To think, just a few weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders looked dead, and the Kansas City Chiefs seemed a safe bet to at least grab the AFC West crown. Oh how quickly things change.
Now, the Raiders have fought their way back to a .500 record at 6-6, while the Chiefs have lost four straight games to slide back to the same record. With the Los Angeles Chargers also at 6-6, there’s a three-way tie atop the West, and through tiebreaker rules, the winner of this contest will have the advantage heading into next week, regardless of whether or not the Chargers win against the Washington Redskins.
From there on out, the winner also controls their own destiny. They both have a game versus the Chargers during the last three weeks, meaning that they would only need to win one of the other two games to take home the title and a playoff berth. The Raiders have a slightly tougher road, with back-to-back primetime games against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos.
That’s a lot to take in.
Like the first game between the two, the offenses have the advantage. Both the Raiders and Chiefs defenses rank in the bottom half of the league in total defense, though the Raiders are 11th against the run. They were able to slow down rookie running back Kareem Hunt last time, and that was during his hot opening stretch. Since then, he’s been in a slump, only reaching 50+ rushing yards once.
Still, while the Raiders secondary has improved somewhat, they’ve benefited from facing largely mediocre quarterbacks. They let Tom Brady, the only true star signal caller they played since the Chiefs game, carve them into salami. Geno Smith, Trevor Siemian and Jay Cutler all looked functional in their respective games against the Raiders, too.
With that in mind, Alex Smith will probably be able to bounce back from his own downturn. It helps that no one on the Raiders defense can keep up with Tyreek Hill‘s speed. Their struggles in covering tight ends will boost Travis Kelce as well.
The Raiders offense will be happy to have Michael Crabtree back from suspension; while their passing offense wasn’t completely inept last week, Derek Carr clearly missed Crabtree’s reliability. They could still be without Amari Cooper, who has passed concussion protocol after missing last Sunday’s game but is still dealing with a sprained ankle. The Chiefs defense will not have Marcus Peters at cornerback due to a team-imposed suspension for penalty-flag throwing, though, so Crabtree and the rest of the wideouts should be able to handle a weak Chiefs secondary.
Speaking of Peters, Marshawn Lynch got ejected (and subsequently suspended) during the first game for pushing a referee while trying to break up a fight between Peters and the Raiders offensive line. Beast Mode has been on fire since the bye week, however, so the Raiders will be happy to have him around in this one.
Where the Raiders could struggle is the lack of depth due to injuries. Backup center Jon Feliciano is out with a concussion, which leaves no one behind Rodney Hudson. Linebacker Cory James (knee) and defensive lineman Jihad Ward (foot) are both listed as doubtful. Cooper and cornerback David Amerson, who’s missed the last five game with a foot injury he sustained during the previous game against the Chiefs, are questionable, as are defensive lineman Denico Autry (hand), fullback Jamize Olawale (ankle) and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip).
The Chiefs are light on injuries. Center Mitch Morse (foot) and defensive back Eric Murray (ankle) will be out alongside the suspended Peters on Sunday. Linebacker Tamba Hali is listed as questionable with a knee injury. Fellow linebacker Dee Ford was recently sent to injured reserve as well.
Recall that the Raiders won the previous matchup nearly two months ago in dramatic fashion. They were desperate; a loss would’ve put their season on life support. The Chiefs at the time though? Not so much.
This time around, however, both squads are fighting for survival. It should be a good one.