By Sam McPherson
The Kansas City Chiefs have seen their once-solid playoff hopes disappear in the last three weeks, and it all began when the Oakland Raiders jumped all over them for a win at the Coliseum on Thursday, November 20. Since then, the Chiefs have lost to the Denver Broncos and the Arizona Cardinals as well—and now Kansas City is on the outskirts of the postseason picture.
Thus, prepare for some nastiness this weekend when the Silver & Black travel to Arrowhead Stadium for the rematch. The Chiefs need a win, and with the Raiders coming off a 24-13 smackdown of Bay Area rival San Francisco, they are feeling confident and ready. This game could harken back to the old days when this rivalry was something to witness twice every season.
Kansas City is just one game out of the last AFC wild-card spot, but there are a whopping eight teams at 8-5 or 7-6 right now in the conference—and the Chiefs don’t hold a lot of tiebreakers in that bunch.
The Chiefs are 7-6 now, on a three-game losing streak. They were tied for the AFC West lead with Denver when they came to Oakland that Thursday night, and now they are three games behind the Broncos. And remember, Kansas City had won five straight when it rolled into the Coliseum three weeks ago.
Head Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith haven’t had the same positive fortune they experienced a year ago, and now their collective backs are up against the wall. The Chiefs will have to win to have any shot at the postseason. There’s no more room for error in Kansas City’s locker room.
Chiefs on Offense
Much has been made about the fact the Kansas City wide receivers do not have a touchdown reception this season, and it’s now Week 15. Don’t blame Smith for that, though: He is having another solid season, with a 16-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 92.2 QB rating. He’s completed 65% of his passes this year; his WRs just aren’t that good, and his running backs and tight ends are better at catching the ball.
RB Jamaal Charles is averaging 5.2 per carry, of course, and he could crack the 1,000-yard mark against the Raiders on Sunday. He also has five TD catches. Tight end Travis Kelce leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, and he has scored four times. Longtime wideout Dwayne Bowe has 48 catches, but no other WR on the roster has more than 15 receptions.
Chiefs on Defense
Inside linebacker Josh Mauga and defensive back Ron Parker are the tackling machines on this defense, each with 80+ tackles this season. Meanwhile, the pass rush is led by outside linebacker Justin Houston—he has a whopping 16 sacks this season.
However, the secondary isn’t great: Collectively, the Chiefs have picked off only four passes this year, which bodes well for Raiders QB Derek Carr.
Chiefs to Watch
Charles is the key to this offense: If the Oakland front seven can contain the Chiefs running back, then Smith is forced to throw. And the Raiders know his favorite target—expect some blanket coverage on Kelce all game. If the Silver & Black can somehow contain Charles and shut down Kelce, they can pull off another upset to score their first road win in more than a year.
Defensively, Kansas City is vulnerable. Blocking Houston is a key, of course, giving Carr the time to throw. If the Raiders can run the ball effectively again with Latavius Murray, they might have a chance to score on the Chiefs secondary with some sharp passing from the rookie quarterback.
Road Woes Hard to Overcome for Oakland
It’s hard to forget the 52-0 whitewashing that the St. Louis Rams dropped on the Raiders after the last K.C. game. Safety Charles Woodson even referred to it as a “bye” for the Oakland; it was that bad. What’s to say the Chiefs won’t do the same?
Until the Silver & Black actually win a road game, there’s no point in picking them to win away from the Coliseum. And again, the Chiefs’ slim playoff hopes are riding on this game. Expect Kansas City to get some revenge for the November 20 loss.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.