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The Kansas City Chiefs will close the season on Sunday at home against the Oakland Raiders. With a win, the Chiefs will secure the number one seed in the playoffs.
Here are five things to watch during the game:
1. Weakness vs. weakness
The Raiders are not very good against the run and poor against the pass... they give up a lot of points, but not quite so many yards... they generate few takeaways and even fewer sacks.
They score very few points, but get a fair number of yards... they have a decent passing attack, but give up a lot of sacks... they don’t rush the ball well, but do a decent job taking care of it.
In short, the Raiders are pretty much what you would expect in a 4-11 team. They’re really not good at much of anything, but they get into the average range in a few areas.
Even so, they managed to give the Chiefs a rough time in Week 13. The Chiefs did a good job of exploiting the Raider’s defensive weaknesses, but so did the Raiders. A game that should have been an easy win for the Chiefs turned into a nail-biter that required the Chiefs to make a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to put the game away for good.
As our own Craig Stout noted on Friday, the blame for that close outcome can be laid at the feet of the Chiefs defense, which did not play well in Oakland. Craig pointed out — correctly, I think — that moving Charvarius Ward into the secondary may help the Chiefs disrupt the timing of the Raiders’ quick-release passing game, and the presence of Eric Berry may help not only against the run, but also in preventing Jared Cook from making big plays against the Chiefs secondary.
There’s no need for the bar to be set too highly. With only one or two more defensive stops than they had in Oakland, the Chiefs should be able to get this done.
2. The Chiefs pass rush
If the Chiefs secondary can disrupt the Raiders’ preferred quick-passing attack — thereby forcing them into playing catch-up through most of the game — then look for the Chiefs pass rush to have another big game.
Dee Ford should be a full go, and Chris Jones has now had a sack in an NFL-record 11 consecutive games. Against the Raiders offensive line, Jones should be able to extend the streak to 12. I wouldn’t bet against Xavier Williams — a Kansas City native playing in a dream game at Arrowhead against the Raiders — having a big game. And while a lot of fans are ready to give up on Justin Houston, he tends to play well in division games. Don’t count him out.
3. Records on the line
This season, Travis Kelce has already set a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end. With another 54 yards against Oakland, he’ll set a single-season NFL record for tight ends. With 118 yards, he’ll become the Chiefs’ all-time leading pass receiver. Since Tyreek Hill needs only 14 more yards to also eclipse the current franchise record in receiving yards — and Kelce had 163 yards against the Raiders in Week 13 — it’s entirely possible that on Sunday, Kelce and Hill will become the top two receivers in Chiefs history in the same season.
Like Kelce, Mahomes has already set single-season franchise records for passing yards and touchdown passes. With a typical performance on Sunday, Mahomes could become the youngest player since Dan Marino — and only the sixth ever — to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. He could also become the youngest — and only the third all-time — to throw 50 touchdown passes in a season. It’s also possible he’ll become the youngest starting quarterback to ever have a single-season passer rating above 110.
And whatever happens on Sunday, he’ll become the only quarterback in NFL history to make the playoffs while under contract with Hunt’s Ketchup. So there’s that.
But let’s keep our eyes on the prize: with a win on Sunday, the Chiefs will skip over the Wild Card round, and secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
4. It’s a division game
I humbly apologize.
When the Chiefs played their last division game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I decided that the usual warning about playing a division opponent didn’t apply. I thought that the Chiefs would have too much at stake, and have such an advantage over Philip Rivers and the Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium that the usual rules wouldn’t apply.
That didn’t work out so well.
So here’s your reminder: Division games — even when one team is playing to win it, and the other team is simply hoping for some kind of respectability to end the season — are largely unpredictable. It’s unfortunate that so much is riding on this particular division game... but here we are.
5. It’s Raiders Week
In this space before the Week 13 game against the Raiders, I gave you with a list of some of the great moments in the long history of Chiefs-Raiders games, and pointed out that this isn’t 1994, and Marty Schottenheimer isn’t prowling the sidelines practices growling, “It’s Raiders Week, men!”
For fans, Raiders Week is still a big deal. But for Chiefs coaches... perhaps not so much.
In head coach Andy Reid’s world, these division games clearly have a lot of practical importance — he’s repeatedly gone on record saying that division games get additional preparation — but little emotional importance. For Reid, preparing for any game is a carefully-planned process that has as little variation in its routine as he can manage.
But for Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, Chiefs Week is still... well, a thing. Perhaps it’s because during his first stint as Raiders head coach from 1998 to 2001, the Chiefs-Raiders rivalry from the 1990s (and before) was still a big part of each organization’s institutional memory. Or perhaps Gruden is just doing his best to come up with anything that might help his battered 4-11 team close out the season on a positive note.
Whatever the reason, after watching the NFL Mic’d Up segment with Gruden on the sidelines of the Raiders 27-14 victory over the Denver Broncos on Monday night, it’s clear that Gruden is doing his best to get this Raiders team fired up to close the season — particularly against the Chiefs.
The Raiders aren’t a very good team by any measure. But it’s probably a mistake to think they won’t leave everything on the field at Arrowhead on Sunday.