By Andrew Kahn
With Kansas City’s impressive win against the Seahawks on Sunday and Denver’s shocking loss to the Rams, the Chiefs (7-3) are tied for first in the AFC West. After an 0-2 start, they’ll look for their sixth straight win and eighth in their last nine games. The Raiders, meanwhile, are 0-10. Half of those losses have been by seven points or fewer, but when that’s the biggest praise you can give a team, you know things are ugly. Oakland has dropped 17 in a row, so you figure their only chance on a short week is a flat Chiefs team peeking ahead to next week’s showdown with Denver.
When Kansas City has the ball:
The Chiefs are fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt and yards per game. Jamaal Charles is having another great year and you should expect a strong performance on Thursday night. In the five games since Kansas City’s bye, he’s averaged 120 total yards per game and scored seven touchdowns. He put up big numbers against the Raiders last year, scoring seven times in the two games. Alex Smith’s numbers have been very pedestrian. But Kansas City has been winning, largely because they’ve protected the ball. Smith has gone five straight games without an interception, though he’ll hope to end a string of three straight games without cracking the 200-yard passing mark.
Oakland’s rush defense statistics appear worse than they are because opponents have built big leads and kept the ball on the ground. While they’re giving up a lot of yards, they’re eighth in yards per attempt allowed. Still, expect Kansas City to pound the ball consistently, and eventually break through.
When Oakland has the ball:
To say the Raiders are last in the NFL in total offense doesn’t tell the whole story—they’re 33 yards per game worse than the team ahead of them. Factor in the 20 turnovers (tied for fourth worst) and you see why they’re last in the league with 15.2 points per game and have yet to win. It starts at quarterback. Take a look at the passer rating leaderboard and the usual suspects are near the top—Rodgers, Romo, Manning, Brady, Rivers, Brees—veterans who could run their offenses in their sleep. The bottom of this list shouldn’t be surprising either: it’s filled with rookies. Oakland’s Derek Carr ranks 28th among qualified passers, ahead of only fellow rookies Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, as well as second-year QB (and now benched) Geno Smith.
Don’t expect a breakout game from Carr on Thursday, as he’ll be facing the top-ranked pass defense in the league. Kansas City has benefited from Justin Houston’s league-leading 12 sacks. Carr has shown some elusiveness and a quick release, and both traits will serve him well on Thursday. Still, Oakland will need to run the ball, and they’ve been terrible doing that this year (sense a trend here?). Darren McFadden has been surprisingly healthy but disappointingly ineffective, as has Maurice Jones-Drew, so Latavius Murray may get more carries. Someone will have to step up to take pressure off Carr and give Oakland a fighting chance.
Prediction: Kansas City 24, Oakland 16
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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