The AFC West comes down to the final week. Denver need to win against San Diego and need the Chiefs to lose to the Raiders. Kansas City need to beat Oakland and for Denver to lose to claim their first division title since 2010. Raiders fans now have hope for the future, even if that future may be in another city. The Raiders have returned to relevance this season behind a promising young offense led by sophomore quarterback Derek Carr. While the defense needs a lot of work, Oakland will finish with their best record since 2011. The Chiefs have a shot at the division title, but must first beat the Raiders once again. On a nine game winning streak, Alex Smith and the offense have been efficient, while the defense is a playoff calibre unit. Kansas City are guaranteed a postseason berth, but have their eyes set on a division title.
Three Keys to the Game:
Shutting down Derek Carr
Most of Oakland’s success this season has been due to the offense. Derek Carr has shown that he is the best so far of last year’s rookie crop, and now has a legitimate number one receiver in rookie Amari Cooper. Michael Crabtree lends a solid veteran presence, while Latavius Murray is a decent running back. Oakland also have a good offensive line, but will still face a stern test against a good Kansas City defense. The secondary may do the most damage, with cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Sean Smith as well as safeties Eric Berry and Ron Parker. The Chiefs have enough good players to cover Oakland’s receiving corps, buying time for Tamba Hali and the pass rush to get to Carr.
Can the Chiefs shred Oakland’s secondary?
Oakland’s defense struggles against the pass, allowing 266 yards per game this season. Alex Smith has taken on more of the offense since the Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles, and rarely throws interceptions. With Jeremy Maclin he has a strong vertical threat and a true number one receiver, while tight end Travis Kelce is a match-up nightmare across the middle and in the redzone. Oakland’s best player in the secondary is Charles Woodson, who will be playing in his last game. The real danger will be giving Smith time to throw before Khalil Mack gets to him. Mack leads the league in sacks with 15, 0.5 ahead of J.J. Watt.
Kansas City’s running game
Although Smith has an increased role, much of Kansas City’s offense is built on the running game. The Chiefs have averaged 123.7 yards per game this season, but have not had a 100 yard rusher since Week 12. Oakland play the run fairly well, especially Mack, who often sets himself up in an opponents’ backfield. Without a 100 yard rusher though, the Chiefs have still won their last four games.
Match-up to watch: Amari Cooper vs Marcus Peters
These two could be rivals for a long time, with both rookies having impressive seasons. In their last meeting, Cooper had just four catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns. Peters defended two passes with an interception and a forced fumble. With Cooper struggling down the stretch, Peters should have the upper hand once again.
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are a more complete team than the Raiders, with a better defense. They could still win the AFC West and are strong when playing at home. The Raiders will struggle to give Charles Woodson a winning send off.