While Thursday night’s nationally televised game with Oakland is huge for the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s probably even bigger for the Raiders.
Oakland takes a one-game lead into the highly anticipated showdown of longtime AFC West Division rivals. In reality, though, the Chiefs would have a one-game lead if they come out of the skirmish with a victory even though the teams would have the same record.
A Raiders win would give them the cushion they need going into the final three games.
Kansas City is 9-3, but 3-0 against the AFC West, which is the first tiebreaker after head-to-head. The Chiefs have three of their final four games at home, including the rematch with Denver. Tennessee, with its strong running game, will be no gimme and I have a feeling the season finale at San Diego will contain huge ramifications.
Meanwhile, 10-2 Oakland has three of its final four on the road. After their game with the Chiefs, the Raiders go to San Diego, have surging Indianapolis at home, then go to Denver on New Year’s Day as the schedule always calls for inter-divisional games on the final week. I can’t see the Raiders winning in Denver.
I’m not sure a lot of folks took Oakland as a serious threat the first half of the season. The general rule of thumb is that the Raiders generally find ways to beat themselves with silly penalties or just atrocious play.
But these are the new Raiders. Yes they still get hit with a lot of penalties, but their offense doesn’t make a lot of mistakes as quarterback Derek Carr is an MVP candidate and running back Latavious Murray is the sledgehammer back you need to pound defenses when the weather turns cold and there’s most emphasis on the ground game.
The Oakland defense is much like Kansas City’s in that it has given up a lot of yards, but not a lot of points. Both teams have shown a penchant for winning close games as Kansas City has rallied in each of the last two weeks for thrilling victories and Oakland has done the same. The Raiders looked dead in the water in the last two weeks, but reached down deep and extracted a victory.
It’s a short week and the Raiders have to travel halfway across the country. Kansas City, though, has been on the road each of the last two weeks and it, too, went halfway across the country to play Atlanta last week.
Oakland has had some success in Kansas City in recent years. I worry about the Chiefs’ defense unable to stop Murray and their secondary having nobody who can contain Amari Cooper.
On the flip side, it’s going to be a cold night in KC and that can’t make the warm-weather Raiders happy. The ball is going to be hard to hang on to, not to mention it will be slick to throw. It would be nice to see Alex Smith go out and win a game for Kansas City, not manage it.
Turnovers decide big games and nobody has been doing that better this year than Kansas City. The Chiefs are going to be energized by a frenzied crowd and that could make it difficult for the Oakland offense.
Prediction — Kansas City 23, Oakland 20.