In baseball, every team, no matter how pathetic, is guaranteed a representative in the All-Star Game. It often means a deserving player has to miss the game so that a member of the Pirates gets a moment in the sun. It's an understandable rule, although one that cheapens the game a bit.
Why am I talking baseball? Because the AFC West is going to have the same effect on the NFL Playoffs that those token players have in baseball. Whichever team wins the division will have no business in the playoffs.
If the season ended today that team would be the Denver Broncos. The very same Broncos who were routed, at home, by a two-win Raider team. The same Broncos that allowed three offensive touchdowns to a Raider team that hadn't scored one in their last three games. It was a 15 quarter streak, in fact, that ended when Darren McFadden scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter.
The Broncos also allowed JaMarcus Russell, he of the 50% completion rate, to connect on 10-of-11 passes. Four of those completions were to former Bronco Ashley Lelie, who finished with 92 yards. He had seven catches and 105 yards all season entering play. Lelie's 51-yard reception set up McFadden's streak-breaking touchdown and he extended the offensive explosion with a four-yard grab in the fourth.
I don't mean to pay the Raiders short shrift. They played their best offensive game of the season.
McFadden, who added a second touchdown, and Justin Fargas combined for 145 yards on 34 carries to balance with Russell's uncharacteristically efficient afternoon. Johnnie Lee Higgins took a punt back for six for the second straight week and, somehow, 10 penalties for 90 yards didn't hurt them as much as they should have.
Denver, which looked like they may have turned a corner with consecutive road wins against the Browns and Falcons, again failed to capitalize on a chance to put the division title away. Jay Cutler was terrible, 16-of-37 with a pick, and fumbled away a golden scoring chance on the team's first offensive series. Last year's inconsistency could be explained by his unidentified diabetes, but this year's can't be so easily written off.
As for the Broncos defense, the less said the better. It's been bad for several years, you can't blame it all on Champ Bailey's absence, and doesn't show any signs of improvement.
Of course, they'll still have a two-game lead if the Chargers lose to Indianapolis Sunday night which tells you just about everything you need to know about how awful this division has been this season.
Raiders 31, Broncos 10: Is it Too Late to Change the Rules for Making the Playoffs? originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Sun, 23 Nov 2008 19:55:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.