AFC West race involves four teams & appendix

Unlike its counterpart in the NFC, there is an interesting race shaping up for the AFC West title.  After the San Diego Chargers thrashed the Kansas City Chiefs 31-0 on Sunday, the Chiefs (8-5) now only hold a one-game lead over the Chargers (7-6).  The surprising Oakland Raiders sit just two games back with a 6-7 record, and still have a realistic shot at the title.

And what’s made this race so interesting in December?  Besides the usual late-season rally by Norv Turner’s squad, we can thank Matt Cassel’s appendix. The Chiefs quarterback underwent an emergency appendectomy last week and missed the Chargers game.  Backup Brody Croyle (he of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” fame) got the start, and the results speak for themselves.  Not the greatest time for an appendix to go.

Cassel practiced Wednesday, but his status for Sunday’s game against the Rams in St. Louis is uncertain.  Should he miss this game, the good news is that the Chiefs last two games are at home – against the struggling Titans and division rival Raiders.

All this makes for a compelling Thursday night game, as the Chargers host the San Francisco 49ers (who are still mathematically alive in the anemic NFC West race).  Just make sure to mute your TV – the banter between the NFL Network tandem Matt Millen and Joe Theisman is enough to kill brain cells.  After tonight’s game, the Bolts hit the road for their last two games – against the Bengals and Broncos; both winnable games.

And don’t count the Raiders out just yet either. While their road is tougher – home against the Broncos and Colts, then on the road at Arrowhead, if all three teams end up with 9-7 records, the Raiders, provided they beat the Chiefs, would win the tiebreakers. At the very least Tom Cable’s squad could play the role of spoiler.

Overall it’s been a rare good season for Raider fans: a potential 8-8 record, the emergence of Darren McFadden as an every-down running back, the development of Jason Campbell as a serviceable quarterback, a sweep of the hated Chargers and no assaults on fellow coaches by coach Cable.  Is Al Davis REALLY running this team?

Back to reality, if the Chiefs lose one of their remaining three games and the Chargers run the table, the Chargers would win the title based on two tiebreakers (better division record, better record against common opponents).

It all makes for an interesting race.  Regardless of who wins the AFC West, you should immediately jump on their bandwagon – their likely opponent in the Wild Card round could very well be the loquacious Rex Ryan and his lovable New York Jets.  Too bad they can’t bring Sal Alosi and the most famous (or infamous) wall this side of Pink Floyd…

Used with permission of the author.

Chris Lardieri runs the “West Coast View” column for Sports Climax. A veteran to the keyboard, Chris also covers the Los Angeles Dodgers for and has written about Major League Baseball for Inside Edge, a scouting company that provides content to ESPN Insider and Yahoo Sports. Follow Chris on Twitter for more sports observations.

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