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Around the AFC West: Pivotal games loom down the stretch

(Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

The Broncos started rookie quarterback Drew Lock last week and he helped them get the win in Week 13. There is a sense of excitement around this team that simply hasn’t existed most of the 2019 season.

With Lock leading the way, Broncos fans are excited to see what this team can do over the final month of the regular season. Sure, they’re not going to the playoffs, but people are really interested to see whether or not Lock could be this team’s long-desired franchise quarterback.

This division has two teams that could make the postseason. The conference is getting a bit tougher as the season has gone on, and there will be some key games left for the Broncos main opponents.

Let’s take a spin around the AFC West to see what the competition is up to.

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Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have a large task in front of them in Week 14. They travel to play the Patriots in what is a battle between two AFC powerhouse teams with eyes on making a Super Bowl run. The Patriots aren’t quite what they used to be and they are coming off a loss last week to the Texans, but they are still incredibly tough to beat at home – especially in the month of December.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is going to draw up an interesting game plan to stop Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs offense. That plan may first include a way to slow down star wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

Last year, the Patriots held Hill to one catch for 42 yards on three targets in the AFC Championship Game. In addition to slowing down Hill, the Patriots may put cornerback Stephon Gilmore on superstar tight end Travis Kelce.

The Chiefs will be dealing with a new rotation at the running back position on Sunday. Earlier this week, they placed running back Darrell Williams on Injured Reserve due to a hamstring injury. Starting running back Damien Williams is also unlikely to play in Week 14 due to a ribs injury. That means veteran LeSean McCoy will be the lead back, even though the Chiefs may limit him to around 12-15 touches against the Patriots. They have rookie Darwin Thompson who could play a change-of-pace role, and earlier this week the Chiefs brought back veteran Spencer Ware.

The Patriots are going to try their hardest to slow down the Chiefs passing attack, so if they can run the ball successfully with this new combination it will greatly help their efforts to come out victorious on Sunday.

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Los Angeles Chargers

There is still some fight left in the Chargers even though their 2019 season has gone off track. That fight has to be credited first and foremost to head coach Anthony Lynn. With head coaches like Ron Rivera (Carolina) getting fired, it’s that time of year when everyone starts predicting which coaches are on the hot seat. There is no doubt that Lynn is on the hot seat, although I believe the Chargers should keep him around so they can continue to build the roster the right way.

They might be looking for a quarterback of the future in the very near future. Philip Rivers is not the player he used to be, but he did perform better against the Broncos last week. Rivers had been a turnover machine in the two previous games and he did throw one interception against the Broncos in Week 13. Tyrod Taylor is the primary backup to Rivers, and he’s got plenty of starting experience in the NFL.

While Rivers is set to be a free agent in 2020, Taylor is under contract through the 2020 season. Perhaps they will see what Taylor can do as the starter over the next few weeks.

Colorado native Austin Ekeler scored his 10th touchdown of the 2019 season last week against the Broncos. Ekeler grew up in Eaton, Colo., and played his college ball up in Gunnison at Western State University. He’s a great player to follow and it’s a fantastic story that Colorado high school football once featured future NFL running backs like Ekeler, Phillip Lindsay and Christian McCaffrey.

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Oakland Raiders

The Raiders were boat-raced by the Chiefs last week. On Sunday, they’ll try to get things back on track against one of the hottest teams in the league – the Titans.

During the last two weeks, the Raiders haven’t even been in the game. They lost on the road to the New York Jets in Week 12 by a score of 34-3 and they lost on the road to the Chiefs in Week 13 by a score of 40-9.

They are back home for one of their two final regular season games in Oakland. The Raiders have a 6-6 record and it looks like the playoffs may elude them this season. They are facing a Titans team that has won five out of the last six games since they switched starting quarterbacks.

Ryan Tannehill first entered the game against the Broncos back in Week 6, but he could not pull them out of the loss. Since then, Tannehill has played some great football and has led the team to quality wins over teams like the Chiefs and the Colts.

Tannehill is having a rejuvenation of his career since things fell apart for the 2012 first-round pick with the Miami Dolphins. It greatly helps the veteran quarterback to have a star running back like Derrick Henry running the rock. The Raiders have a fairly strong rush defense (currently No. 11 in the league), but they will have to hold up under a heavy dose of Henry on Sunday.