The Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs have been rivals since the inaugural season of the AFL in 1960. On Thursday night, they will play in one of the most important games in the recent history of the series.
On a short week, the Raiders will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Chiefs. With the Raiders leading the division at 10-2 and the Chiefs just a game behind, first place in the AFC West is on the line.
Last week, Oakland came back from a 15-point deficit to overwhelm Buffalo 38-24 at home. Meanwhile on the other side of the country, Eric Berry intercepted Matt Ryan on the two-point conversion attempt just after Atlanta took a one-point lead and returned it for the game-clinching two points in a thrilling 29-28 victory in the Georgia Dome.
The Chiefs have already beaten their division rivals this season, winning 26-10 in Oakland back in Week 6. Spencer Ware powered Kansas City with 131 rushing yards and a touchdown.
That victory was the Chiefs’ fourth in a row over the Raiders and pushed their lead in the all-time series to 61-52-2, including playoffs.
Oakland at Kansas City
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 8 at 8:25 p.m. ET
Broadcast Channels: NBC, NFL Network, Twitter
Spread: Kansas City -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Derek Carr
Against Buffalo last week, Carr led a second-half offensive avalanche, as Oakland scored 29 unanswered points to erase a 24-9 deficit. Carr completed just 19 of 35 pass attempts, but finished with 260 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 97.3.
Carr has made a habit of orchestrating these late-game comebacks, as last week’s was his sixth of the season. More importantly, the win clinched the Raiders’ first winning season since 2002, which also was the last time the team was in the playoffs.
Kansas City’s secondary will have its hands full trying to slow down Oakland through the air. The Chiefs are 22nd in the NFL against the pass, but there is some familiarity and in the first meeting Carr threw an interception and lost a fumble.
2. Justin Houston
After missing the first nine games of the season due to an ACL and MCL tear he sustained in March, Houston has returned to his All-Pro form. The outside linebacker and pass-rushing specialist was activated for Kansas City’s Week 10 win in Carolina and he has been one of the best defenders in the league since.
Over the last three games, Houston has 16 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble. In the Chiefs’ 30-27 overtime win in Denver in Week 12, Houston had 10 tackles and three sacks.
Having a player of Houston’s caliber can only help Kansas City down the stretch, especially if the Chiefs want to overtake Oakland for the AFC West lead.
3. Raiders’ Defense
Oakland All-Pro Khalil Mack is making a strong case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Mack enters tonight’s game with 58 tackles, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. But while Mack has certainly done his part (and then some), the same cannot be said for Raiders’ defense as a unit.
Oakland ranks near the bottom of the league (30th) in total defense at 389.7 yards per game. Last week, Buffalo had accumulated 191 rushing yards alone halfway through the third quarter. But the Raiders stiffened after that, giving up just 21 yards on seven carries the rest of the game.
Oakland has been prone to giving up big plays and the will they need to minimize those tonight, especially since Kansas City’s offense is not known for its explosiveness.
Oakland has been the road warriors of the NFL this season, going 6-0 away from home, including a Week 11 win over Houston in Mexico City. However, this will be the Raiders’ first true road game since Week 8, a 30-24 overtime victory in Tampa Bay.
On a short week, it could be too much for Oakland to come away with a win in one of the toughest home environments in the league, especially in a divisional game with first place in the AFC West on the line. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith is known for limiting his mistakes and he and the Chiefs’ offensive line basically neutralized Khalil Mack and the Raiders’ pass rush (just one sack) in their first meeting back in Week 6.
Look for Kansas City to follow a similar game plan on offense and once again rely on Spencer Ware and the ground game to limit Oakland’s offensive possessions, as the Chiefs win yet another close one and take over control of the division.
Prediction: Kansas City 27, Oakland 24
— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.