NFL Preview - Kansas City (5-2) at Oakland (4-4)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Oakland Raiders have an opportunity to put together their best three-game stretch since the 2002 season, the last time the once- glorious franchise reached the playoffs. That's also the most recent year in which they've defeated one of their most storied rivals at home.
In a midseason showdown between the top two teams in the AFC West, the suddenly-resurgent Raiders aim to maintain their stellar form as of late, while the vastly-improved Kansas City Chiefs enter the Oakland Coliseum seeking to extend their surprising lead in the division standings.
The Raiders haven't won more than five games in a season since an 11-5 campaign in 2002 that culminated in a Super Bowl appearance, but the long- suffering club is within range of reaching that high-water mark of the previous seven years. Oakland owns a 4-4 record at the halfway point for the first time since that 2002 success, thanks to a pair of dominating efforts over the past two weeks.
Oakland turned some heads with a 59-14 dismantling of the wayward Denver Broncos in Week 7, a game in which a previously-struggling offense broke out for 508 total yards. The Raiders then proved that eruption was no fluke by piling up 545 yards in a 33-3 pasting of NFC West-leading Seattle this past Sunday at the Coliseum.
The combined 75-point margin of victory is Oakland's largest over a two-game span since the team's AFL days of 1967.
The red-hot Raiders now set their sights on winning three straight games for the first time since ripping off five in a row from Nov. 11-Dec. 8, 2002. They'll also be attempting to end a weird streak of seven consecutive home losses to the Chiefs, who are in the midst of a strong turnaround of their own after a few lean years.
After compiling a horrid 10-38 record over the past three seasons, including a 4-12 mark in head coach Todd Haley's 2009 debut, Kansas City has won five of its first seven contests to build a 1 1/2-game lead over second-place Oakland in the wacky AFC West. The Chiefs have done it on the strength of a bulldozing ground attack that's averaging a league-best 190.4 yards per game and has produced three straight outputs of at least 228 yards.
Kansas City rushed for a season-best 274 yards in last week's 13-10 overtime outlasting of still-winless Buffalo, with speedster Jamaal Charles gaining 177 on only 22 attempts to increase his NFL-leading yards per carry average to a robust 6.5.
The Raiders have done plenty of damage on the ground as well during their current tear. After gashing the Broncos for a whopping 328 rushing yards two weeks ago, the Silver and Black amassed 239 yards on a Seattle defense that came into the game ranked second in the league against the run.
Oakland's 168.5 rushing yards per week trails only the Chiefs in that category, while feature back Darren McFadden has generated 276 yards in two outings since returning from a two-game absence due to a hamstring strain.
The Raiders, now 3-1 at the Coliseum this season, will start Jason Campbell at quarterback for a fourth straight week while No. 1 signal-caller Bruce Gradkowski continues to rehab a sprained right shoulder. The offseason addition has certainly done enough to warrant another stay under center, having thrown for 514 yards and four touchdowns without an interception over the team's two blowout wins.
Kansas City has gone just 1-2 on the road for the year, with the lone win being a two-point verdict at lowly Cleveland in Week 2.
Kansas City holds a 52-45-2 edge in its all-time regular-season series with Oakland, including an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home. The Chiefs were 13-10 home losers when the teams met in Week 2, then went to Oakland and picked up a 16-10 victory in Week 10. As previously mentioned, Kansas City has won in each of its last seven trips to Oakland, and the road team has won the last six installments of the Raiders/Chiefs series.
In addition to the regular-season history, the teams have met three times in the playoffs, with Kansas City holding a 2-1 edge. The Raiders won a 1968 AFL Division Playoff, the Chiefs returned the favor with a 17-7 victory in the 1969 AFL Championship, and Kansas City also triumphed in a 1991 AFC First- Round Playoff.
Raiders head coach Tom Cable is 1-2 in his career against the Chiefs, while Haley is 1-1 against both Cable and the Raiders as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
No team has been more committed to the ground game than the Chiefs, who've run the ball nearly 60 percent of the time this season, and few if any have been as effective when doing so as well. The terrific tandem of Charles (666 rushing yards, 2 TD, 16 receptions) and veteran Thomas Jones (538 rushing yards, 3 TD) churn out over 170 yards per game between them, and the duo racked up a devastating 254 yards on 41 attempts in the hard-fought win over the Bills. Ex-Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' offense has also gotten efficient quarterback play out of Matt Cassel (1196 passing yards, 10 TD, 3 INT), with the ex-Patriot entering Sunday's tilt having thrown 119 straight passes without an interception. His favorite target has turned out to be rookie tight end Tony Moeaki (24 receptions, 2 TD), also a key element to the running game due to his strong blocking skills, with talented wideout Dwayne Bowe (21 receptions, 6 TD) the dangerous big-play threat who's hauled in five touchdown catches over the past three weeks. Charles adds another dimension as a receiver to an offense that doesn't hurt itself with mistakes, having turned the ball over a mere four times in seven contests.
Kansas City's outstanding backs will present a major challenge to an Oakland defense that was able to smother the Broncos and Seahawks, two teams that both run the ball poorly, but has given up 158 or more rushing yards three times this year -- and lost each of those games. Expect strong safety and leading tackler Tyvon Branch (52 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) to be deployed often in the box to aid a front seven that's terrific at pressuring the passer, but has been pushed around at times by physical teams in the past. If the Raiders are able to keep the Charles/Jones combo in check, they'll be able to unleash a furious pass rush that sacked Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck eight times last week and had four in the Denver game. The charge has been led by outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (28 tackles, 5 sacks) and situational end Matt Shaughnessy (25 tackles, 5 sacks), with five-time Pro Bowler Richard Seymour (31 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and fellow tackle Tommy Kelly (30 tackles, 3.5 sacks) each providing a strong push from the interior. Oakland has allowed the fifth- fewest passing yards in the league (183.0 ypg) and limited the opposition to a 53 percent completion rate, but the secondary may be without shutdown cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (11 tackles, 5 PD) after he sprained an ankle during last Sunday's triumph.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Oakland will look to get the ball into the hands of McFadden (668 rushing yards, 20 receptions, 6 total TD) as much as possible come Sunday and take advantage of the dazzling back's breakaway abilities as both a runner and a receiver. As Charles is to the Chiefs, he's the home-run hitter in the Raiders' backfield, with 245-pounder Michael Bush (307 rushing yards, 4 TD, 9 receptions) serving as the change-of-pace thumper between the tackles. Campbell (1023 passing yards, 6 TD, 4 INT) has completed only 56.5 percent of his passes in his first year in coordinator Hue Jackson's system, but the former Redskin was able to hit for several big pass plays in a season-high 310-yard performance last week. Though steady tight end Zach Miller (34 receptions, 4 TD) remains the Raiders' primary receiver, 2009 first- round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey (19 receptions, 2 TD) stepped up with five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown versus Seattle in the young wideout's best day as a pro. He'll need to be a factor again on Sunday, with counterpart Louis Murphy (21 receptions, 1 TD) likely to sit out a second straight week with a bruised lung. With Campbell having a tendency to take sacks and the front line somewhat shaky in protection, the game plan could feature plenty of short throws to McFadden and versatile fullback Marcel Reese (91 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 2 TD), who had 90 yards and a score on three grabs in Week 8.
A stout Kansas City run defense that hasn't permitted an individual 100-yard rusher this season will be awaiting McFadden on Sunday. Inside linebackers Derrick Johnson (57 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PD) and Jovan Belcher (42 tackles) and oversized end Shaun Smith (28 tackles) have keyed a unit that's yielded only 96.4 rushing yards per game thus far, a stark upgrade over last year, as well as the fifth-fewest points allowed (17.4 ppg). The Chiefs can hold their own against the pass as well, with Brandon Flowers (30 tackles, 2 INT, 8 PD) and Brandon Carr (30 tackles, 7 PD) forming a quality cornerback pairing and rookie safety Eric Berry (41 tackles, 2 INT) beginning to emerge into the playmaker the team had in mind when they took him with the fifth overall pick in April's draft. The 21-year-old has registered two interceptions and four pass breakups over the past two weeks and had 10 tackles against the Bills. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali (21 tackles), another high draft choice from a few years back, recorded 1 1/2 sacks last Sunday and leads the Chiefs with seven quarterback takedowns.
It's all about the running backs in this matchup, and there are three worthwhile ones taking part in McFadden and the Chiefs' committee of Charles and Jones, all of whom are highly recommended choices this week. Both teams' heavy emphasis on running the ball doesn't bode well for the fantasy prospects of either quarterback, though Campbell's strong two-game stretch warrants some consideration as a bye-week fill-in. Bowe's touchdown streak makes the Kansas City receiver an intriguing play, and especially so if Asomugha winds up inactive or limited, but avoid all other Chiefs pass-catchers if possible. Don't be fooled by Heyward-Bey's big numbers from last week, as the odds are against the drop-prone wideout will come through with a repeat, but Miller's a fairly safe call at the tight end spot. The Raiders have one of the top fantasy kickers in Sebastian Janikowski, the league leader with 19 field goals, but neither defense offers much appeal in a game that figures to be played close to the vest.
We'll be able to find out a little bit more about these two rising teams after this week. The Raiders are playing with confidence and precision for the first time in years, but the physical and sound Chiefs represent a step up in competition than the punching bags the Silver and Black have whipped up on the previous two Sundays. Oakland won't be able to move the ball at will on a Kansas City defense that's solid in all phases, nor will it completely shut down a rushing attack that can be overwhelming when it's clicking. But while the Chiefs have been more consistent than the Raiders, they've also yet to prove they can win a game of this magnitude on the road. If Oakland can both use the "Black Hole" to full advantage and force Kansas City to make plays through the air, a third straight victory is well within its grasp.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 20, Chiefs 17
11/05 09:31:04 ET