AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
The AFC West is the NFL’s version of a great movie trailer that gets everyone excited, only to be disappointed once the movie starts. Expectations can ruin the actual experience.
An alleged arms race took place this offseason. The Las Vegas Raiders traded for Davante Adams and signed Chandler Jones as a free agent. The Los Angeles Chargers brought in Khalil Mack and JC Jackson and strengthened their previously soft defensive interior.
The Kansas City Chiefs passed on the likes of Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu, but made sure to beef up the defense with first-round draft picks Trent McDuffie and George Karlaftis. Arguably the Denver Broncos made the biggest move by acquiring future Hall of Fame quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks.
The Broncos’ atrocious 11-10 victory on Sunday against the Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco 49ers provided the perfect ending to a terrible day for the division.
Yes, a win is a win. But not all victories are the same. And not all wins are good wins.
Denver played terribly all night. Garoppolo’s futility allowed the Broncos to get away with an undeserved victory, which is becoming a regular occurrence against mediocre competition.
Last week, the Broncos trailed the Houston Texans by three points before the fourth quarter. The Texans are one of two winless teams currently in the league.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are dealing with the fact that they are now starting the quarterback they wanted to get rid of but had no better option than to cut his salary and have him as a backup.
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett (Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
To underscore just how poorly Denver’s offense played on Sunday, the team went three and out nine different times, which is the most by a Wilson-led offense during the quarterback’s 11-year career.
During the team’s starting 11 drives, Wilson averaged a rotten 5.4 passing yards per attempt, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. In all, the team has converted one of seven trips to the red zone into a touchdown so far this season.
To be fair, some of the old quarterback magic showed up with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. With 10:12 left and down five points, Wilson completed 5 of 7 passes and created with his legs to avoid pressure and rack up 12 yards on a crucial third-and-6 at the San Francisco 36-yard line.
Still, the sight of erratic shooting, miscommunication on routes and an inability to properly block the 49ers’ defensive front shows just how disjointed Denver’s offense is right now.
“We’re all still learning from each other,” Wilson told reporters. “We’re so close. I’ve been a part of some good offenses, and I think we have a chance to be really great. … I’m excited because I can feel it, it’s all so close.” And once we do that, with our defense, I think we’re going to be unstoppable. We have a chance.”
A 2-1 record keeps the Broncos in lockstep with the Kansas City Chiefs atop the AFC West. The current ranking is more an indictment of both teams than a reflection of quality performances.
Against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Kansas City found a way to lose. The Colts couldn’t get their offense on track for most of the day. The Chiefs did an excellent job of confusing veteran quarterback Matt Ryan and his highly paid offensive line throughout the contest. Kansas City created multiple free runs on Ryan to disrupt Indianapolis’ game plan.
However, a missed field goal, a 15-yard pass unsportsmanlike penalty on defensive lineman Chris Jones after a successful third-down stoppage, and an interception by Patrick Mahomes led to the Colts’ comeback. All this happened after a minor feud on the sidelines between quarterback and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)
Ultimately, it’s the little things. The Chiefs are still adjusting to their new offensive setup, and Mahomes took the blame for the loss on his post-match press conference.
“We’ve got to all fit together. It starts with me. There were certain throws I was making to the back of guys’ hips instead of in front of him. There were certain situations where we were just barely out of place. … When you’re playing a tough game like that, you’ve got to execute at a higher level and we’ve got to learn from that. Our schedule doesn’t get any easier. We’ve got a tough game on Sunday (against) Tampa next week with a great defense, so we have to improve quickly. And if we don’t, we don’t want these (losses) to start piling up. We want to make sure we get back on the winning train.”
Meanwhile, the Chargers are dealing with multiple key injuries. Defensive end Joey Bosa did not return during Los Angeles’ 38-10 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars after suffering from a groin injury. Left tackle Rashawn Slater injured his biceps. Quarterback Justin Herbert is already playing fractured rib cartilage.
“I just didn’t want to give up the team,” Herbert told reporters after the decisive defeat.
Center Corey Linsley (knee), wide receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring) and cornerback JC Jackson (knee) didn’t even play in the contest.
The availability and quality of depth play a big role in how successful a team can be. If your best players aren’t in good health or don’t play well, expectations should be tempered.
Lastly, the Las Vegas Raiders are allowed to have some hope, even though they are the only team to start 0-3 this season. Sunday’s performance within his division makes it possible to climb back into the race.
Granted, the Chiefs and Broncos are already two games up. Six teams during the Super Bowl era made the playoffs after starting 0-3, according to the Associated Press. Josh Dubow.
Quarterback Derek Carr even hinted that certain individuals need to be better in practice during his postgame news conference.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
“You do your best to do it the right way in practice, and if you don’t do it right in practice, then you can’t expect it to go right in the game,” Carr. said. “We have to look at that, each man as an individual and say, ‘Okay, so I’ve got to get better at this, this and this.'”
The rest of the AFC sees the Miami Dolphins in the lead with a 3-0 record. The Buffalo Bills may have fallen short against their division rival this weekend, but they are clearly one of the best in the league.
Lamar Jackson has returned to his MVP form during the Baltimore Ravens’ 2-1 start. Jacksonville is much tougher than expected, with a true pro now leading the team in head coach Doug Pederson.
A weak first act can be saved by a strong ending. Even after a rocky start, the AFC West shouldn’t completely fall apart. Expectations simply need to be adjusted. Maybe the split wasn’t as good as everyone originally projected.
Even so, the eventual winner may still have their ending made for the movie.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.