The San Diego Chargers are clearly the cream of the AFC West crop, but that didn’t prevent the Kansas City Chiefs from edging the Bolts to win the division in 2010.
In 2011, the Chiefs have fallen off a cliff and the Broncos remain weak. That leaves the Oakland Raiders as the sole team with a chance to once again slay the Chargers to steal the division crown. And their head coach is confident that they can pull it off.
“I expected to be 4-0,” [Hue] Jackson said. “I really did. I’m not going to back off of that, and we’re not. We’re 2-2, so I’m disappointed but not discouraged because I know what’s in the locker room. I’ve said this before: I have to keep coaching and keep pushing and keep grinding on these players. And these players have to keep responding, and they’ve responded every time I’ve asked them to. Maybe not as fast as I want them to, maybe not as fast as everybody wants them to, but I know the message is there, and it’s clear.
“And I think they know what needs to happen, and I trust them that they will get it done. We have a great group of leaders in that room. I call on them, and I call on the rest of our football team and our coaching staff. We’re not backing down from what the expectation is here by no stretch of the imagination. It’s not going to change. We’re going to win the AFC West. We’re going to do everything we can to get in the playoffs and go challenge for a Super Bowl. I am not backing down from that.”
The Raiders have been good. They outplayed the 3-1 Bills on the road, and their only other loss came against the Patriots. They took care of the Broncos on the road to start the season (which isn’t as easy as it may sound) and dominated the Jets.
Jackson’s confident because Darren McFadden has emerged as the game’s hottest back, his front seven has been getting tons of pressure to mask the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha and his offensive line has performed better than any unit in the league, with a league-low two sacks allowed and a league-high 5.6 yards per carry.
San Diego has more talent than Oakland, but the Chargers have developed a reputation for making stupid mistakes. Philip Rivers has already thrown a league-high six picks and the Bolts have a minus-4 turnover ratio despite their 3-1 record.
And don’t forget that the Raiders swept San Diego in their season series in 2010, outscoring San Diego 63-40 in their two matchups.
If they can do that again in 2011, there’s a good chance Jackson’s prophecy comes true.