to be really, really great … I’m excited because I can feel it—everything is just that close. And once we do, with our defense, we’re going to be unstoppable, I think. We’ve got a chance.”
A 2-1 record keeps the Broncos stride-for-stride with the Kansas City Chiefs atop the AFC West. The current standings are more of an indictment of both teams than a reflection of quality performances.
Against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Kansas City found a way to lose. The Colts couldn’t get their offense on track for most of the day. The Chiefs did an excellent job of confusing veteran quarterback Matt Ryan and his highly paid offensive line throughout the contest. Kansas City created multiple free runs at Ryan to disrupt Indianapolis’ game plan.
Yet a missed field goal, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on defensive lineman Chris Jones after a successful third-down stop, and a Patrick Mahomes interception led to the Colts’ comeback victory. All of this occurred after a minor sideline dustup between the quarterback and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)
Ultimately, it’s the little things. The Chiefs are still easing into their new offensive setup, and Mahomes took the blame for the loss in his postgame press conference.
“We’ve got to gel all together. It starts with me. There were certain throws I was putting on guys’ back hips instead of in front of him. There were certain situations where we were just barely off of it … Whenever We have a hard game Sunday (against) Tampa next week with a great defense, so And if we don’t, we don’t want these (losses) to start piling up. We want to make sure we get back on that winning train.”
Meanwhile, the Chargers are dealing with multiple key injuries. Defensive end Joey Bosa didn’t return during Los Angeles’ 38-10 thumping at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars after suffering a groin injury. Left tackle Rashawn Slater injured his biceps. Quarterback Justin Herbert is already playing through fractured rib cartilage.
“I just didn’t want to quit on the team,” Herbert told reporters after the decisive loss.
Center Corey Linsley (knee), wide receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring) and cornerback JC Jackson (knee) didn’t even play in the contest.
Availability and quality of depth play big parts in how successful a team can be. If its top performers aren’t healthy or not playing well, expectations must be tempered.
Lastly, the Las Vegas Raiders are allowed to have some hope, even though they’re the only team to start 0-3 this season. Sunday’s performance within their division makes it possible to climb back into the race.
Granted, the Chiefs and Broncos are already two games ahead. Six teams during the Super Bowl era have made the playoffs after starting 0-3, according to the Associated Press’ Josh Dubov.
Quarterback Derek Carr even insinuated certain individuals must be better in practice during his postgame press conference.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
“You try your best to do it the right way in practice, and if you don’t do it right in practice, then you can’t expect it to go right in the game,” Carr said. “We’ve got to look at that, each man as an individual and say, ‘OK then, I’ve got to get better at this, this, and this.'”
The rest of the AFC sees the Miami Dolphins leading the way with a 3-0 record. The Buffalo Bills may have come up short against their division rival this weekend, but they’re clearly one of the league’s best.
Lamar Jackson is back to MVP form during the Baltimore Ravens’ 2-1 start. Jacksonville is much tougher than expected, with a true professional now leading the team in head coach Doug Pederson.
A weak first act can be saved by a strong finish. Even after a rough start, the AFC West shouldn’t fall completely apart. Expectations simply need to be adjusted. Maybe the division wasn’t as good as everyone originally projected.
Even so, the eventual winner can still have its made-for-movie ending.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.
#Russell #Wilson #Bad #Broncos #Remain #Contenders #Shocking #Start #AFC #West