Thursday Night NFL Preview: Raiders at Chiefs

The Sports Xchange

December 08, 2016 at 11:39 am.

Nov 20, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium. Tampa Bay won 19-17. Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 20, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium. Tampa Bay won 19-17. Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders (10-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)

KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Heather Cox.

SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting between these original franchises from the American Football League. Along with San Diego and Denver, this is the 57th consecutive season they played in the same conference/division. The Chiefs lead the series against the Raiders 59-51-2, and Kansas City has won four straight against Oakland and five of the past six meetings. That includes a 26-10 Kansas City victory on Oct. 16 in California. Since the 2000 season, the Chiefs are 19-14 against Oakland overall but just 8-8 in games played at Arrowhead Stadium. The last Raiders victory in the rivalry was in 2014 when Oakland was 0-10 and registered Derek Carr’s first win as an NFL quarterback. The Raiders’ last win in Arrowhead was 2012 when a 26-16 victory became Oakland’s sixth consecutive triumph in K.C. The teams met three times in the playoffs, with the Chiefs winning in 1969 and 1990, and losing to the Raiders in 1968.

GAMEDATE: 12/8/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Chiefs win, they would be tied for the division lead with the Raiders but would own the tiebreaker advantage with victories in both meetings. Kansas City’s remaining games are against Tennessee and two more AFC West foes — San Diego and Denver. The Raiders close with San Diego, Indianapolis and Denver. All that makes this Thursday night game one of the hottest of the season, despite weather predicted to be about 10 degrees with a possibility of snow.

Kansas City’s 16-point October victory in Oakland was based on the running of Spencer Ware in his only 2016 game rushing more than 100 yards (131). He helped the Chiefs hold the ball for 13:30 longer than the Raiders. That was critical after Oakland showed its explosiveness with QB Derek Carr and WR Amari Cooper hooking up nine times for 117 yards in the first half. After the break, Kansas City adjusted coverage with CBs Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson. Cooper caught only one more pass for 12 yards. The Chiefs also have S Eric Berry, who had a pick-six and a game-deciding two-point extra-point interception on Sunday against Atlanta. However, this time Carr is also dialed in on WRs Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts, giving Oakland three receivers who have combined for 1,947 yards and 14 touchdowns. Five of those TDs were fourth-quarter game-winners.

It will be interesting to see if Carr, who injured his right pinky two weeks ago and took only shotgun snaps Sunday, will be able to take snaps under center to help timing and handling in cold weather.

For the Chiefs, Gaines has a bad knee and was torched several times against Denver. Nelson is coming off a neck injury. Peters, the NFL’s top pass thief over two years, is hyped to play against his hometown Oakland team.

Chiefs QB Alex Smith’s favorite target is TE Travis Kelce, who is moved around to create mismatches, and the Kansas City may have WR Jeremy Maclin (groin) back in the lineup.

Still, the Raiders’ No. 1 goal on defense will be to stop the run, which is probably the worst aspect of their game, evidenced by the 212 yards rushing from the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, even more than the 186 the Raiders yielded to the Chiefs earlier in the season.

The Oakland defense also will miss hard-hitting rookie first-round pick Karl Joseph (toe) at safety and LB Shilique Calhoun (knee).


–Raiders RT Austin Howard vs. Chiefs OLBs Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford. Houston has made a big splash since returning from a knee injury, looking like one of the NFL’s top edge rushers in the past two games. Helping compensate for Houston’s absence, Ford has 10 sacks this season. If that were not enough, Hali is still formidable on the other side. Howard is solid but probably the most susceptible to a pass rush of the Raiders’ linemen. Oakland will scheme to get Howard help and might even insert Menelik Watson, originally the projected starter, though he has battled injuries. Backs and tight ends will also be involved for a team that considers Job 1 keeping QB Derek Carr clean.

–Chiefs’ pass protection vs. Raiders DE/pass rusher Khalil Mack. In their first meeting this year, the Chiefs protected QB Alex Smith, who was sacked only once in 23 passing plays. Going into that game, Smith was knocked down 13 times in the first four games. Mack had that lone sack last time and comes into this rematch with 10 sacks, including at least one in each of the past seven games, and 28 over 43 games in his three-season career. Kansas City’s pass protection broke down in the victory over Denver, allowing six sacks of Smith, but yielded only one to Atlanta.

–Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Raiders SS Nate Allen. Kelce is one of the NFL’s top receiving threats, but he caught only three passes for 32 yards in the first meeting. At that point, first-round draft pick Karl Joseph was the starter, but Joseph is sidelined with a toe injury. Allen, who had an interception against Buffalo, will step in. The Raiders have had issues guarding the tight end for the last two seasons, and Kelce’s 65 catches for 815 yards are worthy of concern.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs RB Spencer Ware. When it became apparent RB Jamaal Charles was not returning from a torn ACL, Ware became the focal point of the Chiefs’ running game. That was a key factor in Kansas City’s victory over Oakland in October when Ware ran for 131 yards on 24 carries. But that was the only game this season a Chiefs back topped 100 yards rushing. Since then, Ware has not run for more than 77 yards. After sitting out a game while in the NFL’s concussion protocol, in the past three weeks he carried 47 times for only 194 yards (4.1 yards per carry) with no touchdowns. A lot of the Chiefs’ problems on offense (third down, red zone, pass protection) can be solved with a more consistent running game. That means Ware.

FAST FACTS: Raiders QB Derek Carr has a passer rating of at least 95 in four of his past five games. He has 11 TD passes vs. 2 INTs in the past five games. RB Latavius Murray is tied for third in the NFL with 11 TDs rushing, including two last week. WR Amari Cooper has at least 100 yards receiving in two of the past three division games. DE/OLB Khalil Mack has five tackles for loss (TFL) and three sacks in the past three meetings. In the past nine games, he has collected 10 sacks, 11 TFL, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception for a touchdown. Since 2015, he leads the NFL with 25 sacks. … Chiefs QB Alex Smith sports 18 TD passes vs. three INTs and a 107.0 passer rating in nine career starts vs. the Raiders. WR Jeremy Maclin caught three TD passes in the past three meetings. WR Tyreek Hill is tied for second among rookies with seven total TDs (five receiving, one rushing, one kickoff return). LB Justin Houston seeks his fourth sack in four consecutive games against Oakland. LB Dee Ford made two sacks and had a forced fumble in the previous meeting and is tied for third in the NFL with 10 sacks.

PREDICTION: On paper, the Chiefs appear able to hog the ball with rushing and short passes against a generous Oakland defense (allowing 389.7 yards a game). But the Bills had the same advantage last week (212 yards rushing), and the Raiders coaxed them to abandon it. Sacks and steals will make the difference, and each team is good at both. Kansas City leads the NFL with a net of plus-14 in takeaways, and Oakland is plus-12. The best thief will steal this game.

OUR PICK: Raiders, 35-32

–Frank Cooney.