8:25 PM EST, CBS – Line: Chiefs -3, Over/Under: 47
Bitter AFC West rivals meet tonight at the Oakland Coliseum, as the Oakland Raiders fight for survival against the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs, who received their first taste of defeat last weekend, knocking the league’s last remaining unbeaten from it’s perch. Oh, what a difference a Sunday makes when you’re the Chiefs (5-1, 1st in AFC West), riding high on a perfect 5-0 start in which you humiliated the defending Super Bowl Champions on National Television, all the while silencing the plethora of naysayers and critics you’ve earned over the years behind the exploits of what has been the most prolific Offense in the league. You’re averaging 29.5 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on 407.6 Total Yards (2nd Overall), led by a veteran Quarterback who is playing the best the football of his career, with an unheralded Rookie Tailback that has taken the NFL by surprise. Indeed, life is good in Kansas City, or at least it was until this past Sunday, when the Pittsburgh Steelers stormed into Arrowhead Stadium, physically manhandled you in 19-13 affair that wasn’t even that close. It wasn’t so much that Andy Reid’s charges were beaten, but how they were defeated that has allowed the critics to come out of hiding for the first time this season; for the vast majority of the day, the hosts looked absolutely lethargic offensively, sitting on a scant three points for the first three quarters of action, before capitalizing on some huge plays midway through the Fourth Quarter to make things appear to be more respectable. Indeed, this is certainly one that the Chiefs would like to have back, particularly given the bad blood felt towards the Steelers after last January’s controversial loss at Arrowhead in the Division Round of the Playoffs. When it was all said and done, Alex Smith and Co. looked like anything but an explosive Offense, registering just 251 Total Yards (they had just six at Halftime) on twelve First Downs, while struggling to earn anything positive on the ground, rushing for a scant twenty-eight Yards on fourteen Carries. Smith (72.9%, 272.8 Y/G, 7.14 NY/A, 12 TD, 0 INT), who has been a serious early contender for MVP thus far, was ineffective without the benefit of a the running game, completing 19-of-34 Attempts for 246 Yards and a late Touchdown, while taking three Sacks for a loss of twenty-three Yards, and a number of other hits. Defensively, the home side was pummeled in the trenches, as Pittsburgh churned out 194 Yards on thirty-seven Carries, leading to a decisive difference in possession, with the visitors owning 36:39 of the Clock. As bad as they looked, the common narrative has chalked this defeat up to a bad matchup in styles, for Reid’s charges have typically struggled with the Steelers, dropping four out their past five meetings (including the Postseason) since the Head Coach was appointed back in 2013. Fortunately, you could flip the script in terms of their matchup tonight with the Raiders, whom they have conversely owned through Reid’s tenure with the franchise; Kansas City has beaten Oakland in seven out of their past eight meetings including each of the past five. With all that said, if there is something that truly bears watching with this group, it is their relative health, and the ongoing war of attrition that they’ll be fighting to preserve it. Some would argue that the Chiefs have been enjoying this early success on borrowed time given the significance of some of the players they’ve lost due to injury; All-Pro Safety Eric Berry (Achilles) was lost for the year midway through the Season Opener, while Receivers Chris Conley (Achilles) and Albert Wilson (Knee) have been missing in action of late, with the Offensive Line being without two Starters with Mitch Morse (Foot) and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Knee) nursing various ailments of their own. Furthermore, the depth in the Backfield has been depleted with Spencer Ware (Knee) on Injured Reserve, and Charcandrick West suffering from a concussion, not to mention Jack of all Trades Receiver Tyreek Hill (30 REC, 390 YDS, 2 TD), who has been limited in Practice due to an unspecified upper body injury. Needless to say, these lingering ailments become all the more prominent on a short week of rest.
Meanwhile, what the hell has happened to the Raiders (2-4, 4th in AFC West), whom after last year’s long-awaited return to the Playoffs, was anointed by many to truly contend in 2017, serving as a popular pick to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII? Oakland won their first two games of the campaign convincingly, but somewhere along the way have inexplicably crumbled on both sides of the ball, losing each of their past four games. So we ask again: what the hell is going on here? We’ll start on Defense, where admittedly, Jack del Rio’s charges weren’t all that imposing to begin with. Sure, they can boast the presence of 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Kahlil Mack (35 TKL, 4.0 SK, 1 PD), but otherwise there is a real dearth of playmakers to be found here, particularly at Linebacker, where they’ve been completely inept at defending Tailbacks and Tight Ends on short to intermediate routes. Take last Sunday’s disappointing 17-16 loss at home against the Chargers for example; throughout the contest, Philip Rivers found Melvin Gordon (9 REC, 67 YDS, 1 TD) and Hunter Henry (5 REC, 90 YDS) leaving the host’s second line of defense in their dust, which was particularly evident on San Diego’s final 11-Play, 79-Yard Drive that eventually won the game. On the season, the unit as a whole may not appear to be struggling so much in a general sense, but their performance in many crucial situations has left a lot to be desired. In an attempt to remedy the situation, Management acquired veteran Linebacker NaVorro Bowman after he was released from the San Francisco 49ers over the weekend. At 29-Years Old with two major knee surgeries in the past three years it remains to be seen what exactly the three-time Pro Bowler has left in the tank, and what he can provide for this flailing group. With all that said, the biggest disappointment by far has to be the underachieving Offense, which was the engine of their success a year ago. In 2016, the Raiders’ Offense was explosive, balanced, and versatile, led by an emerging star at Quarterback, a pair of 1,000-Yard Receivers, and a physical ground game that could bloody the most fearsome Defenses. This season however, hardly any of that has been apparent; through six games, this unit has averaged just 20.7 Points per Game (18th Overall) on 291.9 Total Yards (30th Overall), including 198.2 through the air (27th Overall) on 5.7 Net Yards per Attempt (23rd Overall), and another 93.7 on the ground (24th Overall) on 4.3 Yards per Carry (11th Overall), though numbers are skewed heavily given the seventy-one points they scored in the first two weeks compared to fifty-three they’ve produced since. First and foremost, Derek Carr (68.3%, 184.4 Y/G, 5.89 NY/A, 8 TD, 4 INT) doesn’t appear to be healthy, after suffering a cracked vertebrae during the team’s 16-10 loss at Denver three weeks ago. After missing the following week, he pressed to get on the field against San Diego, only to look out of synch with the plethora of weapons at his disposal, completing 21-of-30 Attempts for 171 Yards, a Touchdown and a pair of Interceptions. His return was surprising, and in all seriousness hasty, given that the initial prognosis for his rehab was placed at two to six weeks, though it has become painfully clear just how much this Offense relies on him to perform at a high level. Then there’s the Rushing Attack, which was supposed to be even better this year, with the addition of veteran Tailback Marshawn Lynch (70 CAR, 257 YDS, 2 TD), and while the Oakland native hasn’t been terrible (particularly after spending all of 2016 in retirement), the ground game in general as been extremely underwhelming. During their four-game slide, the Raiders are averaging just 68.3 Yards per Game, which is asinine given the presence of three Pro Bowlers on their Offensive Line. This is where this team can get back on track tonight, for Kansas City has struggled in defending the run this season, with opponents gashing them for 130.7 Yards (27th Overall) on 4.8 Yards per Carry (28th Overall), all the while seeing that success against them increase with each passing week.