It’s now or never for the Oakland Raiders.
After four straight losses, the Silver and Black will be playing on three days rest tonight, taking on the Kansas City Chiefs at home. A tough task for sure, especially considering the Chiefs were the last NFL team to lose a game this season.
A defeat here would be crippling for the Raiders. A 2-5 record would probably be too much to overcome, even in a largely mediocre AFC.
However, the Chiefs have won the last five meetings between the two teams and outclass the Raiders in virtually every regard. Couple that with the short week, injuries and their play as of late, and it seems like the Raiders have no shot at a victory.
Well, there’s good news and bad news.
Good news: the Pittsburgh Steelers showed the league how to beat the Chiefs last Sunday. Run the ball down their throat until the defense gets tired and play lockdown defense to stifle the Chiefs offensive firepower. That’s not a foolproof system either; the Steelers had to hold on until the final minutes to escape with a win.
Bad news: the Raiders aren’t capable of pulling off that gameplan. Their running game has been largely average in 2017, though Marshawn Lynch played his best game last week. The Chiefs have a solid front-seven in any case, led by veterans Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson. Second-year defensive end Chris Jones is also in the midst of a breakout season. However, the team is ranked 27th in run defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders are still struggling with their usual problems. They can’t cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. They let up too many third-down conversions. They’re susceptible to long pass plays. The Chiefs offense is built for that style of play.
Alex Smith has been arguably the best quarterback in football this year, and he’s made the players around him better as well, most notably tight end Travis Kelce and rookie running back Kareem Hunt. The latter in particular could also be argued as the best at his position in 2017 so far. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill will also be available to play after a neck injury scare on Sunday.
With all that in mind, the Raiders defense has to step up. Sure, a handful of guys have been consistently good this year (specifically, Khalil Mack, Karl Joseph and T.J. Carrie), but as a whole, the stop unit is filled with, well, holes. The secondary is struggling, and the run defense has been inconsistent. Perhaps the newly signed NaVorro Bowman can help turn things around.
Offensively, the Raiders have to let loose in the aerial attack. Derek Carr might not be fully healthy yet, but the Chiefs pass defense is actually rated pretty low in the league rankings, with only shutdown corner Marcus Peters playing well. Peters can only cover one of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, so the free man needs to go nuts in the receiving game.
Both squads will be missing starters on the offensive line. The Chiefs are without right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (knee) and center Mitch Morse (foot), while right tackle Marshall Newhouse is out for the Raiders. The latter is notable, since substitute tackle Vadal Alexander will have to face off against Houston.
In addition to that, the Raiders linebackers are dinged up, which will necessitate a starting role for Bowman. Cory James (knee), Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow (both ankle) are all listed as questionable.
For the Chiefs, running back Charcandrick West is out with a concussion, and wideout Albert Wilson is questionable with a knee injury. For the Raiders, cornerback Gareon Conley is out (again) with a shin injury, and fullback Jamize Olawale is questionable with a concussion of his own.
The Raiders have to save their season somehow. Unfortunately, it seems like they’re outmatched. You never how Thursday night games will go, though.