Much of the national attention this week has focused on a pair of AFC stalwarts renewing acquaintances when the New England Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and on the NFC East battle between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.
But there is a third game that could go a long way toward deciding a division. It's just not a game we would have imagined just a few weeks ago would have had any particular importance at all. But the Kansas City Chiefs host the San Diego Chargers on Monday night, and with a win, the Chiefs can earn a share of the AFC West lead.
When Kansas City was being obliterated 41-6 by the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 and 48-3 by the Detroit Lions in its second game, it's likely that not even the most devout of Chief supporters had much hope for their team following up last year's division title with another run toward the playoffs.
How ugly were things after two weeks? Kansas City had been outscored by 80 points in two games. Tight end Tony Moeaki hadn't played a down after being lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the final preseason game. Safety Eric Berry was lost for the year in the Buffalo game and running back Jamaal Charles sustained a season-ending knee injury in the loss at Detroit.
The Chiefs were much more competitive in their third game, a 20-17 loss at San Diego. Kansas City finally got its first win over Minnesota the next week and followed that up with a big come-from-behind win at Indianapolis leading into the bye week.
Emerging from the bye, the Chiefs ambushed Oakland with six interceptions and shut out the Raiders 28-0 for their third straight victory.
San Diego, on the other hand, had a nightmarish second half in the New Jersey swamps last Sunday. The Chargers blew an 11-point halftime lead and mismanaged the clock and game situation just about as badly as a team can in the final minute of a 27-21 loss to the Jets.
I know I was particularly impressed by Philip Rivers' decision to throw the ball away on fourth down. Did he think there was going to be a fifth?
I'm looking to bounce back from a mediocre week of picks. Home teams are in CAPS.
Indianapolis (plus-9) over TENNESSEE: The Colts are coming off an epic loss at New Orleans last week. The Titans are coming off a blowout loss at home to the Texans. This is one of those games where I like the sentiment, but I hate the line. Tennessee has to prove it can score nine points before it can be favored by that much.
ST. LOUIS (plus-14) over New Orleans: No Sam Bradford for the Rams means another start for A.J. Feeley. But Stephen Jackson is running the ball fairly well and, much like the first game on this list, I just have a hunch St. Louis will keep it close—particularly when "close" is defined as keeping it within two touchdowns.
HOUSTON (minus-10) over Jacksonville: The Texans still won't get wide receiver Andre Johnson back for the Jaguars. Jacksonville comes in off their Monday night win over the Ravens, but it's hard to have a lot of faith in a road team on a short week that got 93 yards passing from its starting quarterback.
Miami (plus-10) over NEW YORK GIANTS: The Giants already have one ugly home loss to the Seahawks and seem to be unable really put teams away. That means the Dolphins have a chance for another close loss.
Minnesota (plus-4) over CAROLINA: Christian Ponder vs. Cam Newton in a battle of first-round rookie quarterbacks. Ponder looked good at time in his debut against the defending champion Packers last week and the Panthers still seem to be unsure whether they want to really run the football or just let Newton do his thing.
BALTIMORE (minus-13) over Arizona: Call this the Angry Birds special. The Ravens were embarrassingly bad offensively on Monday night. The Cardinals have been embarrassingly bad on offense for most of the season. I'll go with the trend.
Detroit (minus-3) over DENVER: The Lions have lost two in a row after opening the season with five straight wins. But I'm still not sold on the Fighting Tebows.
Washington (plus-6) over BUFFALO at Toronto: I'd like this spread at Ralph Wilson Stadium. But it loses something with the exchange rate.
SAN FRANCISCO (minus-9) over Cleveland: The Browns scored six points at home against Seattle and won. They won't be so fortunate this week.
Cincinnati (minus-2) over SEATTLE: Seattle's 12th man won't make Charlie Whitehurst throw the ball any better.
PITTSBURGH (plus-3) over New England: I get that Tom Brady has owned the Steelers in his career. But that 6-1 record against Pittsburgh was assembled while playing for Patriot teams that had actual defenses.
Dallas (plus-4) over PHILADELPHIA: Andy Reid's never lost in his career coming off a bye. There's a first time for everything.
KANSAS CITY (plus-4) over San Diego: The Chiefs are coming on strong. The Chargers continue to be the NFL's biggest enigma.
Last week: 6-6-1
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