When the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders matchup this Sunday at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium it will be a contest of teams going in two different directions. The Chiefs have won 5 straight games and have held opponents to 11.2 points in those contests. The Raiders have been trending the opposite way. They are just 1-4 in their last 5 games after starting the season 5-2 and leading the AFC West through the first 7 games.
Dating back to the 2018 season when Patrick Mahomes took over as the starting quarterback for the Chiefs offense has always been the focal point of the team. After allowing 29 points per game in the first 7 games this season, the defense has flipped the script and become one of the top defenses in the NFL. Early in the season, the Chiefs’ defense could not put pressure on the quarterback and turnovers were a rarity. Over the last 5 weeks, the Chiefs defense has averaged 2.4 sacks and has also accumulated 1.4 interceptions per game.
Although quarterback Derek Carr continues to put up impressive passing numbers, leading the Raiders to an average of 291.3 yards per game, Las Vegas may again be without stand-out tight end Darren Waller. Waller has not practiced all week due to knee and back injuries. The latest report is that Waller is questionable to play. Without Waller available, Derek Carr will need more from the run game. Running back Josh Jacobs eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his first two NFL seasons. This year with 5 games remaining Jacobs has only managed 472 rushing yards. This is one of the main reasons the Raiders rank 28th in rushing yards per game this season.
Chiefs’ Keys to Victory
- Find a balance between the run and the passing game offensively. The Chiefs have shown the ability to run the ball effectively in almost every game this season. The Chiefs have run the ball well at times averaging 4.5 yards per carry. While this does not seem like a lot, this does allow the Chiefs to use play action and RPO’s more effective as the game progresses. Some of this credit has to go to Creed Humphrey. The rookie offensive lineman has posted a 91.5 PFF grade, which is the best mark of any center in the NFL this season.
- Continue to rush the passer. One of the key additions to this Chiefs defense has been Melvin Ingram. The 10-year veteran may not have a lot of stats to back up this statement, but if you turn on the film it is quite obvious that Ingram has been a game wrecker. Chris Jones has arguably benefited the most from Ingram being added to the roster. Jones was voted the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after he totaled 3.5 sacks against the Dallas Cowboys. Although the move to defensive end at the beginning of the year seemed promising, Jones has performed best at defensive tackle.
- Patrick Mahomes and his weapons prove why they are so dangerous and get back on the same page. Some have called Mahomes “broken” this year after throwing 12 interceptions which is tied for most in his career. While Mahomes has struggled there is more to this story upon a second look. Of the 12 interceptions that Mahomes has thrown this year, 7 have hit a receiver’s hands first before being intercepted.
Every game between the Chiefs and Raiders always means a little bit more. And this Sunday’s contest could be a measure of revenge for the Chiefs. The last time these two teams faced off in Kansas City, the Raiders upset the Chiefs en route to a 40-32 victory. But the Raiders were not satisfied enough with just winning the football game. When the Raiders players boarded the charter bus, former Raiders coach Jon Gruden decided to take a victory lap around the stadium.
Perhaps this has no impact on how the Kansas City Chiefs play Sunday. Maybe it is all forgotten in the minds of the players and staff. Nevertheless, there is plenty to play for if you are the Las Vegas Raiders and the Chiefs should be ready for a 60-minute battle. Although they have been in decline, the Raiders are still in the AFC playoff picture. Currently, the Raiders sit just one game back of the Buffalo Bills for the coveted final AFC playoff spot.
This game is equally, if not more important for the Kansas City Chiefs. A win in this Sunday’s game would mean that Kansas City would move into a tie for first with the New England Patriots as the top team in the AFC. The Chiefs do not own a tiebreaker with any of the three teams, Patriots, Titans, and Ravens, that are ahead of them in the AFC Playoff Picture. Therefore, the Chiefs must finish with the best record in the AFC outright to lock up the first overall seed.
Expect this game to contain plenty of intrigue on both sides. This is most likely the last chance for the Raiders to try and sneak into the playoffs this year. Expect the Raiders to play with a high level of desperation and intensity on Sunday. One major key for this game is going to be the health of Darren Waller. Waller is a matchup nightmare for defenses, so his availability is key for the Raiders to have a chance to win. Another key matchup to watch for is Maxx Crosby vs the Right Tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs. Although Crosby is considered by far the better player, Wylie handled the assignment of blocking Crosby very well in the first match. With Lucas Niang’s status for the game Sunday still in question, look for Crosby to try and have a big day.
The recipe for the Chiefs’ success should be similar to the game last month. If the Chiefs are able to put pressure on Derek Carr, the Raiders lack luster run game will need to step up. Expect defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to load up the box and force Carr into quick decisions. On offense, look for Mahomes and company to put up more big numbers like they did in Las Vegas. Darrel Williams was able to eclipse 100 yards receiving against the Raiders while Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce also had big games respectively. This should be another fun installment of one of the most long lasting, bitter rivalry games in the NFL.
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