- The AFC West will be a dogfight, and the Raiders have little chance of winning the division without QB Derek Carr under center.
Three thoughts from the Broncos’ 16-10 win over the Raiders.
1. We’re on Derek Carr watch. The Raiders know what life looks like without Carr, and it isn’t pretty. Oakland’s renaissance 2016 season came to an abrupt end after Carr broke his leg at the end of the regular season; Oakland had already clinched a playoff berth at that point, but stood little chance in their wild-card game against the Texans.
Carr left in the third quarter of the Raiders’ loss to the Broncos on Sunday after taking on awkward hit in the backfield. The Raiders labeled the injury as back spasms, and Carr was unable to return to the game, leaving the offense in the hands of E.J. Manuel. Carr didn’t look to be in serious pain when he walked to the locker room, but there won’t be any telling how serious the injury is until the team evaluates it further early this week. Given the strength of the AFC West, the Raiders could be in serious trouble if Carr is forced to miss multiple weeks.
2. Denver’s defense is the class of the league. The Broncos entered Week 4 allowing a league-best 263 yards per game, and they improved that number by holding the Raiders to 251 yards. Denver wasn’t much better offensively, totaling just 298 yards, but they were in complete control of the game. They had the ball for more than 60% of the time, won the turnover battle, held the Raiders to 11 first downs and 4.6 yards per play, and led from wire to wire. The defense has held three of its four opponents to 21 points or fewer, keeping offenses led by Philip Rivers, Dak Prescott and Carr in check. The team will a need more consistent offense to stick with the Chiefs and Raiders in the loaded AFC West, but their defense will have them in the playoff hunt all season.
3. Every AFC West divisional game will be a must-watch. The Chiefs are 3-0 and host the Redskins on Monday Night Football. The Raiders moved to 3-1 with the win over the Raiders, while the visitors fell to 2-2. The Chargers, after losing at home to the Eagles, are one of the most dangerous 0-4 teams in recent memory. Assuming Carr doesn’t miss too much time, the top-three teams in the AFC West are all threats to win the division. That will make any time two of them get together appointment television with playoff implications. The Broncos are 2-0 in the division, with wins over the Raiders and Chargers. The first-place Chiefs have yet to play the Broncos or Raiders, but they own possibly the most impressive win in the division, their Week 1 42-27 thrashing of the Patriots. The Raiders loss to the Broncos on Sunday was their first division game of the season. The way these three teams perform in their remaining division games could determine who wins the AFC West, who gets a wild card spot, and who falls short of the playoffs.