(Sports Network) - At this rate, Norv Turner and the San Diego Chargers might not have to wake up until some time after Thanksgiving.
As they sat home licking their wounds following a two-game losing streak, the Chargers watched as the first-place but free-falling Broncos (4-4) did them a favor with a 26-17 home loss to the Miami Dolphins.
And, in case the woeful Raiders (2-6) and Chiefs (1-7) were concerning to anyone, both were defeated again in Week 9, leaving idle San Diego in sole possession of second place in the AFC West.
Yes, as Week 9 drew to a close, one thing became crystal clear: they're 3-5 with problems, but the Chargers are also the team to beat in the AFC West.
Though Denver has a one-game edge in the division and owns a head-to-head win over San Diego, the Broncos have defensive deficiencies that simply don't look fixable. Denver was already a bad defensive football team before its only top- shelf player, Champ Bailey, was lost for at least a month with a groin problem, and before his brother, starting outside linebacker Boss Bailey, saw his season end due to a knee injury.
Now, Denver arguably has the worst defense in the league, and Jay Cutler's self-professed "better than Elway" arm hasn't been helping out by hurling six interceptions during the team's three-game losing streak.
Yet this is the team that ranks as the Chargers' only meaningful competition in the AFC West, raising the question of whether an 8-8 record or worse might be enough to win this division.
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Despite the struggles of Turner and company, 8-8 looks quite possible. The Chargers get the Chiefs twice (11/9, 12/14) and the Raiders (12/4) once more, and losing to either also-ran is highly unlikely for a team with so much talent. Scuffling and beatable Indianapolis (11/23), a surprising-but-young Atlanta team (11/30), and plummeting Denver (12/28) will all visit Qualcomm Stadium before all is said and done as well. Win all of the above, and the Chargers still have room to lose to superior Pittsburgh (11/6) and Tampa Bay (12/21) on the road.
Then, the question becomes: is it a dubious distinction to be regarded as the worst division-winner in NFL history? Are you happy because you did what you had to do and finished with a better record than all the others in your group, or are you embarrassed to wake up one January morning both mediocre and playoff-bound?
For the answer, you'd have to ask members of the 1985 Cleveland Browns. The Browns won the AFC Central with an 8-8 record in '85, the only division winner in the 88-year history of the league to finish .500 or worse. In Marty Schottenheimer's first full season as an NFL head coach, Cleveland was actually outscored, 294-287, over the course of its 16-game schedule, then was beaten by Miami (24-21) in the Divisional Playoff round.
But the point is that they got in, and as the recent champion Giants and Steelers have shown us, that's pretty much all that matters.
So, call the Chargers a first-half disappointment if you will, but don't do so without acknowledging they have the rest of the teams in the division right where they want them.
BRONCOS: Adding insult to injury given the state of their defense, some unrest has begun to creep in to Denver's formerly prolific offensive attack as well. Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who had his weakest outing of the season with two catches for 27 yards in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, expressed his dissatisfaction with the offensive approach following the defeat.
"I'm definitely disappointed, definitely frustrated, but it's part of the game," said Marshall, who also had a long touchdown catch called back due to a questionable pass interference call. "I was told you just got to deal with it, but when you get that opportunity, when you see one-high or Cover-1, everybody's got to be on the same page and the ball should come. But today it didn't come my way and we didn't get it done... When we got our opportunities, we didn't take advantage of it and the one we did, you see I made a play on it."
Marshall also saved some vitriol for the beleaguered defense, one that allowed Miami wideout Greg Camarillo to have a career day with 11 catches for 111 yards.
"If I was a receiver going against our defense and they're stacking the box and we're playing a one-high defense and eight in the box and the DBs are 10 yards off of me, I'm going to catch 10 to 12 balls a game [too]," said Marshall.
"I mean, I don't even know that receiver's name who caught all those balls. It's that simple. Tighten up the coverage and just play ball. It's real simple. They don't need to be 10 yards off. Tighten it up."
Marshall figures to get some more opportunities in Cleveland on Thursday night, as the Denver backfield is officially in shambles as well.
Michael Pittman (knee) and Andre Hall (hand) were both placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week, and Selvin Young remains questionable with a groin problem. Rookies Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis could see most of the time in the Denver backfield on Thursday.
Hillis, a seventh-round Draft choice out of Arkansas, broke out with seven catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against Miami.
CHIEFS: Though they've nearly pulled out victories in each of the last two weeks, the Chiefs' narrow losses to the Jets (28-24) and Buccaneers (30-27 in overtime) have given Kansas City a 1-7 record that matches its worst first- half mark of all time.
Comparing the 2008 team with the only other Chiefs club to start 1-7 - the 1987 squad - will not fill Kansas City fans with a great deal of optimism. That Chiefs team failed to get well very quickly, finishing the strike-riddled '87 campaign at 4-11 before going a nearly-identical 4-11-1 in 1988.
It wasn't until 1989, when the Chiefs went 8-7-1 in their first year under Marty Schottenheimer, that things truly began to look up.
That said, the '87 team featured blossoming defensive players like Bill Maas, Deron Cherry, Albert Lewis, Kevin Ross, and Dino Hackett, figures that would play a major role in Kansas City's resurgence at the end of the decade.
Perhaps, current youngsters like Brandon Carr, Brandon Flowers, Glenn Dorsey, Turk McBride and Bernard Pollard can be compared to their '87 counterparts.
In addition, the quick turnarounds engineered by teams like the Dolphins and Falcons this season should give Herm Edwards' squad hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not, in fact, a train coming the other way.
"I think we're coming around as a team, we just need to learn to finish a little bit better," said McBride, who had six tackles and recovered a pair of fumbles against the Buccaneers.
"We just need to come around and focus a little bit harder. If we just learn how to finish and do what we have to do, including myself and everyone else on this team, we should be a team that a lot of people can't stop."
RAIDERS: No, Tom Walsh wasn't invited back to call the Raiders' plays this Sunday, though it sure looked like Oakland's vilified former offensive coordinator was in the building during the team's 24-0 home loss to the Falcons.
In all likelihood, you won't see a worse offensive display by an NFL team all season.
Just some of the chilling numbers:
-The Falcons outgained the Raiders, 453-77, including 220-31 in passing yards.
-Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell completed 6-of-19 passes for 31 yards with two turnovers and four sacks absorbed. Russell completed just one pass to a wide receiver all day, and his leading target was fullback Michael Bush (three receptions, 15 yards).
-The Raiders notched three first downs the entire day, while Atlanta recorded 30. The Silver and Black ran 34 offensive plays to the Falcons' 82. Oakland didn't have a first-down passing for the game, becoming the first team since the 2000 Cleveland Browns to pull off that feat.
-In time of possession, Atlanta had a scant 45:15 to 14:45 advantage.
-At the half, the Raiders had recorded minus-two offensive yards, becoming the first team since the 1992 Indianapolis Colts to go into halftime in the red. It wouldn't get much better for Oakland after the break.
"Quite simply, we just did not do anything in terms of what we were trying to do offensively," said interim head coach Tom Cable, who dropped to 1-3 since taking over from Lane Kiffin. It was not a very good effort today by the Oakland Raiders."