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NFL Preview - Oakland (7-8) at Kansas City (10-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's a Week 17 game in which one team has already clinched a playoff berth and the other is guaranteed non-entry into the tournament. Yet both Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley and Oakland Raiders counterpart Tom Cable claim motivation for this Sunday's clash at Arrowhead Stadium remains at 100 percent.
Haley, whose Chiefs engineered a surprising turnaround from 4-12 last season to AFC West champions this year, can lock up a No. 3 seed for the conference playoffs with a victory in the finale against the Raiders.
A loss to Oakland would leave Kansas City in danger of slipping to fourth, which would mean a potential second-round trip to face the 13-2 New England Patriots. Getting the third seed would mean the Chiefs could avoid the Patriots until the AFC Championship Game.
If Kansas City loses and the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Tennessee Titans, the Colts would be No. 3.
"We're going to do what we think gives us the best chance to win," Haley said when asked for his approach on Sunday. "We're a transitioning team. Maybe some teams can look at games differently, but I know our group right now -- with where we are in our development -- we need to approach them the same way, which is get ready to win and put everything into figuring out how to get to three wins in this quarter [of the season]."
The Chiefs began the season with three straight wins, then went 2-4 over their next six games. They regained momentum with a 5-1 stretch that includes last week's 34-14 defeat of Tennessee. That win, coupled with San Diego's loss to Cincinnati, clinched the franchise's first division title since 2003.
"They're all a bunch of guys who are developing each and every day," Haley said of his team. "You can see that. The coaches have done a terrific job last year and this year of helping in that process and the players themselves have done a terrific job. It feels good as the head coach to see some of these guys grow up before your eyes and become players before your eyes."
The Raiders, who were mathematically KO'd from the postseason when the Chiefs beat Tennessee, can finish 8-8 with a victory and complete a six-game sweep of the AFC West. Doing so would make them the first team since the NFL-AFL merger to go unbeaten in its division and not make the playoffs.
Oakland hasn't won as many as eight games in a season since 2002, when it advanced to the Super Bowl before losing to ex-coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"How did we not make [the playoffs]?" defensive tackle Tommy Kelly wondered. "[We could be] 6-0 in our division. Shoot, I would think we're going to win by 10 games. But it hasn't worked out that way. It's a learning experience. We can't let it happen again. We can't go undefeated in our division and let games like Arizona [a one-point loss earlier in the season] slip away. We got to have those."
Kansas City holds a 52-46-2 edge in its all-time regular-season series with Oakland, but dropped a 23-20 overtime decision to the Raiders on the road back in Week 9. That ended a string of six consecutive meetings between the longtime rivals in which the visiting team had won, with Oakland claiming victories at Arrowhead Stadium in 2007 and 2008 in addition to last year's 13-10 triumph. The Raiders haven't swept a season set from Kansas City since 2001, when they took both matchups by a combined total of five points.
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.
Cable is 2-2 in his career against the Chiefs, while Haley is 1-2 versus both Cable and the Raiders as a head man.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Oakland is seventh in the league in scoring (25.3 ppg) and 10th in total offense (355.3 ypg), thanks mainly to a rushing attack that's climbed to second in the NFL with an average of 152.3 yards per game. Through the air, the Raiders are 23rd-best with an average of 203 yards per game. The Chiefs have been among the league's upper-tier defenses, allowing 19.7 points (9th overall), 329.3 total yards (11th) and 103.7 rushing yards (11th) per game. Kansas City slips to 20th-best against the pass, allowing 225.6 yards per game.
Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell has completed 69-of-113 passes (61.1 percent) for 947 yards with six touchdowns and a 94.5 passer rating against the AFC West this season. Running back Darren McFadden is 43 rushing yards short of becoming the first Raider since 1997 to go for 1,200 in a season. He's second in the league with an average of 128 scrimmage yards per game and averages 5.1 yards per carry against the Chiefs. Rookie Jacoby Ford had six catches for 148 yards and a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown in the Raiders' Week 9 win against Kansas City and became just the second player in league history to return two opening kickoffs for touchdowns in the same season when he did so in last week's 31-26 loss to Indianapolis. Elsewhere, tight end Zach Miller needs one touchdown catch to tie Ethan Horton for fifth on the franchise's all-time list in that category for tight ends.
Defensively, Chiefs safety Eric Berry had a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown last week and has a pair of interceptions in his last three games.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
An NFL-best rate of 167.5 rushing yards per game has been the playoff meal ticket for Kansas City, which is also ninth in the league in total yards per game (359.6) and 12th in points (23.7 ppg), but ranks a lowly 28th through the air with 192.1 passing yards per week. The matchup doesn't bode well for the Raiders, who are a subpar 29th against the run (134.9 ypg) and 21st in points allowed (24.1 ppg), while perking up to 13th-best in total defense (330.9 ypg) and a No. 3 overall ranking against the pass (196.1 ypg).
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is three touchdowns shy of tying Len Dawson (30) for the most in franchise history. Also, his plus-22 touchdown/interception ratio this season is a best-ever mark for Kansas City passers. On the ground, running back Jamaal Charles is 20 yards from becoming the fourth Chief to reach 1,400 rushing yards in a season. He scored a career-best two touchdowns last week. On the outside, receiver Dwayne Bowe has a franchise-record with his 15th touchdown catch of the season and can become the first Kansas City player to lead the league in that category since Otis Taylor in 1967. Tight end Tony Moeaki needs 21 yards to pass Walter White (559) for most receiving yards by a Chiefs rookie at that position.
As for the Raiders defense, tackle Kelly has a career-high seven sacks this season.
Given the matchup of the Chiefs' top-flight run attack and the Raiders' iffy ground defense, it seems Charles would be a go-to choice -- especially with a 1,400-yard milestone in his sights. Bowe is seeking a league lead in touchdown catches as well. Still, proceed with caution regarding Kansas City players, because health for the playoffs will trump any statistical motivations. For the Raiders, McFadden has run well against the Chiefs and has been among the league's best backs in the back half of the season.
Unlike other teams who've been to the playoffs and can afford a last-week interlude, the Chiefs are trying to maintain a winning mentality. Thus, while player health remains important in Week 17, so does maintaining late-season momentum. Expect Kansas City to keep it simple, run the ball and get away with a stereotype win for what they hope to do come postseason time.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 20, Raiders 17
12/30 16:07:18 ET
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