Coming into the season, Oakland was a popular to challenge New England for the AFC crown. Just six weeks into their 2017 schedule, the Raiders are now facing a must-win Thursday night game against the rival Chiefs. Lose this one, and Oakland will be lucky to challenge for a playoff spot.
How did things go so bad so quickly for a team that was 12–4 last season and started this on 2–0? Surprisingly, it’s mostly been the offense that has let Oakland down. During their current four-game losing streak, the Raiders haven’t reached 275 of total offense in any one game. They have also turned the ball over seven times after not turning it over in their first two games. The unit that ranked sixth in total offense last season ranks 30th in 2017.
Thursday night’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, adds to Oakland’s desperation in this game. The Chiefs have looked like the league’s best team during a 5–1 start, putting the Raiders in a three-game hole already in the AFC West. A head-to-head loss — which would also leave the Raiders winless in a three-game homestand — would likely mean Oakland would need to win out just to earn a Wild Card spot in the postseason. Desperate times, indeed.
Kansas City at Oakland
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 19 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channels: CBS/NFL Network
Spread: Chiefs -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The Chiefs' weaknesses have been exposed
One loss to the Steelers isn’t reason to panic after a 5–0 start, but Pittsburgh may have given future opponents a blueprint for how to beat Kansas City. It’s an old-school solution: Run and stop the run. While the idea of slowing down star rookie Kareem Hunt (above, right) seemed impossible just a week ago, circumstances have changed. The Chiefs will again be without starting center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif due to injury. Without them against the Steelers, Kansas City rushed for just 28 yards. Running on the Chiefs hasn’t been a big problem all season, in part because few safeties ae better in the run game than Eric Berry. It was a big blow when Berry was lost in the season opener, but the Chiefs have played with the lead so much this season that the hole wasn’t glaring. Against the Steelers, it was.
2. Raiders issues start up front
Oakland had one of the NFL best offensive lines last season as it allowed just 18 sacks, and the Raiders ranked sixth in rushing yards. This year has been a different story as Oakland quarterbacks have already gone down 13 times, and the team ranks 24th in rushing. Perhaps the Raiders can follow the Steelers lead (194 yards on the ground) and break out for a big rushing game, but if nothing else the line must protect Derek Carr. After missing one game with a broken bone in his back, Carr returned for last week’s disappointing 17–16 loss to the Chargers. If he can’t stay healthy, everything else is moot. Despite being under duress often, Carr is hitting 68.3 percent of his passes, a career high. But his yards per attempt is down a full yard from a year ago, evidence that he is being forced to throw more quickly and also that the lack of a running game is hurting Oakland’s chances to take advantage of play-action.
3. Big-play specialists
In Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Oakland’s Cordarrelle Patterson, each team has a speedster who can change the game in one play. Both wide receivers by trade, Hill and Patterson actually make their biggest plays in other ways. Patterson is averaging just 5.3 yards on 10 catches this season; but he already has two rushing touchdowns of 40 or more yards this season and six career rushing scores. He also has five career kickoff return touchdowns and has led the NFL in kickoff return average three times. Hill is actually tied for the team lead in receiving yards with 390, including a 75-yard touchdown, and has one punt return score so far this season. In 2016, he had three kick return TDs (two punts, one kickoff) and added three rushing scores. Don’t be surprised if this game turns on a big play by one of these guys.
The Raiders are reeling and have lost seven of the last eight in this series. But are we really ready to throw dirt on them in October? As good as the Chiefs looked for five weeks to open the season, the injuries are piling up, and they have to go to Oakland on a short week. We’ll take the more desperate team here.