The Kansas City Chiefs will travel to California on Sunday to take on the Oakland Raiders in the first of two matchups between the AFC West rivals.
Both teams are still hopeful in their 2016 playoff aspirations. The Chiefs, a popular playoff pick in the preseason, have started the year 2-2 and are coming off their bye week. Kansas City will be looking to rebound from their last game, a 43-14 dismantling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4.
Meanwhile, the Raiders sit at 4-1 and rest atop the division. Experts and fans alike expected Oakland to improve on last year’s 7-9 record, but the team’s hot start has still managed to exceed many of those expectations.
For Kansas City, the season has been a mixed bag thus far. The Chiefs opened the season with an improbable 21-point comeback over the Chargers, the largest comeback in franchise history. The Texans then scored a seven-point victory over the Chiefs in Week 2, which Kansas City followed up with a 24-3 win over the Jets in which the defense recorded an astounding eight turnovers. That strong defensive showing was nullified the following week in the blowout loss to Pittsburgh.
Oakland has won four of its first five games, but has done so by the skin of their teeth. Their four wins have come by a combined 12 points, including victories over the Saints and Ravens by just one.
For the Raiders, the close victories are due to its offensive and defensive units being ranked on opposite sides of the spectrum. Oakland has been an offensive juggernaut through five games. They have scored the third most points in football and average the fourth most yards per game. But the defense ranks dead last in yards, giving up 452.6 per game and allows 27.4 points per contest, the ninth worst mark in football.
The Chiefs have been average on both sides of the ball, at least statistically. They have the 20th-ranked scoring offense and the 17th-ranked scoring defense. Quarterback Alex Smith has continued to be efficient, completing 65 percent of his passes and committing just three turnovers, but the lack of big plays in the passing game has slowed the offense.
Meanwhile, Derek Carr has led an Oakland passing attack that’s been incredibly prolific. Carr already has 11 touchdown passes, including a league-leading five by Michael Crabtree. Second year wideout Amari Cooper is well on his way to surpassing his 1070-yard rookie campaign, putting up 456 yards through five games.
Both teams are dealing with similar running-back-by-committee situations in the backfield. The Raiders have gotten at least 170 yards from Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington. The Chiefs, who should finally get star runner Jamaal Charles back, have relied largely on Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West out of the backfield so far this year.
While the Raiders hold an edge on offense, the Chiefs clearly have a superior defense. Oakland’s big free agent acquisitions have yet to pay off, and stud defensive end Khalil Mack has only recorded one sack on the year.
Meanwhile Kansas City is getting big contributions from all over its roster. Twelve-year veteran Derrick Johnson leads the team with 31 tackles, while second-year cornerback Marcus Peters leads the entire NFL with four interceptions.
A win would be huge for either team. Kansas City could draw within just one game of the division lead with a victory, while Oakland can keep pace with the Broncos and distance itself from the rest of the division. The combination of the Chiefs’ average offense and defense and Oakland’s vaunted offense and awful defense could very easily see this game become a shootout.
The Raiders have been a better team on the road recently, so it will be interesting to see how they perform at home. Despite the two game difference in the standings, the two teams are pretty evenly matched. It would not be an upset if either team came out on top Sunday.