The Oakland Raiders won their sixth consecutive game this past Sunday, as they came back to defeat the Buffalo Bills 38-24 to move to an AFC best 10-2 on the season.
The Kansas City Chiefs, who are right behind the Raiders in the AFC West at 9-3, earned a solid victory of their own Sunday as they beat the Atlanta Falcons 29-28 on an interception by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on a two-point conversion that was returned 100 yards by safety Eric Berry to give the Chiefs two points and a victory on the road.
With just four regular season games remaining, each game becomes more important. So Thursday night’s matchup between the Raiders and Chiefs is the most important game of the season for both teams who aspire to win the division and earn a first round bye in the postseason.
Oakland’s last loss was to the Chiefs on Oct. 16 as they were defeated 26-10 at home. So if the Chiefs beat the Raiders again on Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium they will take over full control of the division lead.
Both teams are coming into the game hot, but the Raiders offense could have its hands full with the Chiefs start studded defense. Led by Berry, linebacker Derrick Johnson and corner back Marcus Peters, the Chiefs defense and special teams have scored 49.5 percent of the team’s points, which is the most in the NFL.
Derek Carr and the Raiders offense should be up for the challenge though, as the Raiders offense ranks third in football at 28.8 points per game. Carr is tied for fourth with 3,375 passing yards, but is among the league leaders with only five interceptions and 12 sacks against him.
Peters will likely have the challenge of guarding the NFL’s sixth leading receiver, Amari Cooper, who has 68 receptions for 981 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
Kansas City’s defense is not great in terms of yards allowed, as they rank 27th against the run at 121.9 yards per game and 22nd against the pass at 263 yards per game. They lead the league with 25 total takeaways though, so Oakland will have to take care of the ball if they want to be successful.
The Chiefs offense will be boosted by the return of their most talented receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who has not played since Week 9 as he dealt with a groin issue. In eight games this season Maclin has caught 30 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns. Last year in his first year with the Chiefs he had 88 receptions for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns.
If they want to have success offensively the Chiefs will need to protect quarterback Alex Smith, who has been sacked 25 times this season. To do that they will need to locate and block All-Pro defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
Mack has a sack in seven straight games, and each of the last two weeks he has had a strip sack of the opposing quarterback late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. Overall on the season Mack has 10 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception that was returned for a touchdown as he is viewed by many as the favorite to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Thursday night’s game is set to start at 5:25 p.m. Pacific time and will be aired on NBC.