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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

AFC West is raising eyebrows this season

The "doomed" Denver Broncos are 4-0 for this first time since 2003, and the other three teams have been prone to disasters.

October 09, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

As NFL divisions go, the AFC West is the AFC Weirdest.

Wasn't Denver supposed to be doomed?

The Broncos are 4-0 for the first time since 2003, and rookie Coach Josh McDaniels, who bumbled into town by first alienating then trading Jay Cutler, is beginning to look like a star. He's even mended fences with sulky receiver Brandon Marshall, who only weeks ago wanted out of Denver in the worst way.

Even more surprising, last season's 29th-ranked defense is suddenly a force of nature, ranked first in points allowed and second in yards. The Broncos have surrendered just 26 points, tying them for the fifth-fewest points allowed through four games since 1970.

But for all the disaster-area tape the Broncos aren't using, there's plenty of it cordoning off the other three teams in the division.

San Diego staggered through a third consecutive sloppy September and is coming off a loss at Pittsburgh that General Manager A.J. Smith deemed "absolutely embarrassing." Smith also referred to the defense as "soft," about the most condemning thing you can say about the guys who play on that side of the ball.

Then, there's this: the 2-2 Chargers -- paying LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles $6 million each -- are ranked last in rushing at 53.8 yards per game. Marty Schottenheimer would have swallowed his whistle.

Few predicted Kansas City would make a dramatic turnaround under new Coach Todd Haley, but the 0-4 Chiefs have been awful. They can't run, can't convert a third down, can't protect Matt Cassel, and -- dating to the Herm Edwards era -- have lost 27 of 29.

Finally, the Raiders. This was supposed to be the year JaMarcus Russell would prove he was worthy of the No. 1 pick. So far, he has completed 39.8% of his passes, and the 1-3 Raiders are ranked last in yards and 30th in points.

New Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour was on a conference call with New York Giants reporters this week in advance of Sunday's game. Their first question: "How's Oakland?"

"Well," Seymour said, "the weather's nice."

That about sums it up.

His business is his business

Michael Crabtree finally signed a deal with San Francisco this week, and there has been a lot of speculation that, because of the bickering over money, the rookie receiver won't get a warm welcome from his new teammates.

Truth is, the guys in the locker room aren't likely to judge him at all.

"There's this unwritten rule that's very closely abided by in the NFL, and that's that your negotiations are your business," former NFL quarterback Kelly Stouffer said. "Everyone is in that situation sooner or later, and they don't want the guy across the locker room getting involved in their business."

Stouffer knows this well. He was the top pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 but sat out his entire rookie year because of a contract dispute. Just before the 1988 draft, he was traded to Seattle.

"Once you walk in the door, however you got there, we're all in this together," he said. "We all have a common goal. There's never really a situation in a locker room I've been in where players are sitting around saying, 'We're not going to like him when he gets here because of the way he's doing this.'

"I've never heard anything remotely like that. And I've been in locker rooms where guys have been in nasty negotiations at all the positions. Players don't really have a lot to think about it, to be honest with you."

Low blow

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was fined $5,000 this week for diving at the knees of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma on an interception return. Sanchez, who later smoothed things over with a phone call to Vilma, almost got slugged for the hit.

Vilma wrote in his blog that the incident "was a perfect example of me putting the team before myself," and said he initially wanted to exact his own penalty.

"When he did it, I was ready to get up and sock him one, but I restrained myself," Vilma wrote. "I saw the flags come out and I know it's a long game so I said let's just take the points and get the victory. . . . I'm not mad. He's a rookie who didn't know any better."

A dome investment

Got a few million lying around? You might want to bid on the Silverdome, the old home of the Detroit Lions, which is heading for the auction block.

Whereas the Lions now play at Ford Field, the city is still paying about $1.5 million per year to maintain the Silverdome, which sits on 127 acres in Pontiac, Mich.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams & Williams is conducting the auction and accepting sealed bids until Nov. 12. There is no minimum bid, but a $250,000 deposit is required to tour the facility.

Maybe some sentimental Silicon Valley billionaire will buy it. After all, that's where the 49ers won their first of five Lombardi trophies.

Long ball long gone?

Last season, Arizona had 35 pass plays of at least 25 yards. Through the first three games of this season, the Cardinals have just three of those plays -- two by Larry Fitzgerald, who had 13 of them in 2008.

The longest pass play so far was a 40-yard reception by Jerheme Urban, the fourth receiver, who conceded to the Arizona Republic: "With the firepower we have on offense, if you would have told me that after three weeks I'd have the biggest play down the field, I would have been surprised."

In the doghouse

Now that he's retired from NBC, John Madden spends a lot more time around his home in Pleasanton, Calif. That's a good thing, says his wife, Virginia, in part because her dogs, Yogi, Boo Boo and Sweetie, are starting to get used to him. They are massive Newfoundlands who have a tendency to nip at strangers.

"Yogi and Boo Boo are antisocial," she said. "They like to bite people in the fanny. They've gotten used to John, especially Yogi. When John walks in, Yogi goes to the refrigerator door."

A taste for turducken, perhaps?

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATfarmer

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