Coming into Week 9 play, there is a three-way tie atop the AFC West. The Chiefs and Raiders are both playing winnable games, but the Chargers have to host the NFL's best team, the Green Bay Packers, to keep pace in the division. Let's take a look at what the Raiders' rivals are facing on Sunday.
Dolphins @ Chiefs: Upon first glance, one might think that going to Arrowhead Stadium would be a huge disadvantage for the Dolphins but we must remember they have not won at home in nearly a year, dropping their last seven regular season games at home. The Dolphins have not won this year but have not been getting blown out by any means; they have lost their last two games by a combined total of six points. They have a good defense, but they tend to choke away games and find ways to narrowly lose. Usually this sort of thing can be attributed to quarterback play, and while Matt Moore has been serviceable he isn't in the top half of NFL quarterbacks.
The Chiefs are on fire after a dreadful start to the season which saw them lose their two best players, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles, in successive weeks. This caused plenty of panic amongst the Chief faithful, but the team has rallied and put up some stellar defensive efforts to bring their record to 4-3. Matt Cassel has been efficient, Dwayne Bowe is his usual dependable self, and Jackie Battle has been a steady force in the rushing game, although he lacks the game-breaking abilities of Charles. This team is now built upon pass rushing and ball control.
Miami's offensive line has been dreadful, giving up 22 sacks in seven games thus far. Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson should have no trouble harassing Matt Moore and forcing turnovers. However, Miami's defense can also be stout at times and should keep the game respectable. My prediction for the game is Chiefs by six points.
Packers @ Chargers: The Chargers limp into this game having dropped their last two, at home vs. the Jets and on the road vs. the Chiefs. Philip Rivers has taken a definite step back this year, playing more erratically as the defense is unable to keep the team in games and Rivers is forced to try to win them on his arm. The running game has taken a step forward this year with Ryan Mathews living up to some of his hype coming out of college, but the Chargers don't run nearly enough. I can't really fault them for that, with Rivers and Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson all being top-flight offensive weapons.
I feel more balance would be appropriate for the Chargers, but I don't have much faith in Norv Turner's ability to implement such a system if his defense continues to struggle. Norv Turner was Dallas' offensive coordinator during the Aikman Super Bowl years in which that team did have a balanced attack, but his running back then was Emmitt Smith and his offensive line was the greatest the NFL has ever seen, not to mention the fact that Dallas' defense was very good.
The Packers are clearly the best team in football, with the best quarterback alive at the helm and a defense that forces turnovers consistently. Their running game is underrated, but the Packers have a relatively small offensive line which isn't best suited for run blocking. They use the rush as a counter-balance to keep the defense honest, with the goal of keeping linebackers in the box so that Jermichael Finley can get open downfield. The Chargers have the secondary to cover Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, but they have absolutely nobody who is a match for Finley. Randall Cobb is also a weapon for them and may have some success if the secondary keys in on Jennings.
This game features the NFL's co-interception leaders, Eric Weddle and Charles Woodson, so this game could be a shootout decided by a key turnover in the fourth quarter. If there's any quarterback who can win a shootout against the Packers, it may be Rivers, but in the end I feel the Packers will have too much success throwing the football for the Chargers to overcome. Packers by nine points.