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Archive for Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Things far from settled in AFC West

December 21, 2011

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’Tis not the season.

Not even close.

With two weeks remaining on the NFL schedule, the playoff picture is still ridiculously murky, especially in the AFC West, where each of the four teams — the Broncos, Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs — are all still eligible to win the division. There are also plenty of undetermined wild card possibilities.

In San Diego, coach Norv Turner and his players are keeping their calculators holstered, though, knowing that their best chance to sneak into the mix is by winning their final two games, at Detroit and Oakland.

“I’d love to talk to you all day about it but we’re going to get back up and look at tape of Detroit,” Turner told reporters Monday. “I know that the only thing that matters to us is we’ve got to find a way to win this week. We’ll see what happens on the weekend, and then we’ve got to find a way to win when we go to Oakland.”

That the Chargers still have a postseason heartbeat is remarkable considering they lost six in a row from mid-October to November. But they kept their hopes flickering the last three weeks with victories over Jacksonville, Buffalo and Baltimore, all blowouts. They are tied in the division with the Raiders at 7-7. Denver leads at 8-6.

Key to San Diego’s revival is the play of quarterback Philip Rivers, who hasn’t had an interception in four games after being picked off 17 times in the first 10.

“The ball’s coming out extremely quick,” Turner said. “He’s not taking chances. If it’s not pretty clean, he’s getting the ball checked down.”

The addition of left tackle Jared Gaither has been a huge help for the Chargers. They signed him after he was cut by Kansas City at the end of November, and he has done an outstanding job filling in for injured Pro Bowl tackle Marcus McNeill.

Despite losing to New England on Sunday, Denver still has a one-game lead in the division and control of its own postseason destiny. The Broncos play at Buffalo on Saturday — 13 of this week’s games are on Christmas Eve — before finishing at home against Kansas City.

“We’re excited about where we’re at,” Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow said. “And we’re going to continue to be positive and stay motivated and just try to improve, like we’ve done every single day in practice.”

In Oakland, the Raiders are looking to bounce back from a 28-27 loss to Detroit — an especially painful defeat because they had a chance to pull even with Denver in the division.

“Three weeks ago we were 7-4 and feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said Monday, according to the Oakland Tribune, “and now all of a sudden we’ve gotten to .500, so that’s not where we want to be. But I think we understand the predicament that we have put ourselves in. So what we need to do is get the ship riding and go to Kansas City and play well.”

The Raiders play at Kansas City before returning home to play host to the Chargers in a finale.

“We’re not out of this thing yet,” Jackson said. “I still feel that way. This team’s going to fight.”

It’s clear that Kansas City has some fight left and can play with anyone. The Chiefs proved that Sunday with the biggest stunner of the week, knocking off undefeated Green Bay.

In last place at 6-8, the Chiefs are the longest shot to win the division. Then again, not many people picked them to beat the Packers.

Of course, interim Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel isn’t interested in looking back.

“You beat the Green Bay Packers and that was great, but now if you don’t prepare, if you don’t get ready to go, then we’ll lose to the Raiders,” he said. “Then everything we gained yesterday will go down the drain.”

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