Chiefs, Broncos in heated race for AFC West
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Denver cornerback Chris Harris couldn't get away from football during the Broncos' bye, eagerly tuning in to watch the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs face the Buffalo Bills last weekend.
"It was kind of boring, man. So, I was like all right, I'm just going to watch the RedZone," Harris said. "It wasn't an offensive game. I'm looking for the points."
You'd think a defensive player would appreciate a good defense, and nobody's been better at stemming this league-wide proliferation of points than the Chiefs (9-0).
Kansas City is the first club to allow 17 or fewer points in each of the first nine games of a season since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons.
"Naw, come on," Harris said, laughing. "Who wants to watch that? Who wants to watch just a defensive game all the time? On a bye week, I want to see some points."
Maybe Harris is just spoiled.
His Broncos (7-1) scored an astonishing 343 points in the first half of the season for an average of 42.9, which would obliterate the NFL record of 36.8 set by the 2007 New England Patriots.
The Chiefs and Broncos meet twice in the next four weeks, beginning with a Sunday night showdown in Denver on Nov. 17.
Here are five things that make the AFC West such an intriguing division in 2013:
WORST TO FIRST I: The division was once derided as the "AFC Worst" for sending mediocre teams to the playoffs, like the Broncos, who won the West in 2011 with Tim Tebow and an 8-8 record.
Now, the Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers (4-4) and Raiders (3-5) have a combined 23-10 record for a .697 winning percentage. That's the highest by a division through nine weeks of the season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
No division has been this good this late since 1984, when the AFC West had a cumulative 31-14 mark for a .689 winning percentage.
"The nice thing for us is there's a team in the division getting a lot of attention as well, so there's no room to relax at all," Chiefs QB Alex Smith said. "We're neck and neck, and we have two big games left with them. You kind of keep your nose down, keep to your task."
WORST TO FIRST II: There's an old saying that it's better to be lucky than good, and the Chiefs have been both so far.
They've faced backup quarterbacks in four of their last five games, and the only one who wasn't a backup, Oakland's Terrelle Pryor, won the starting job in training camp.
So what? The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 9-0 after posting the worst record in the league the previous season (2-14).
The Chiefs have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. In the Super Bowl era, all 18 teams that won their first nine games qualified for the postseason party. Eleven of those advanced to the Super Bowl and seven of them won it.
DOMINANT DENVER: With Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas, it's easy to see why John Elway says he's jealous of the targets Peyton Manning has.
The Broncos' 343 points are the most by a team through the first eight games of a season, and Manning's 29 TD throws and 2,919 yards passing are also the most through the first eight games in NFL history.
The Broncos have kept on rolling despite many roadblocks on the Super Bowl expressway. Elvis Dumervil left via a fax foul-up. Von Miller tried to game the NFL drug-testing system. Two team executives were suspended following drunken driving arrests. Ryan Clady went on IR.
And now coach John Fox is recovering from heart surgery and will miss several weeks.
"We all wish him a speedy recovery," interim head coach Jack Del Rio said. "The best way that we could honor him is to go out and play great football."
RECHARGED CHARGERS: Mike McCoy burnished his coaching credentials by tearing apart Denver's offense to account for Tebow's strengths and weaknesses in 2011 then crumpled that blueprint to adapt to Manning's arrival a year later.
Now, he's helped revive Philip Rivers' career in San Diego.
Rivers' 106.5 passer rating is the third-best mark in the league, trailing only Manning (119.4) and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (108.0).
RAIDERS REBOUND: After an awful decade for the "Team of the Decades," the Raiders are showing signs of turning things around under Pryor, who regularly stars in both the highlight and blooper reels.
Pryor's enigmatic ways were on full display in Oakland's 21-18 win over Pittsburgh two weeks ago when he darted 93 yards on the first snap for the longest TD run by a quarterback in NFL history, then threw for just 88 yards the rest of the afternoon.
The Raiders prevailed despite gaining one first down and 35 yards of offense in the second half.
Just win, baby.
PREDICTED WINNER: Broncos.
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed.