Are the Broncos contenders in the AFC West following win over Dallas?

Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws on the run for a two point conversion in the fourth quarter against Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) at AT&T Stadium.
Nov 7, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws on the run for a two point conversion in the fourth quarter against Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago, the Broncos’ standing in the AFC West looked hopeless. It seemed like they would be doomed to the cellar of the division once again, and like wins would be few and far between.

Now, they feel right in the hunt, as they ride a two-game win streak and are only half a game back of the division lead.

How do they stack up to the rest of the division as of now? Let’s look.

1. Los Angeles Chargers

With the AFC West presently feeling like such a mess, you could feasibly rank these four teams in just about any order you’d like, but the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 1 feels right.

For starters, they have the best record in the division at 5-3, with every other AFC west foe stuck at 5-4. The Chargers also had the best week of any AFC West team not named the Broncos. Most importantly though, is the fact that the Chargers hold the head-to-head record over the Raiders and Chiefs already.

Now, although they’ve somewhat righted the ship against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, it was a pretty unconvincing win that leaves the Chargers still looking pretty vulnerable.

Their defense has quite a few problems. In EPA (expected points added), it ranks 25th overall, 18th against the pass and 31st against the run. DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) is more friendly to the Chargers defense, but still isn’t impressed, ranking them as the 12th-best defense overall and 32nd against the run.

After a strong start, the offensive line has deteriorated. They now rank among the bottom 10 teams in the league in both pass-block win-rate and run-block win-rate.

Pair those two large problems with the fact, while still very good, Justin Herbert isn’t playing like the elite game-wrecker he was earlier in the season, and the Bolts are nowhere near the juggernaut they appeared to be in September.

2. Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders probably have the greatest range of any team in regard to where they could be ranked in a power ranking.

Last week they were the No. 1 team here, and with good reason. They seemed improved under interim head coach Rich Bisaccia as they claimed two large victories over the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles before entering the bye. The offense was firing on all cylinders and the defense has gone from being one of the league’s most embarrassing, to one of the league’s most respectable units.

However since then, we’ve witnessed the fallout of two more large Raiders scandals (on top of the already existing Gruden scandal), these scandals appear to have a sizable on-field impact, and that impact helped the Raiders lose to the putrid Giants.

Damon Arnette wasn’t a fantastic player, so his scandal and subsequent release from the team will be less damaging, but against the Giants, it became clear that the Raiders are going to miss Henry Ruggs.

Ruggs was breaking out this season and proving himself as a high-level field-stretching threat. Now, the Raiders are without that element entirely.

Remember what happened to the Broncos’ offense when they were down both Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler? The Raiders now find themselves in a similar jam, except for them, there’s no way out.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

What is wrong with the Kansas City Chiefs?

The AFC’s powers are so flawed and there are so many teams in the middle that the Chiefs definitely still have time to get back on track, but Chiefs Kingdom should be worried at this point.

The positive news is that the defense has started to play better and no longer is the laughing stock of the league and that they beat the Packers at home this week.

The bad news is that the offense and Patrick Mahomes have regressed to a point this columnist did not believe to be possible for them. Defenses have so effectively taken away the explosive plays from the Chiefs’ offense, that Patrick Mahomes has to consistently through behind the line or dink-and-dunk down the field, which he isn’t great at doing.

Against the Giants, Mahomes completed 15 balls behind the line of scrimmage, the most of any quarterback in a single game this season. Against the Packers, Mahomes averaged under five yards per attempt, placing him in what has been dubbed “The Blaine Gabbert Zone”. Generating just 166 yards and a touchdown on 40 dropbacks is pretty poor, and exceptionally odd for Mahomes.

Over the last two weeks, Mahomes ranks 27th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks in EPA/play and EPA+CPOE composite, and 26th in CPOE. That’s dismal.

4. Denver Broncos

It’s disappointing to see the Broncos ranked last yet again, especially considering they had the best week of any AFC West team by far. If the Broncos can prove that their performance against the Cowboys wasn’t entirely a mirage this week, with the Philadelphia Eagles coming to town, they’ll climb up this list.

However, one has to wonder if this was nothing more than just that — a mirage.

This team looked beyond-flat for five straight weeks. They played uninspired football, and a defense that ranked among the elite units in terms of talent and investments, and that was supposed to be the identity of this team looked like one of the worst units in football.

Then, against the Cowboys, the entire team was fired up, and the defense looked like a deadly unit that should strike fear into its opponents.

Which Broncos are the real Broncos? It’s an important question and one no one will have the answer to until Denver plays Philly this week.

If the former Broncos are the real Broncos, they’ll be fairly lucky to win a game the rest of the way and will easily maintain their spot in the cellar of the division. If the latter Broncos are the real Broncos, they might suddenly become the favorites to win this division, and they’ll have the look of a scary playoff-berserker.

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