Top 5 storylines to watch in Raiders-Chiefs prime time showdown
Biggest one yet...
The Raiders have played several big games this season. A prime time home game against Denver in Week 9 was billed as the biggest at Oakland Coliseum in a decade. The Silver and Black dominated that one, and showed the entire league they were legit. Looking back, that’s a feather in the cap and nothing more. There’s no underselling Thursday’s night’s game at Kansas City. Distance won’t change that. The Chiefs are a game back in the AFC West with an Oakland Coliseum victory in hand, and would take divisional control with a win. A Raiders victory would put them two games up with three to play...
5. Compacted prep, long travel
The NFL almost exclusively features divisional rivalries on “Thursday Night Football." That keeps travel short for road teams on this inconvenient made-for-TV event. The AFC West, however, is the only division in the NFL with a team two time zones away from some others. Kansas City is the remote outpost and schedule makers gave them a Thursday night home game. This year, the Raiders drew the short straw. They have to travel a great distance, into the cold to face a quality division rival. These stakes are too high for a Thursday night, but the Raiders won’t complain. They aren’t excuse makers but the scheduling gives the Silver and Black an uphill climb.
4. Closers face off
The Raiders have six fourth quarter comebacks already this season. They are the kings of clutch in 2016, performing well when the pressure’s on. Stealing so many victories has created an air of confidence late in games, when they capitalize on opposing vulnerabilities. Problem is, the Chiefs play the same way. They’ve eliminated late double-digit leads a few times, and even beat Atlanta last week on a two-point conversion returned by safety Eric Berry. The Raiders thrive when others wilt. What will happen against a team with similar traits? This game seems destined to be close. The team that performs well late should walk away with a win.
3. Limit ‘gimmicky’ offense
Chiefs fans took issue with Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio and his postgame comments following an earlier-season meeting. He called the Chiefs offense ‘gimmicky,’ specifically in reference to Alex Smith’s ability to move the ball downfield. Chiefs coach Andy Reid didn’t make much of it and Jack Del Rio stood by the term, relatively speaking, when asked about it this week. The point rings true that the Raiders must be better against misdirection runs, ground work off the edge and, of course, throws to Dontari Poe near the goal line. The Raiders defense is better prepared for such plays. They’re in greater sync, and well coordinated by Perry Riley and Reggie Nelson in the middle. They must play disciplined football to avoid such pratfalls a second straight time.
2. Alex owns the Raiders
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has owned the Raiders in his career. His has been able to control tempo against the Raiders on a consistent basis. Smith isn’t known as a gunslinger who can dominate games, but he has owned the Raiders home and away. He has 1,849 yards, 18 touchdowns and just three picks in nine career games against the Raiders, as a Chief and a 49er. The Raiders must find a way to rattle him and force errant throws or wasted downs. A steady pass rush could cure this issue. So could quality run defense that forces Smith to put the game on his shoulders.
1. Racing for pole position
The AFC West is tightly packed, with the Raiders holding on to a slim lead over Kansas City. A win at Arrowhead Stadium could clinch a playoff spot with some help, and would put the Raiders in position for a first-round bye and home playoff games. A loss puts the Silver and Black into the wild card pool. They still have a cushion for one of two spots, but that would put them on the road the entire postseason, without a week to rest. While the division crown remains the primary objective, this team believes it can make a postseason run. They can do that the easy way or the hard way, largely depending on what happens against the Chiefs.