Going into the season, every division except one had an overwhelming favorite, and together they formed an elite corps of Super Bowl contenders. But there was head-scratching all around in the AFC West.
So where are we now? The Chargers are still looking for their first win. The Seahawks (2-4) are fading fast, but they almost nailed the Chiefs in Arrowhead. The Broncos (3-3) have been up and down, but they handed the Raiders their only loss, and it was in Oakland. The Chiefs (3-2) have won three straight, but except for the win over San Diego, nothing has been easy. Finally we come to the Raiders (4-1), who seemed to have Sunday's windblown overtime game in San Francisco wrapped up, almost lost it, then finally won it. Whew. Now they visit Arrowhead in an attempt to seize control of the division.
Last year's Oakland-K.C. games were stirring indeed. In the first one the Chiefs piled up 17 third-quarter points to win 37-34. The Raiders returned the favor in Arrowhead, where they'd lost 11 straight, knocking the Chiefs out of the playoffs with a 41-38 victory. I'm sure Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham won't let his troops forget that defeat this week.
I like the Raiders, even though their top draft pick, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who was going to solve all their problems, has struggled from the outset and missed the potential game winner on Sunday; even though their defense tired badly; and even though their quarterback, Rich Gannon, showed signs of wildness. I think Oakland will run the ball on K.C., just as Seattle did, and the Raiders' defense will generate some real heat.
Do you believe New England has turned the corner by virtue of its win over Indy? The Patriots' last six trips inside the red zone have produced five touchdowns and a field goal. I think they've regained their scoring punch, and with Vinny Testaverde ailing, I like the Pats over the Jets. The 49ers are another club on the rebound, particularly their defense, and they catch the Packers at a good time. Normally you'd go with Brett Favre over that young secondary, but the Pack is too banged up. One vote for San Francisco.
Indianapolis, which got a lesson in defensive wizardry on Sunday, will bounce back against Seattle. Carolina put up big numbers against the Seahawks, but somehow I don't see it happening this week in the Superdome. New Orleans is the pick.
We have action at the genius level when Norv Turner's Washington offense meets Marvin Lewis's Baltimore defense. But you never know what the Ravens' offense is going to look like, and if it's anything like that thing we saw against Jacksonville, you've got to like the Skins. Hey, I do like the Skins. Philly, wild and a bit out of control at times, will visit the desert and hang one on Arizona. Dallas is coming off its bye week, but guess what? Teams coming back from byes have dropped six of 11 this season. Make it seven of 12. The Giants are the choice.
Finally, I suppose I have to pick the Jacksonville-Tennessee Monday-nighter. I'd give the Jaguars a chance, on emotion or desperation or something, if their offensive line were in decent shape. It's not. The Titans are the pick.