The Kansas City Chiefs will go for the season sweep of the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday in a key AFC West battle. Kansas City (8-4) is two games up on Vegas in the division and back in the mix for the top spot in the conference. The Raiders (6-6) are 10th in the AFC standings as part of a large group of teams sitting at .500.
These two met in Week 10 when Patrick Mahomes threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-14 beatdown in Allegiant Stadium on "Sunday Night Football." The Chiefs racked up a season-high 516 yards of offense while the Raiders finished with 299 (only 50 rushing). Derek Carr tossed two touchdowns and one interception in a losing effort.
Overall, Las Vegas has lost four of its last five after a solid 5-2 start. Last week was another tough setback, falling 17-15 to Washington at home thanks to a 48-yard field goal from Brian Johnson with 37 seconds left. It was an awful offensive effort for the home team, with just one touchdown scattered around three field goals. The Raiders were just 2-for-8 on third down as well. Carr was 28-of-37 for 249 yards (the same total he posted in the first game vs. Kansas City) as Vegas dropped its third straight at home.
Kansas City, meanwhile, stayed hot with a fifth straight win, beating Denver 22-9 at home last Sunday night. Mahomes only threw for 184 yards, his second-lowest output of the season, while the defense did the heavy lifting. The Chiefs harassed Teddy Bridgewater into two interceptions and held the Broncos to just a touchdown and a field goal despite giving up more than 400 yards of offense. Kansas City can tie New England for the best record in the AFC, which would be quite the turnaround after stumbling to a 3-4 start.
Las Vegas (6-6) at Kansas City (8-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -9.5
Three Things to Watch
Kansas City has all of the momentum entering this matchup, and Las Vegas is the visiting team, but that could be a good thing. The Raiders have lost three in a row at home, so the change of scenery could be what they need to get things turned around. They will play three of their next four on the road and have a date in Cleveland next Saturday. Health-wise, the biggest concern is tight end Darren Waller, who missed last week's game because of knee/back injuries and has yet to return to practice. His importance to the offense can't be overstated and puts more pressure on a running game that ranks 29th in the NFL (88.0 ypg).
The Chiefs are red hot in the win-loss column, but the offense has been up and down while the defense has improved dramatically from the start of the season. Kansas City has an even shorter turnaround for next week's "Thursday Night Football" showdown with the Chargers out in Los Angeles. The Chiefs have made the most of this home-friendly stretch of their schedule with four of the five straight wins coming in Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City also appears to be in really good shape health-wise.
2. Vegas ground game
The Raiders have struggled to run the ball effectively all season long. Josh Jacobs has been hampered by injuries, which have caused him to miss two games, and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Kenyan Drake contributed as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, but he broke his ankle in last week's game is out for the rest of the season. The only 100-yard game Las Vegas has gotten from anyone this season was when Payton Barber ran for 111 yards in an overtime win over Miami back in Week 3.
Kansas City is 20th in the league against the run, allowing 115.2 yards per game, and Denver went for 154 last week (Javonte Williams was responsible for 102 of those). The Raiders know one of the keys to beating the Chiefs, even with their offense not clicking on all cylinders, is keeping Patrick Mahomes off of the field.
3. Is this a mirage?
It's been quite a turnaround for Kansas City's defense. After giving up nearly 33 points per game over the first five contests, the Chiefs have surrendered more than 17 just once in their last seven. And they have yielded a total of 56 during this five-game winning streak, which has included wins over the Giants, Packers, Cowboys, Broncos, and these Raiders. Upon closer inspection, the defense has caught some breaks during this stretch. Green Bay had to start Jordan Love over Aaron Rodgers in Week 9. Dallas was without its top two receivers in Week 11. And the Giants just aren't that good.
But give credit to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his crew for getting the job done. Pass protection has been an issue for Las Vegas (27 sacks allowed), so we'll see if Kansas City can capitalize on this and continue to create turnovers (10 in the last four games). This game could serve as a measuring stick to see if the defense has improved dramatically or the results are more a byproduct of the teams they faced (and when).
I'm definitely not getting in front of Kansas City right now. I don't believe the Chiefs' defense has turned the corner, but I think their offense should find plenty of success on Sunday. The Raiders' secondary is not very good and could get lit up by Mahomes and Co. again.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Raiders 14
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.