The Kansas City Chiefs will kick off their game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday afternoon with a lot of things to play for in their final regular season game. However, the one thing they will NOT be playing for is a playoff spot because their 17-13 win last week against the Cleveland Browns – even as ugly as it was – gave the Chiefs a nine-game winning streak and a spot in the playoffs for the second time in head coach Andy Reid’s three seasons in Kansas City.
The club even has a shot at a division title if they can beat the Raiders and the San Diego Chargers can upset the Denver Broncos Sunday afternoon as well. But even if they miss out on that prize, a win over the Raiders will give the Chiefs a sparkling 5-1 record against the AFC West – a mark the team would gladly take any season.
In addition, before they get to the post-season, the Chiefs will be trying to set franchise marks for:
- A 10-game winning streak would be the longest in club history
- Tamba Hali (86 sacks) needs one sack to pass Neil Smith (86.5) for second place in franchise history
- Cairo Santos needs one 50-yard field goal to set the franchise record for most 50-yard field goals in a season (5)
- Ron Parker is just one sack shy of breaking Reggie Tongue’s (6.5) franchise all-time sack record by a defensive back
- Marcus Peters is only 1 pass defensed away from breaking the single-season record held by Brandon Carr and one interception away from breaking the franchise record for interceptions by a rookie (Bobby Hunt, 1962)
On the injury front, the team received some good news Friday because Pro Bowl linebacker Justin Houston returned to practice for the first time since injuring his knee against Buffalo five weeks ago. He was limited, but the fact that he was on the practice field is a good sign that the team’s leading pass rusher might be back for the playoffs, if not for the Raiders game. Safety Husain Abdullah was a full participant all week and will play Sunday while there is still a chance Tamba Hali will play if he has recovered from surgery on his broken thumb.
The only bad news for the Chiefs this week was having to put kick returner De’Anthony Thomas on the season-ending reserve/non-football illness list. Not much is known about why the Chiefs had to do this, but it seems Thomas is having troubles with something related to the severe concussion he suffered against San Diego in Week 11.
But first, the team wants to take care of the Raiders one more time. Here are my five keys to the Chiefs getting a win against Oakland this Sunday:
1. Channel Marty Schottenheimer. IT’S RAIDERS WEEK!!!!!! I have spent 51 of my 53 years on this earth living in Kansas City and 50 of those going to Chiefs games. Not much makes me smile more than thinking about how psyched former head coach Marty Schottenheimer got in his near-pathological hatred of the Raiders. While Andy Reid may never have that kind of personality, it would be nice if the current team nurtured a hatred for their division rivals like that again. The team is one week away from the playoffs and this Sunday is a perfect time for them to take their effort and passion up a level. You can get a glimpse of some of that passion in the “Raiders Week” link above, or you can check out a great piece about “Marty’s Crusade” that the Chiefs did on their web site here. I’m just sitting at my laptop writing this article, but after watching them, I’m ready to rip off someone’s head wearing Silver and Black. I’m just sayin’ ….
2. Get pressure on Derek Carr. Derek Carr is a very fine young quarterback and the Raiders will probably be set at the position for the next decade, but he is still young and makes a ton of mistakes. The Chiefs did not have a sack last week for the first time since Week 4, but honestly that may have had more to do with the unique athleticism of Johnny Manziel than a lack of pressure. Derek Carr may not be a statue in the pocket, but he’s not as mobile as Manziel either. It’s doubtful the Chiefs will be able to get Carr to repeat his three-interception performance like he did in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs win in Oakland, but getting pressure on him would be a good start. If the Chiefs can get at least three sacks and several more pressures, that will slow down the Raiders passing attack greatly. Of course, if #50 (Houston) and/or #91 (Hali) are playing, this will be a whole lot easier!
3. Neutralize Khalil Mack. Mack started the season about one notch below Justin Houston and the Broncos Von Miller as the most disruptive defensive player in the division, but with 15 sacks on the year, he may be on the same pedestal now. Mack only needs 1.5 sacks to set a new Raiders franchise record and he did get two sacks when these two teams played in Week 13. Unfortunately, right tackle Jah Reid might miss the game with a knee injury and it is uncertain what the coaches will do if he cannot play. They could move Jeff Allen to that tackle spot or perhaps put Donald Stephenson or Jarrod Pughsley there, but no matter who plays, they will need help keeping Mack off of Alex Smith’s back. If Mack ends the game as the franchise single-season record holder for sacks, the Chiefs will probably struggle on offense.
4. Special teams needs to set up long fields for the Raiders, short ones for KC. For most of this nine-game winning streak, the special teams have been the league’s best at giving the Chiefs outstanding field position to start drives. They’ve been even better at burying their opponents deep inside their own territory, having to go 85+ yards to score. Punter Dustin Colquitt seems to have gotten over his earlier three-game slump and again is putting most of his punts out inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. However, the kick return game for the Chiefs is suffering from bad returns or even worse, mental mistakes and penalties that kill any chance for success. On the eve of the hopefully long playoff run the Chiefs will be embarking on, it would be nice to see the return game resurface as a weapon FOR the team and not against it. Frankie Hammond Jr. is going to be “the guy” with De’Anthony Thomas on the reserve list so it’s time for him to hang onto the ball and put a scare into the other team and not his own fan base.
5. Alex Smith needs a big game. This point is strictly cosmetic and has nothing to do with winning because the Chiefs have been winning without Alex Smith throwing for 300 yards all year long. (He’s done it once in the loss to Cincinnati) In fact, Smith has thrown for less than 200 yards seven times in 16 games and had one other game with 204 yards. However, in an era when one or two quarterbacks seemingly throw for 350+ yards and five touchdowns every week, it would be nice to see our quarterback make some “Oh WOW!” plays with something other than a 29-yard run. Honestly, I’ll give up an interception if Smith could approach 350 yards with three touchdown passes because if he is doing that, chances are the Chiefs are winning in a blowout and the interception won’t matter. Don’t hate me for being shallow ….
Bottom Line: After a performance like last week, it’s tempting to think that the Chiefs will have their winning streak snapped by a decent division opponent who has almost as much to play for as the local team does. If Houston and Hali play, this could turn ugly for Oakland pretty quickly but as much as I would like to predict a Chiefs blowout, I’ll take a tidy three-point win any day and head on to the playoffs with a 10-game win streak.
Chiefs – 20, Raiders – 17