By Dave Thomas
In what could be described as their biggest game to date of the season, the Oakland Raiders travel to Arrowhead Stadium this week for Thursday evening's big AFC West showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Oakland (10-2), leading the division by a game over Kansas City (9-3) and two games over Denver (8-4), fell to the Chiefs in their first encounter, a 26-10 loss in the Bay Area. Since that loss, the Raiders have been on a tear, winning six straight, yet the Chiefs are within striking distance.
While Oakland was taking care of Buffalo this past Sunday (38-24) at home, Kansas City went on the road and stole a 29-28 victory from Atlanta. If the Chiefs win Thursday evening, they will technically be ahead of the Raiders despite both teams having 10-3 records. Kansas City would have swept the season series, along with having a perfect 4-0 AFC West record to date.
Kansas City Chiefs Season Record (9-3)
Like the Raiders, the Chiefs are playing in the toughest division in football. In addition to their impressive AFC West record, they have been dominant throughout the league. The team's only three losses were to the Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While they were blown out by the Steelers in week four, their other two losses came down to one possession games. The Chiefs now sit at 9-3 and look to take the top spot in the AFC West from the Raiders.
Kansas City Chiefs On Offense
For Kansas City, it can win the lower scoring game or hang close and even pull off a shootout. In its last two games, Kansas City gave up 27 and 28 points, respectively, and still came out on top. They simply find ways to win.
Leading the way on offense is quarterback Alex Smith. No, Smith is not going to remind fans of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but he is an effective game manager. As such, it is up to Smith to keep the Chiefs in the game heading into the fourth quarter, all the while avoiding big turnovers on offense.To date, Smith has thrown for 2,567 yards and 11 TDs, with four interceptions.
Two seasons ago, Kansas City wide receivers went from start to finish without catching a TD. Flash-forward two seasons to 2016, Kansas City receivers have caught nine TDs. Tight end Travis Kelce continues to assert himself as one of the best at his position, catching 65 balls to date (815 yards, three TDs).
Meanwhile, the ground game has been led by Spencer Ware (734 yards rushing, three TDs) and Charcandrick West (191 yards rushing, six TDs). Veteran Jamal Charles has continued to battle knee issues this season and was placed on IR.
Kansas City Chiefs On Defense
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs are equally capable of throwing a number of talented players at the opposition. The defense is led by Derrick Johnson (89 total tackles, one sack), Ron Parker (59 total stops, three interceptions) and Dee Ford (10 sacks). If the Raiders are to change their fortunes this time around against the Chiefs, they will need to maintain the ball against a Chief's defense that has forced 25 takeaways this season.
Player To Watch - Eric Berry
Eric Berry, a player who has battled back from cancer, continues to make game-changing defensive plays for the Chiefs. Berry secured the Chief's victory against the Atlanta Falcons in week 13. He changed the tide of the game by intercepting and running back the Falcons' two point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the Chiefs ended up winning the game by a single point. The Raiders will need to contain Berry if they hope to continue their winning streak.
Can Oakland Take Control of Division?
While one game does not make a season, Oakland does not want to drop its second and last regular season game against Kansas City. Doing so would put the Chiefs in control of the division race, leaving the Raiders to need help in order to claim their first division crown since the 2002 campaign.
These two teams have a history dating back to the 1960's and are no strangers to one another. Kansas City leads the all-time series 61-52-2 and has won four straight in the series. Thursday night should be a gritty game between two great division rivals.
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