The Kansas City Chiefs' 2015 season has been a tale of two different stretches. After a 1-5 start, the Chiefs appeared to be a shoe-in for a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft but things have changed drastically since then.
Since Oct. 25, Kansas City has been the league’s hottest team thanks to a nine-game winning streak. A 10th straight victory on Sunday and a Denver loss to San Diego would give the Chiefs a improbable AFC West Division title.
The team standing in the Chiefs' way of their ninth division title in franchise history is their long-time nemesis, the Oakland Raiders.
Unlike the previous three seasons, the Raiders have been competitive in nearly every game this season and have a chance to finish 8-8.
Sunday will mark the 111th meeting between the Raiders and Chiefs. Kansas City won the most recent matchup, a 34-20 Week 13 triumph on Dec. 6 in Oakland.
Kansas City leads the all-time series 57-51-2.
Oakland at Kansas City
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Kansas City -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Chiefs' defense
In the Chiefs’ first six games of the season, their defense gave up an average of nearly 27 points per game. Since then, that side of the ball has turned things around.
During their nine-game winning streak, Kansas City is giving up just 12.3 points per game. The fact that the Chiefs have gotten a lot of pressure on opposing team’s quarterback has a lot to do with their recent success.
Kansas City is tied for fourth in the NFL in the sacks with 41. Justin Houston leads the team with 7.5 sacks.
Teams also have had a hard time running the football against the Chiefs, who is holding opponents to 101.5 rushing yards per game. Kansas City also ranks second in the NFL in interceptions with 21, so the Raiders' offense could have a hard time gaining big plays on Sunday.
2. Derek Carr
In only his second season, Carr could achieve some big milestones against the Chiefs. If Carr throws three touchdowns on Sunday, he will tie Daryle Lamonica’s franchise record for most passing touchdowns in a season with 34.
If Carr can pass for at least 207 yards, he will become the third Raiders quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season. The other two to accomplish this were Rich Gannon in 2002 and Carson Palmer in '12.
Carr has progressed the way Raiders fans were hoping in his second season. While Oakland won’t qualify for the playoffs for the 13th straight season, finally having a franchise quarterback in Carr gives the team hope for 2016.
3. Alex Smith
While the Chiefs' defense deserves a lot of the credit for the team’s recent success, Smith has quietly had a strong season leading the charge on the other side of the ball. This year Smith has thrown for 3,330 yards, 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His 7.47 yards per passing attempt is the best of his 11-year career.
Since Week 7, Smith’s 83.1 QBR rating is the second best in the league according to ESPN Stats and Information.
After losing their best offensive weapon in Jamaal Charles in Week 5 against the Chicago Bears, many thought it would be a lost season for the Chiefs. Smith has not only picked up the slack, he also has helped lead the Chiefs to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
After not winning a game on the road in 2014, the Raiders have a 4-3 record away from Oakland entering their finale. Oakland will have had 10 days to prepare for Kansas City and it is a divisional game, so expect the team to play well.
Even with a win, Kansas City may not win the AFC West, but the Chiefs could at least lock up the No. 5 seed for the playoffs. In that spot, Kansas City would head to Houston to face the Texans on Wild Card Weekend. If the Chiefs lose, they could wind up the sixth seed and they would either play the Denver Broncos or Cincinnati Bengals in their first playoff game.
Kansas City’s last two games at Arrowhead Stadium have been close and this one shouldn’t be any different. The Raiders should cover the spread, but expect the Chiefs to pick up their 10th straight victory.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Raiders 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.