Five Raiders to watch in Week 13: Derek Carr must step up vs. Chiefs

Five Raiders to watch in Week 13: Derek Carr must step up vs. Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There’s no sense sidestepping it. Sunday’s showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs is the biggest game of the Raiders' regular season.

It isn’t do-or-die. It isn’t an actual must-win. But, man, they’ve got to have it.

Want stakes? An upset win here in Kansas City would vault the Raiders into a tie atop the AFC West -- the Chiefs play New England next week -- while remaining a frontrunner for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. A loss would put the Raiders two games back in the division with four to play and on shaky ground in the wild-card race.

Veteran leaders tried to minimize the big-game feel surrounding the 119th clash between Raiders and Chiefs, especially when talking to rookies so vital to this season’s success.

“At the end of the day, every game is big in this league,” slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said earlier this week. “Any given Sunday, any team can win. Outside forces can make some game bigger than what it is. You have to find the right mentality. If you make it bigger than what it is, you can psyche yourself out. You don’t want that to be the case.”

One plus from a Raiders perspective: Most of the young players playing major roles came from juggernaut college programs that play huge games before massive, often hostile crowds.

The Raiders need a complete team effort to beat the Chiefs, from the coaching staff down to bottom levels of the depth chart. Here five players in particular who must show up big to beat a rival when it matters most.

QB Derek Carr

Carr typically doesn’t land in this weekly series because franchise quarterbacks are always vital to an outcome. This one is different.

Even if the Raiders' run game functions well, there will be times that Carr will have to put the team on his back. It’s hard to imagine a Raiders blowout. The Chiefs are too good for that. A real shot at victory should come in a close contest, maybe with a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.

Carr needs to play smart and efficient football from start to finish and buck trends you’ve been hearing about all week: That he can’t win at Arrowhead Stadium and he doesn’t function well in the cold. It’s going to be chilly on Sunday afternoon, but 20-30 mph gusting winds could play a bigger role in the passing game. Even if that puts a premium on the ground game, Carr will have to beat the elements and make important throws that move the chains and score points. And, even in subpar conditions, he’ll have to be successful pushing the ball downfield.

Carr must be steady, smart and occasionally dynamic in what will be one of his season’s defining moments.

DE Clelin Ferrell

Fellow rookie edge rusher Maxx Crosby has been bringing quarterback pressure and getting home most every week during this season’s second half. This Raiders' pass rush is truly impactful, however, with pressure off of both edges. We’ve seen games where Crosby and Ferrell are collapsing the pocket. There are other times where Ferrell feels invisible in the pass rush.

The Clemson product is a steady run defender and that’s important, but this is a game against an opponent where game-changing plays are required. Ferrell has only had sacks in two games but needs to make it a third. He is also adept knocking passes down at the line of scrimmage, and that could be helpful as well.

This is going to be a game spent largely in the nickel package so Benson Mayowa will play a role on Ferrell’s side as well -- he, too, has to produce -- but the No. 4 overall pick will play a ton. Pairing him with dynamic new interior rusher Dion Jordan could help both players, as Ferrell plays well off of rushing interior linemen. They could make each other better in those instances and make life difficult on one side of a ho-hum Chiefs offensive line. Ferrell has shown up big in college games. It’s time to do so for this high-stakes game in the pros.

RB Josh Jacobs

The Alabama product is just 43 rushing yards away from 1,000. The Raiders would love it if he crosses the threshold in Sunday’s first half. That would mean the run game is going strong, and the Raiders would find an early rhythm never established in last week’s showdown with the Jets' No. 1-ranked run defense. The Chiefs are 30th in that area, giving up 143.1 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Raiders' rushing totals have dripped a smidge, but it’s not an overall cause for concern.

Jacobs has proven impactful in almost every game this season, earning hard yards inside while finding space required to gain ground in chunks. The No. 24 overall draft pick should see the ball a ton on Sunday. In fact, the more Jacobs sees the ball, the better the Raiders are doing.

He’s key to a strong start and a positive game script that will allow Gruden to remain committed to the run game. Tennessee and Indianapolis beat the Chiefs earlier this season by running a ton -- the Colts ran 45 times! -- even when they were down. Jacobs is more than capable of following that blueprint and felling this formidable foe with a heavy workload.

CB Lamarcus Joyner

The veteran slot cornerback had a hard time watching last week’s loss to the Jets. It was obviously frustrating to be sidelined a second time with a hamstring strain during a loss, but his misery was intensified by the Jets attacking areas of the field he would normally defend. Nevin Lawson had a tough day at the office, and it was clear then just how much they missed their defensive co-captain.

Joyner’s back and healthy now, just in time to face a formidable Chiefs attack that uses breakneck speed to go deep and work the middle of the field. The Raiders gave up a series of explosive plays to Kansas City in Week 2 that made it one-sided, and Joyner played a significant part in that. He’ll have to do better than he did then and be a rock inside using veteran savvy to mitigate Kansas City’s obvious speed advantage.

The Raiders secondary must work well together to slow the Chiefs, playing top-down coverage while making them earn every inch. Joyner will be vital in that effort and offers an instant upgrade after two games away.

[RELATED: Worley must give Raiders stability with secondary in flux]

WR Zay Jones

The third-year pro plays a ton these days, clearly comfortable with his responsibilities in the Raiders offense since being traded to the Silver and Black from Buffalo. That doesn’t mean he’s targeted much. Jones has just 11 catches for 88 yards on 14 targets in five games as a Raider, a paltry sum that’s a product of trying to build chemistry with Carr during the season while other targets have been working with him since the spring.

His opportunities should increase Sunday, when he’s expected to play more in the slot with Hunter Renfrow out injured. Jones has been playing outside as a Raider but has tons of experience inside in college. He wasn’t terribly efficient with targets in Buffalo but must be if called upon for third-down conversions as Renfrow was regularly.

Jones has all the talent required to be a productive NFL receiver but hasn’t shown it much. This is the time to do so and take coverage away from tight end Darren Waller in the middle of the field.

Tom Brady says he's 'open-minded' about uncertain future with Patriots

Tom Brady says he's 'open-minded' about uncertain future with Patriots

When you think about the New England Patriots, you don't see Steve Grogan, you picture Tom Brady. Aside from six Super Bowl rings for Brady and a trophy case full of accolades and records, there could be one big difference between the two quarterbacks. 

Grogan was a late-round draft pick who spent his entire 16-year career as a Patriots QB. Brady famously was a late-round draft pick who has spent his entire 20-year career as a Pats QB. But that could change. 

With rumors swirling that Brady might move on from New England this offseason, the 42-year-old addressed his future in his weekly interview with Westwood One Sports Radio on Sunday. 

"It's only been a couple weeks and I've had a lot of time with my family the last couple weeks and just been decompressing from the season," Brady said. "I've said earlier I'm open-minded about the process, and at the same time I love playing football and I want to continue to play and do a great job. I'm looking forward to what's ahead.

"Whatever the future may bring, I'll embrace it with open arms."

Brady is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career on March 18. The Athletic's Jay Glazer recently called the Raiders going after Brady with their move to Las Vegas a "no-brainer." And Brady was spotted in Sin City on Saturday night talking to none other than Raiders owner Mark Davis at UFC 246. 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Adam Hill spoke with UFC president Dana White -- who's a friend of Brady -- Saturday night after the fights, and White said a Raiders-Brady pairing absolutely "has legs." 

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is set to make $18.9 million next season, but the Raiders would save $16.5 million and take a cap hit of just $5 million if they trade or release Carr prior to June 1. 

[RELATED: Brady offers Jimmy G advice before NFC Championship Game]

Brady wouldn't come cheap, even at his age, though he certainly would create an insane amount of buzz and sell boatloads of tickets in the Silver and Black's first season in Las Vegas. Raider fans might also finally have reason to forget about the Tuck Rule, 18 years after the fact. 

Buckle up, things could get interesting. This is Las Vegas, after all.

Tom Brady to Las Vegas Raiders 'has legs,' UFC's Dana White believes

Tom Brady to Las Vegas Raiders 'has legs,' UFC's Dana White believes

Given the uneven performance Derek Carr had in the Raiders' final season in Oakland, it wouldn't be surprising if the team brought in another quarterback to start for the franchise' in its first season in Las Vegas.

Whether it's veterans like Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota or draft prospects like Tua Tagovaiola and Justin Herbert, there's no shortage of possibilities for Jon Gruden to consider as Carr's replacement and/or backup.

By the looks of the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone UFC fight Saturday night, it appears there's another name on the list, and it's the biggest one possible.

Yep. That would be Raiders owner Mark Davis in the white, and six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady in the black leather jacket on the right. If that doesn't get the rumor mill swirling, the following context might do the trick.

According to Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, UFC president Dana White -- who is a friend of Brady's and already is a suiteholder at Allegiant Stadium -- believes a Brady-Raiders pairing isn't all that farfetched. 

Carr is set to make $18.9 million in base salary in 2020, so it's difficult to see a scenario in which he and Brady are on the same team. Brady might be the best QB of all-time, and simply put, he's not taking a major pay cut. However, the Raiders would save $16.5 million and take a cap hit of just $5 million if they trade or release Carr prior to June 1, which would appear to be a precondition for bringing Brady to Sin City.

Of course, if the Raiders did that, it would be under the assumption that Brady could regain some of his three-time MVP form -- which, if you watched him in New England this past season, is nowhere near a certainty. In fact, one could argue that Carr is a superior QB to Brady right now, thus making that hypothetical move both illogical and unnecessary. While throwing for nearly an identical number of passing yards in 2019, Carr posted a far superior completion percentage than Brady (70.4 percent to 60.8 percent) and averaged 1.3 more yards per pass attempt. Of the 30 quarterbacks that qualified for ESPN's Total QBR rating -- which values the quarterback on all play types on a 0-100 scale adjusted for the strength of opposing defenses faced -- Carr was ranked ninth (62.4), while Brady was ranked 17th (53.7)

[RELATED: Mayock gives glowing review of Carr's 2019 with Raiders]

One would imagine that Gruden knows what he has in Carr, and considering his lukewarm-at-best endorsement of the Raiders' incumbent QB at the conclusion of the season, it wouldn't be surprising if the team opted to go in another direction. Brady certainly would provide plenty of excitement -- and would sell plenty of tickets -- but it would also be a big gamble on the Raiders' part.

Given it's Las Vegas, maybe that's the way to go.