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AFC West faces tough tests

The AFC West might be the best division in the National Football League. In 2013, the division saw the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers advance to the postseason, while last year only Denver was able to repeat the feat.

Headed into 2015, the Broncos are once again being picked to reach the playoffs, while some are choosing Kansas City as a darkhorse candidate for a Super Bowl run. There has been love for the Chargers as well, while the Oakland Raiders are seen as a rapidly improving team.

Through the first two weeks, Denver is pacing the division with a 2-0 mark after a miracle Week 2 win at Arrowhead Stadium, leading the other three by a game. Here’s what to be watching for this week, with the quartet of West teams facing tough tests.

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Oakland at Cleveland Browns (-3.5), 1:00 p.m. ET

The Raiders travel to Cleveland for their first road test of the season. Johnny Manziel led the Browns to their first win of the season on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, but has been replaced by the now-healthy Josh McCown. Cleveland does not have any real offensive weapons to speak of, but the defense is relentless.

Oakland quarterback Derek Carr will need to continue his recent ways to beat the Browns. Carr threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in a comeback victory last week over the Baltimore Ravens. If the second-year man can keep playing at a high level, the Raiders are dangerous.

San Diego at Minnesota Vikings (-2), 1:00 p.m. ET

The Chargers lost last week to the Cincinnati Bengals, and now continue their road swing against the Vikings. Minnesota is also 1-1, coming off a win against the Detroit Lions.

This is a bad matchup for the Chargers. San Diego is a team without a good run defense, something that will hurt it against Adrian Peterson. In addition, Minnesota’s weakest link is its offensive line. Unfortunately for Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, San Diego has a poor pass rush. The Chargers are the superior team on paper (albeit not by much) but this reeks of a tough game on the road.

Denver (-3) at Detroit Lions, 8:25 p.m. ET

The Broncos have struggled mightily to score points over the first two weeks, yet somehow have beaten the Ravens and Chiefs in thrillers. The Lions come into this game without a win, and desperately need to right the ship.

Detroit’s main disadvantage in this game is not having good cornerbacks to match up with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Peyton Manning’s arm is horrific at this point, but he should be staring at open receivers. Conversely, the Lions need Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate to produce, but they face Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Good matchups abound for the Broncos.

Kansas City at Green Bay Packers (-7), 8:25 p.m. ET (MON)

This might be the best game of the week. Kansas City is coming off a gut-wrenching loss to Denver where it committed five turnovers. However, the Chiefs had the look of a team that can contend with anybody when playing well. Meanwhile, the Packers are 2-0 and one of the favorites to win Super Bowl 50.

Green Bay has an awesome passing attack led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has not thrown an interception at Lambeau Field since Dec. 2012. Can rookie sensation Marcus Peters stop that streak? Peters has two interceptions in as many career games for the Chiefs, including a pick-six last week against Manning. This game is actually a good matchup in many areas for Kansas City, who can run the ball and rush the passer. Look for this contest to be close throughout.

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