(CBS Denver) -- It's been a surprising season in the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs, who have won the AFC the last two years, have just pulled themselves up to .500 after four early-season losses. That's good enough for a last-place tie with the Denver Broncos. Meanwhile, The Las Vegas Raiders, facing down another scandal, sit in first place. The Los Angeles Chargers came out of the gate strong but have slipped in recent weeks.
The Raiders and Chargers should be able to maintain their lead. Each face an inferior NFC East foe on the road this week. The Raiders play the New York Giants, and the Chargers play the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs host the Green Bay Packers in what might have seemed like a Super Bowl preview heading into the season. With Kansas City stumbling so far and Aaron Rodgers sitting this week, that's no longer the case. The Broncos head to Dallas to face the Cowboys.
CBS Denver sports anchor Michael Spencer looks at the four AFC West matchups in Week 9.
All times listed are Eastern.
Las Vegas Raiders @ New York Giants, Sunday, November 7 @ 1:00 p.m. on CBS
Amazingly, the Raiders lead the AFC West going into Week 9. A mediocre schedule has helped them jump out to a 5-2 record, with only their Week 1 win over the Baltimore Ravens standing out. But Derek Carr has been efficient and productive. In their last win over the Philadelphia Eagles, he went 31-34 for 323 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.
Off-the-field issues have been a major obstacle. The team was rocked by the Jon Gruden email scandal earlier in the season, forcing their head coach to resign. This week it was the release of wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, who was arrested on felony charges of driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in death and reckless driving.
The Raiders will be looking to overcome all the distractions. Coming off a bye week, they travel across the country to face a Giants team that can be dangerous, despite sitting at 2-6.
"Given the circumstances around Ruggs' release, I think it's absolutely going to have an impact on this Raiders football team," said Spencer. "You also look at the Raiders, they do not perform well coming off the bye historically. Over the last four years, they're 0-4 coming off the bye, and they've lost those games by an average of 20 points. Now yes, they have played against Andrew Luck, Tom Brady twice and Aaron Rodgers in those games. But this is again an early start time. A lot of drama in Vegas. A lot of off-the-field issues. I actually think the Giants could pull the upset in this one."
The Giants came very close to handing the Kansas City Chiefs another loss last week. They handled the Carolina Panthers the week before that. Turn around a couple more of their close early-season losses, and the conversation around this team changes. The Giants have the defense to stay close in this game. Whether their offense can put the ball in the end zone is a different question.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, November 7 @ 4:05 p.m. on CBS
The Eagles dominated the winless Detroit Lions in Week 9, 44-6, for their third win. Running backs Boston Scott and Jordan Howard each found the end zone twice, and quarterback Jalen Hurts led all rushers with 71 yards. The Eagles' passing game barely topped 100 yards, but that hardly mattered in this lopsided game. It will probably matter more this week.
The Eagles played really well last week," Spencer said. "But they also played the Detroit Lions, who are absolutely terrible. I think the Bolts are in for a bounce back this week after a loss against the Patriots. I will take Los Angeles to get the win. I think Philly is one of the worst teams in the NFL, if we're being honest and looking at this objectively. Don't let that Lions game fool you. They're still really bad. They still have a lot of issues. I'll gladly take the Chargers.
The Chargers are coming off a loss to the Patriots that saw quarterback Justin Herbert struggle for the second game in a row. He was 22-39 for 195 yards against the Baltimore Ravens before their bye and 18-35 for 223 yards last week. His pick-six in the fourth quarter, one of his two interceptions on the day, may have been the difference in the game.
The Chargers run defense gives up a league-worst 159.6 yards per game, even if they were a little better last week. At 4-3, the Bolts are just a game off of the division lead, even with their recent struggles. And the Eagles aren't likely to top 40 points most weeks.
Green Bay Packers @ Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, November 7 @ 4:25 p.m.
The Packers have jumped out to a 7-1 mark, most recently ending the Arizona Cardinals' undefeated season. But they will be without starting quarterback and defending NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers this week. Rodgers has tested positive for COVID. That means Jordan Love will be under center.
The Packers without Rodgers are a very different team. They'll have to rely a lot more on AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones out of the backfield. The pair has combined for 772 yards on the season, including 137 yards against the Cardinals. But a defense that doesn't have to contain Rodgers in the passing game can pay extra attention to the run.
The Chiefs, however, haven't been very successful on defense. Their defense allows 391.5 yards per game, among the worst in the NFL. In previous seasons, when Patrick Mahomes and the offense were clicking, that hasn't been a problem. But this season has been different. Mahomes is piling up the yards, but the wins aren't following. The Chiefs are 4-4 so far, with losses to the Ravens, Chargers, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans. A loss to any one of the league's better teams is to be expected during a season. Four losses at the season's midway point raises some questions.
According to Spencer, "Chiefs certainly have some warts, and I think they've been really the biggest surprise, in a negative way, in terms of teams in the NFL this season and how they have performed. But no Rogers no chance is the way that I look at this one for the Packers. I think this could maybe be the opportunity for a get-right game in Kansas City. Although it feels like we've been waiting for a get-right game. I think they have a lot of problems offensively and defensively there in Kansas City. But I don't think that they will have a problem beating a Green Bay Packers team with Jordan Love as their starting quarterback."
Denver Broncos @ Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, November 7 @ 1:00 p.m.
The Broncos ended a four-game win streak in Washington to pull back to .500 on the season. The good news is they're now tied with the Chiefs; the bad news is that both teams sit in the division cellar. And beating the now 2-6 Washington Football Team, behind an inconsistent offense and a terrible defense, is no great accomplishment.
A win this week in Dallas would be an accomplishment. The Cowboys, at 6-1, have a firm grip on the NFC East. They're coming off a 20-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings. With Dak Prescott sidelined, Cooper Rush passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns, going 24-40. When Prescott is in the lineup, the Cowboys are among the most dangerous offenses in the league. And the run game, behind Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard, can put up yards in bunches.
The Broncos will have to defend without Von Miller, who was shipped off to the Los Angeles Rams earlier in the week.
"Apparently it doesn't matter if it's Cooper Rush or Dak Prescott, the Cowboys still play really well," said Spencer. "I'm going to go with the Cowboys here. I think that the Broncos have had trouble stopping the run. I think that could be an issue yet again on Sunday. If D'Earnest Johnson can run over them the way that he did two weeks ago, what is Zeke Elliot going to do to them? You factor in the fact that Dak Prescott might play in this game. That Broncos secondary has not lived up to the billing so far this season. Offensively, they have struggled to really get anything going. I think the Cowboys come away with a win on Sunday no problem."
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