The most prestigious and interesting division in the NFL is the AFC West, where every team has a winning record. Going into last weekend, the division boasted the league's only two undefeated teams, Oakland and San Diego, and on Sunday the Chargers were knocked off by Denver, another AFC West squad. As for 3-2 Kansas City, well, the Chiefs are the second-highest-scoring team in the league, behind the Raiders, the NFL's crown jewel right now. That's not bad for a division that secured only one of the AFC's 12 wild-card spots over the past four years.
Two of the best games on the board this week involve AFC West teams, and I'm not counting Oakland- St. Louis, which looked so inviting when the schedule came out but now seems like just another chapter in the sad saga of the 2002 Rams. The two games that catch my eye are Miami at Denver and K.C. at San Diego. On Sunday the Dolphins got their pass rush going and hammered the Patriots' Tom Brady into one of the worst afternoons in his young career. Miami played more zone, swarmed to the ball—did everything it had failed to do in that dismal outing against the Chiefs the previous week.
But just as impressive was the way Denver took apart San Diego, smothering its pass rush and getting a big league performance from Brian Griese, who's been yelled at by the coaches, nearly benched and even tripped by his dog. Against the Chargers, the Broncos unveiled the latest in their long line of running backs in rookie Clinton Portis. Fumbles in the preseason put Portis in Mike Shanahan's doghouse, but feeling that more zip was needed in the offense, he gave the kid a start against San Diego. The result was dazzling: Portis ran for 102 yards and caught a touchdown pass.
Who is he like? Well, Charlie Garner comes to mind. Portis hits the creases and makes quick, decisive cuts. He can run with power, too, and he can catch the ball. In short, he's a complete package. I think he'll make the difference against the Dolphins, so I give Denver the win.
? San Diego bounces back to defeat Kansas City. Everyone moves the ball on the Chiefs, but K.C. usually outscores 'em. I don't think that will happen this time, even if linebacker Junior Seau (sprained left ankle) isn't around to keep Priest Holmes under control.
?The Patriots' ship is springing leaks. Two weeks ago it was the defense. Last week it was the offensive line that got overrun. I think New England will get it together, though, and beat Green Bay.
? Michael Vick got stuffed by the Bucs on Sunday, and his nonthrowing shoulder is ailing. Now the Falcons face the Giants, another team that can put a nasty defense on the field. Call it a win for New York.
?What's the story in Jacksonville? Well, people are healthy, for one thing. I give the Jaguars the win in Tennessee, even though they've dropped their last three there. You can never picture Baltimore's Ray Lewis getting hurt, but he wasn't on the field (left shoulder injury) on Sunday night when the Browns nearly pulled out the game. If Lewis plays, I'll take the Ravens in an upset at Indy. If not, the Colts win it.
? Seattle is a tough place to play, especially with the crowd stoked for a Monday-nighter, but the 49ers will beat the Seahawks. Carolina is the pick in a mini upset in Dallas, and New Orleans wins a shootout in Washington. Tampa Bay's defense, which is getting ferocious again, leads the Bucs over Cleveland, and I've saved the best for last. My two upset specials: the Lions over the Vikings, and—imagine this—the Bengals to make things even tougher for the Steelers, whose defense has gone south.