By Sam McPherson
Back in mid-October, the Oakland Raiders traveled to Kansas City to face the long-time, division-rival Chiefs, and it was a rough day for the Silver and Black as they lost by 17 points.
Perhaps that kind of score differential this Sunday, when the rematch occurs at the Oakland Coliseum, will reflect accurately the kind of season it’s been for both teams.
The Chiefs now are 10-3, and with one more win, they will clinch a playoff spot in the AFC postseason. Depending on how other teams finish, Kansas City could still win the AFC West division, but they need help. The Raiders (4-9) can help the Chiefs, in multiple ways, in the final three games of the season: Kansas City needs to beat Oakland and then hope the Silver and Black beat the Denver Broncos in Week 17, amongst other happenings.
Kansas City has undergone a remarkable turnaround from last year’s 2-14 finish: they began this season 9-0, and after blasting the Washington Redskins last week, they are one win away from the postseason. The Chiefs have a chance to improve their win total by 11 victories if the team wins out, unheard of in NFL history: only the 1999 Indianapolis Colts and the 2008 Miami Dolphins both won 10 more games than they had the previous season.
Head Coach Andy Reid deserves a lot of credit for this turnaround, both in personnel decisions and in maximizing what talent was on the roster. And perhaps that all starts, on offense, with running back Jamaal Charles. He’s averaged 4.9 yards per carry on his way to 1,162 yards this season, with 10 rushing touchdowns. Throw in his 57 receptions and three more touchdowns through the air, and Charles is “The Man” for Kansas City.
His career YPC number (5.6) is second-best in NFL history, trailing only Cleveland Browns great Marion Motley (5.7) amongst running backs. That’s a Hall of Famer in the making right there, and the Oakland defense – ranked 12th against the run this season – will have to stop him if they want to win the game.
At quarterback, the Chiefs have the ultimate “game manager” at the helm: former San Francisco 49er and number one overall pick Alex Smith. He’s actually having kind of a down year, completing only 59.8 percent of his throws this season, but Smith has thrown 18 TDs and only turned the ball over seven times in 13 games (six interceptions and one fumble). He doesn’t have to win the games for the Chiefs as much as he has to not lose them, and for the most part, Smith has done well this year with that responsibility.
The QB also has run for 367 yards this year on 66 attempts, for a healthy 5.6-yard average, so the Raiders have to watch out for that possibility if Smith has nowhere to throw the ball.
Charles actually leads the team in receptions, but wide receivers Derrick Bowe and Donnie Avery have the ability to tie up a secondary. Bowe (49 catches, 602 yards, five touchdowns) and Avery (35 receptions, 531 yards) are different talents, Bowe becoming more a possession receiver at this point in his career while Avery stretches defenses with his speed. And if that’s not enough to worry about with Charles coming out of the backfield, the Chiefs also have scatback Dexter McCluster: he’s caught 46 passes this year, too.
That’s a lot of offensive weapons for Kansas City, and the Oakland defense will have its hands full.
The Chiefs’ defense is only ranked 20th overall, but that’s a misleading number since Kansas City has scored a lot of defensive touchdowns this year. Linebacker Derrick Johnson leads the team with 96 tackles, and safety Eric Berry (64 tackles) is one of the NFL’s best defenders.
The Chiefs have some injuries on defense suffered in the last month, as well, with sack leaders Justin Houston and Tamba Hali going down (each has registered 11 sacks this year), and they’ve played high-scoring Denver twice which is one of the reasons for that inflated defensive ranking.
Despite ranking 20th in yardage given up, Kansas City is just fourth in points allowed (224). That’s where the AFC-leading 28 takeaways on defense helps the Chiefs win ballgames, and they lead the NFL with six defensive TDs in 2013.
The Raiders will have to play a perfect game at home in front of their O.co fans to beat a team this good, and they probably are very aware of this reality as they prepare to face Kansas City one last time this season.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.