By Eric Schmidt

With the first quarter of the 2011 NFL regular season in the books, it’s time to break down where teams stand in their respective divisions and in this installment, I’m looking at the AFC West. Two strong contender emerge early and two teams are struggling just to compete.

Denver Broncos- (1-3)

The Denver Broncos started over from scratch this season after hiring an entire new coaching staff. John Fox is the head coach this season and the defensive scheme has shifted to a 4-3 instead of the base 3-4 the Broncos used to run. You knew this team was in trouble right from the start when they announced QB Kyle Orton was on the trading block and then a week later announced him as the starter. RB Knowshon Moreno has struggled to crack the lineup once again due to nagging injuries. Second-year WR Eric Decker has been one bright spot for the Broncos this season with 270 yards and four touchdowns.QB Kyle Orton has thrown 8 touchdowns but has also committed 8 turnovers in the same period.

Denver is ranked 24th in the league in total offense and 23rd in team defense. This is a team in serious transition, and one franchise which was really handcuffed by the NFL lockout after hiring a new coach and installing a new defense. All the pieces are not yet in place for the Broncos, and it’s going to be another long season for the orange and blue. 5 wins might be optimistic.

First Quarter Grade- D

Kansas City Chiefs- (1-3)

Talk about how quickly the mighty fall, the Kansas City Chiefs are a mess this season. They recorded their first win last Sunday against the hapless Minnesota Vikings and nearly scored more points in that win than the team had posted in the first three games in total. QB Matt Cassel looks lost, seven turnovers in four games and a 75.2 passer rating. Yes, injuries have hit this team hard, but they are just not the same team they were in 2010 with Charlie Weis running this offense.

This is a very bad team right now. On offense, 30th passing the ball, 14th running the ball and that number will continue to drop with the loss of RB Jamaal Charles for the season. On defense, 17th against the pass, again a number likely to drop with the loss of S Eric Berry for the season and 26th against the run.

The Chiefs will take on the Indianapolis Colts this week, head into a bye and then face the Raiders and Chargers on back to back weeks to close out the second quarter. 2-6 looks reasonable at this point.

First Quarter Grade- D-

Oakland Raiders- (2-2)

The Raiders are hanging tough in the AFC West after the first quarter based on their strong rushing attack once again this season. RB Darren McFadden has nearly 500 yards rushing in four games and is carrying the ball at a 6.2 yards per carry clip. Consistent injuries to the receiving corps have led to the Raiders being ranked 22nd overall passing the football. Oakland finally got TE Kevin Boss back into the lineup last week.

Oakland’s defensive front 7 are big and fast, but they are still surrendering a lot of points. After four games, Oakland has given up 113 points while scoring 111. The secondary has taken a hit as expected after the loss of CB Nnamdi Ashomugha and the Raiders are struggling once again this year to stop the run, ranked 29th. Oakland has recorded 11 sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles in the first four games this season.

Oakland is very capable of winning their next three games heading into the bye in week 8. I expect the Raiders to linger around the top of the standings, pestering the San Diego Chargers for several weeks to come.

First Quarter Grade- B-

San Diego Chargers (3-1)

Will this be Norv Turner’s last season in San Diego? Name me one team with more talent that has achieved less in the last 6 seasons. QB Philip Rivers has eight turnovers in his first four games and the Chargers, despite being 3-1, have struggled to rally back in the games which they have won. This should be a dominant team. Granted, there are injury issues. TE Antonio Gates is out. WR Vincent Jackson was out most of last week’s game. Malcom Floyd has been bothered with injury issues and portions of the defensive line are out.

Looking at the Chargers upcoming schedule, they play three straight on the road with a bye in week 6. However, the three road games are contests this team should win against Denver, the Jets and the Chiefs. The clock is ticking on the San Diego Charger, Philip Rivers and their window of opportunity to win a championship. They need to step up and make a statement in the second quarter of the NFL regular season.

First Quarter Grade- B-






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