In the final stretch of the season, three AFC West teams are in contention for the playoffs. While the Denver Broncos look uncatchable in the race for the division title, the Chiefs and Raiders are battling for a wild card spot. These old rivals face each other once again on Sunday. The Chiefs have won five straight games and have catapulted themselves into the 5th seed spot in the AFC. With a playoff calibre defense backing up Alex Smith and a surprisingly explosive offense, the Chiefs look like real contenders. Oakland have slumped a little since being one of the more competitive teams midway through the season. Derek Carr leads an explosive offense, but the defense leaves a lot to be desired. The Raiders are still in the mix as the 9th seed, but need to start stacking some wins to be true contenders.
Three Keys to the Game:
In their five game winning streak, the Chiefs have forced 14 turnovers and committed none of their own. Their disruptive defense has generated takeaways that have won Kansas City several games. The Chiefs are known for mistake-free play under Andy Reid, especially quarterback Alex Smith. Most defenses around the league lack the personnel to generate takeaways against the Chiefs, including the Raiders.
2. Can Oakland’s offense find some form?
Despite the win over Tennessee last week, there are still questions about Oakland’s ability to be true playoff contenders. Derek Carr played well against a surprisingly good pass defense, throwing for 330 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions. But the run game needs to be more involved if Oakland want to beat fellow playoff hopefuls like the Chiefs. Even without Justin Houston for much of the game, the Chiefs’ defense played well against the Bills. Houston is apparently ‘week-to-week’ with an injury sustained against the Bills, but Kansas City have enough defensive playmakers to be competitive even without Houston.
3. Oakland’s defense
The Raiders rank 27th in total defense and have struggled on that side of the ball for much of the year. Kansas City are well placed to take advantage of that with playmakers like Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce. Alex Smith is also a legitimate running threat and will rarely throw interceptions. The Raiders have struggled to generate pressure on quarterbacks, particularly with Aldon Smith suspended. It could be another strong game for the Chiefs’ offense.
Matchup to watch: Charcandrick West vs Khalil Mack
Charcandrick West seems to have recovered from an earlier injury and will resume his role as the lead back for the Chiefs. West has performed well in relief of Jamaal Charles and is also a threat in the passing game. Linebacker Khalil Mack is strongest against the run, but is the lone star player in Oakland’s front seven. The Chiefs could be able to take him out of the game with clever blocking, allowing West to run free.
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are a more complete team than Oakland and match up well against the Raiders’ defense. Alex Smith and Co. should have another turnover free game as the Chiefs claim yet another tiebreaker in the AFC wild card race.