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How I See It: AFC West Stock Watch

Falling

1. Raiders’ defense: Oakland’s defense had its moments in recent weeks and it isn’t giving up as many points as it did earlier in the season. Still, there are gaping holes in the unit.

The biggest current problem on Oakland’s defense is that it is allowing way too many big plays. Dallas had five plays of 40 yards or more in a 24-7 win over the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day. Allowing those type of explosive plays just kills a defense.

2. Chiefs’ ball security: Kansas City’s offense is starting to show some progress in both the passing and running game. However, the Chiefs are shooting themselves in the foot.

Kansas City committed four turnovers in a 29-point loss at San Diego. The Chiefs are simply not good enough to overcome miscues. It has to be addressed and corrected.

3. Bruce Gradkowski, Raiders QB: The Oakland folk hero of Week 11 fell off his pedestal. Gradkowski struggled much of the game at Dallas.

In the end, he threw for 200 yards, but Gradkowski couldn’t get much going. In his first start for Oakland -- he replaced the struggling JaMarcus Russell -- Gradkowski overcame a sluggish start and led Oakland on a game-tying, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final seconds of a win over the Bengals. In Week 12, there was no such magic provided by Gradkowski, who still gives the Raiders more energy than Russell did.

Rising

1. Denver’s playoff hopes: One win has put Denver back in fine postseason shape. Denver beat the New York Giants 26-6 on Thanksgiving night to end a four-game losing streak after a six-game winning streak to start the season.

Denver is 7-4 and it is on pace to grab the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. Denver has two games remaining against Kansas City and one against Oakland (at home). If Denver can win those three winnable games, it should be able to find its way into the playoffs.

2. Antonio Gates, Chargers TE: Gates is having another fine season. He is a unique weapon and he helps make San Diego one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.

He put his immense talent on display in a 29-point win over Kansas City. He had seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

It was another reminder that Gates is simply a beast and a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators.

3. Denver’s defense: One of the major reasons Denver ended its losing streak is because the defense played fantastic. The defense led the team early in the season and it is clearly the club's starting point.

Denver enjoyed a strong pass rush, made key plays on defense and stopped the run after being savaged on the ground the past three weeks. Denver gave up only 56 yards rushing.