Thursday Night Football
Oakland @ Kansas City
Vegas Projected Score: Chiefs 24.75, Raiders 21.75
Although Thursday night’s game will be played in sub-20-degree weather, neither wind nor snow will be a meaningful factor as the 10-2 Raiders visit the 9-3 Chiefs for a critical AFC West clash with Denver at 8-4. Playing at Arrowhead is never a walk in the park, but strictly in a fantasy football sense Derek Carr’s matchup is favorable against a Kansas City defense that has yielded top-12 quarterback weeks in seven of its last nine games while allowing the NFL’s tenth most touchdown passes (21) and 11th most passing yards per game (263.0). One concern is the Chiefs’ penchant for playing ball-control offense and limiting opponent play volume, a tactic they executed in a Week 6 road win at The Black Hole, dominating time of possession 37 to 23 and holding the Raiders to 53 offensive plays. On average, Oakland’s offense runs 66 plays per game. Behind an AFC-best offensive line that is capable of mitigating Kansas City’s pass rush, I expect Carr to have passing success if Oakland can avoid a similar scenario. It can't hurt that the man-coverage Chiefs have allowed the NFL's second most quarterback rushing yards (271). Carr ranks 15th among quarterbacks in rushing attempts (31). … The Raiders have committed to Latavius Murray as a legitimate workhorse back over their last two games, feeding him touch counts of 22 and 23 -- back-to-back season highs -- on snap rates of 66% and 70% -- also consecutive season highs. Murray set another season high with 25 pass routes run in last week’s win over Buffalo, and his passing-game usage has steadily trended upward. The Chiefs have played stout run defense lately, holding enemy backs to a combined 105-344-2 (3.28 YPC) rushing line over the past month. Nevertheless, Murray’s secure, high-volume usage and touchdown-scoring prowess render him a solid RB2 play at Kansas City. Murray has scored 11 rushing touchdowns through 10 games.
Carr’s target distribution over his last six games: Michael Crabtree 64; Amari Cooper 44; Seth Roberts 31; Murray 27; Clive Walford 20; Mychal Rivera 12; Jamize Olawale 7; Jalen Richard 6. … As Cooper runs nearly 60% of his routes at right corners and stationary Chiefs LCB Marcus Peters plays over 90% of his snaps as a left-corner only, this matchup sets up best for Cooper, who indeed went off (10-129) against Kansas City in Week 6. The Chiefs have mixed and matched at RCB over the past three weeks, using Phillip Gaines, Kenneth Acker, and Terrance Mitchell there, all of whom are replacement-level players. Peters projects to mainly square off with Crabtree, who managed 2-10-0 receiving working primarily in Peters’ coverage in Week 6. Cooper pretty clearly has the highest ceiling of the Raiders’ wide receivers at Arrowhead. In season-long leagues, Crabtree is still difficult to get away from with a 10.7-target average over his last six games. Over Peters’ last three games, Pro Football Focus has charged him with 14 completions allowed on 22 targets for 193 yards, including touchdowns to Devin Funchess and Aldrick Robinson. … If forced to choose a Raiders complementary pass catcher, I’d take my chances with slot man Roberts over rotational tight ends Walford and Rivera. Although Roberts has stat lines of 3-31-1 and 2-18-0 to show for it, his snap rates have jumped to 74% and 77% the past two weeks in an increasingly “11 personnel” three-receiver Raiders offense. Roberts ranks second on the Raiders behind Crabtree in both red-zone targets (13) and targets inside the ten (7) and has five TDs on the year. Roberts is one of the NFL’s best blocking receivers, which helps explain his increased playing time.
In frigid weather with Kansas City favored by three at home, this game sets up for a heavy dose of Spencer Ware against a Raiders defense that has coughed up a combined 76-394-5 (5.18 YPC) rushing line to enemy backs over its last three games. Oakland’s defensive front was gashed incessantly by LeSean McCoy (17-130) and Mike Gillislee (8-49-2) in a home game last week. While Ware’s rushing efficiency has taken a nosedive recently, he resumed dominating snaps (74%) over Charcandrick West (24%) in last week’s win over Atlanta, amassing 17 touches to West’s 1 and hitting pay dirt twice to snap a four-game scoreless streak. A clock-controlling game plan similar to Kansas City’s Week 6 approach in Oakland would make a lot of sense in this spot. Ware emerged from that game with 163 yards and a touchdown on 26 touches. The Raiders will be without SS Karl Joseph (toe) and rotational run-stopper DT Stacy McGee (ankle) on Thursday night. … Four of the last five signal callers to face the Raiders have posted top-15 fantasy results, giving Alex Smith a favorable outlook as a two-quarterback-league start. Smith’s lack of upside renders him a weak standard-league streamer. Smith has thrown multiple touchdown passes in 3-of-11 starts and has topped 270 passing yards once since Week 1.
Jeremy Maclin is back from his month-long groin injury, potentially throwing a wrench into usage distributions throughout Kansas City’s pass-catcher corps. Travis Kelce was an animal in Maclin’s absence, clearing 100 yards in 3-of-4 games. Kelce cleared 60 yards in just 3-of-8 games with Maclin in the lineup to begin the season and managed 3-32-0 when the Chiefs visited Oakland in Week 6. Kelce is always one of the top tight end plays on the board, but his consistency may take a hit going forward. On Thursday night in cold weather, there is still no guarantee Maclin will play a lot or effectively. Kelce’s matchup is improved by the absence of Joseph in the middle of the field. … Even with Maclin still out in last week’s win over Atlanta, Tyreek Hill’s playing time surprisingly dipped to 50%. Hill saw six targets and two rushing attempts, but it’s fair to wonder exactly what his role will be with Maclin back. Along with Kelce, Hill is obviously one of the Chiefs’ most dynamic players and deserves to be heavily involved. Ideally, he would become a staple in three-wide packages with Maclin and some combination of Chris Conley and Albert Wilson. I just don’t pretend to know whether the Chiefs will downsize Hill’s role on Thursday night. I think he is best approached as a boom-bust WR3/flex option. Maclin is almost impossible to trust after a four-game absence due to a severe groin injury in this chilly environment.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 27, Raiders 23