From the FanPosts. -Joel
In case you haven't heard, there are currently three teams tied for first place in the AFC West. This makes the division pretty interesting by itself, but the Broncos being completely out of it and the fact that there is very little chance of the West having a wild card team makes it particularly interesting. One of Chiefs, Raiders, or Chargers will win the division, and winning the division is probably the only hope of making the playoffs for those three teams. So the question of which team is in the best position, and what the outcomes of certain games will mean, needs to be answered.
There are several variables that go into which team has the best position to win the division, and each team has it's positives and negatives. So let's look and see who is doing well and who isn't.
Best Team: Unkown
This is a cop out, I know, but it's very true. Judging just by how the games have gone, an objective observer would have to say the Raiders are the best team, since they are the only one of the Big 3 (i.e. the three teams in the AFC West who are competitive) to beat a team with a winning record outside of the division. However, with the injuries and new QB, there is no way to tell if they will be weaker or stronger than they were before Palmer. The only hint is their game against us, but it being the first game for Palmer this year I'd be hesitant to make too many assumptions based just on that game. So all we can say about the Raiders is that at best they are a complete unknown, and at worst are terrible.
The Chiefs and Chargers are more known than the Raiders, but all you can really say is that they appear to be even. In two games against each other, the Chiefs scored 40 points, and the Chargers scored 40 points. Both teams nearly led comebacks but were thwarted by unusual turnovers by the QB.
If you're an optimistic type, you could argue that the Chiefs are probably the best since the first two games were outliers caused by losing key players early in the game, and thus we were unable to make in game adjustments to such massive changes, and since then we're 4-1. While reasonable, this seems too much like excuse making and only using the data that matches your assumptions.
In short, the only reasonable conclusion to make is that no team is clearly superior, or inferior, to the others.
Easiest Schedule: Raiders
The Chiefs and Raiders both have two easy games (Dolphins, Broncos and Vikings, Dolphins, respectively), while the Chargers only have one (Jaguars). The Raiders have it easier than the Chiefs, though, since they have Chargers-Chargers-Lions instead of Patriots-Steelers-Jets. But those three games are close enough that it's very likely that the Chiefs-Raiders game at Arrowhead will decide between those two. But the schedule still goes to the Raiders.
Division Games Remaining: Raiders
The Raiders have three games left against the Big 3, while the Chiefs have two and the Chargers one. This allows the Raiders to largely control their own destiny. If they sweep those three games, they are in excellent shape to win the division, since not only would those three wins add to their record and guarantee the Chargers two more losses and the Chiefs one more loss, it would give them the tie breaker if they end the season tied for the top spot.
While the Raiders do have the advantage here, it could also be a curse. A 1-2 or 0-3 record in those games kills their chances at the division, so this is definitely a double edged sword.
Division Standing: Chiefs
This is pretty clear. The Chiefs are 1-1 against the Chargers, and are in better position to win the tie breaker since they already have a win against the Raiders. They also, of course, hold a 1-0 edge over the Raiders with one to play, so the Raiders need to either beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead (which would be difficult if the Chiefs are still competitive at that point) or they need to do win two more games than the Chiefs in the other eight (since the Chiefs would have the tie breaker). And, as mentioned above, the Raiders do have a schedule advantage, but not enough of one to expect to have a two game advantage over the Chiefs.
Between the Raiders and Chargers, however, little has been figured out yet. They both beat the Broncos once, but who wins the tie breaker will depend on the two games they play against each other. If one sweeps, then the winner will obviously have the advantage, but if they split, the Chargers have the advantage since they have a better record against the Chiefs.
Advanced Simulations: Raiders
At Football Outsiders, they have their own metric for measuring how good a team is, and simulate the rest of the season 10,000 time to see the probabilities for each team making the p[layoffs. They have the Raiders as the best team by a pretty good margin, with the Chiefs being better than the Chargers by a bit. Naturally, the Raiders are the favorite to win the division (43.7%) with the Chiefs having a 30% chance and Chargers having a 25% chance.
However, given that these rankings are blind to injury, it is not hard to imagine them being off. The two blowouts made the Chiefs look way worse than they are, so it's very likely that these rankings underestimate them. They also rate the Raiders based on the games they played with Campbell and not Palmer, so they probably overrate the Raiders a bit.
But there's even more good news when you look a little bit closer. The Chiefs are only 0.7 mean wins away from the Raiders, which means that a Chiefs win and Raiders loss this week would likely put the Chiefs in front of the Raiders in probability to win the division. And if the Chargers lose to the Packers, it would almost certainly keep them below the Chiefs. (This is not certain, however. Since The Chiefs are likely to beat the Dolphins and the Chargers are likely to lose to the Packers, these outcomes won't effect their mean wins too much.)
Advanced NFL Stats gives a very different picture. They have the Chargers as the best team in the division, with the Raiders second and the Chiefs last. I could do an entire post on their simulations*, since I think they reflect the weirdness of the current situation, but suffice to say that the Chargers have a 47% chance of winning the division, while the Raiders are at 29% and the Chiefs 23%.
*Ok, I give in. Despite the Raiders being better than the Chiefs, and more likely to finish in first, they say that the Raiders are most likely to finish third while the Chiefs are most likely to finish second. This quirk is caused, I'd imagine, by the fact that the Raiders have those three games against the Big 3 left, which means they have a chance to be in great position, or in terrible position. It's basically backing up what I said above.
One thing that makes me a little skeptical of Advanced NFL Stats is that they have a couple weird rankings. They have the Rams above the Chiefs, the Texans at #1, and the Bucs as the worst team in the NFL. It's possible that their system is smarter than everybody else and we're all missing the indicators, but I think it's very likely that these are signs of flaws in their system.
So, as a whole, the advanced stats seem to say that its between the Raiders and Chargers with the Chiefs being the Chris Bosh of the AFC West. But since one system has the Chargers in last, and the less credible system is the one picking them to win it, this indicator goes to the Raiders.
If the Raiders hadn't lost Campbell, they would be the clear favorites to win the division. They seem to be the best team, have the easiest schedule, and control their own destiny more than the other two. But Palmer creates a giant mountain of uncertainty which changes everything. And it's not like we can just ignore them and analyze Chiefs vs. Chargers, because the three games they have against the other two means that Palmer's ability will have an impact even in that two-team race. So if Palmer does well, they will probably win the division. But there are two other possibilities that I realistically see, and they both mean very different things.
Palmer Does Well, But Raiders Don't Win Division:
This gives the edge to the Chiefs. With a win against the Raiders already, we can survive a loss to them if they don't win the division. However, since they have two games against the Chargers, that makes the Chargers' schedule that much harder, and likely drops them from the race.
Palmer Does Poorly:
This gives the edge to the Chargers, using the same dynamic as above. This makes our win over the Raiders less important, and makes the Charger's two games against them much easier. However, the Chiefs also do well with this, since our schedule is still easier than the Chargers', and we are more likely to have the tie breaker.
In short, our situation depends a great deal on how the Chargers and Raiders do against each other. If we sweep the Raiders, we want the Raiders to sweep the Chargers, but if we lose on Christmas Eve, we want the Chargers to sweep them. Or if the Raiders do better, we have more control of our fate, but if the Chargers do better a loss against the Raiders doesn't kill us.
I don't know about you, but I'm really excited to see how this all plays out. It should be fun.