Two playoff hopefuls and division rivals face off this Sunday with the Chiefs coming to Oakland. The Chiefs sit at 6-5 and in control of their own destiny for the playoffs. The Raiders sit at 5-6, in much need of a win to stay in the thick of the playoff race. Here's what to watch for in the game.
Welcome back to your nightmare, Chiefs
For the Chiefs, taking the field in Oakland brings back some bad memories. The last time they came to Oakland, they were also had designs on the playoffs and were looking to cruise past an 0-10 Raiders squad to punch their ticket. Instead they got punched in the mouth. Latavius Murray had his breakout game, running for two touchdowns, one from 90 yards out. The Raiders got their first win and the loss proved to be a major factor in the Chiefs missing out on the playoffs. And guess what? The Chiefs were on a five-game winning streak then just as they are this season. The loss in Oakland started a three-game losing streak.
Underdogs, just the way they like it
Last week the Raiders beat the Titans in Tennessee. It was fourth time this season they were favored and the first of those games they won. All four of their other wins, they were the underdog. They were certainly underdogs for the aforementioned game in which they were 0-10 and the Chiefs were 7-3.
Justin Houston out, Dee Ford in
Over the past five weeks, the Chiefs have had the most fearsome pass rush in the NFL. They've averaged 3.4 sacks per game over that time period. But this week, they will be without their best pass rusher. Justin Houston went down last Sunday with a hyperextended knee and the Chiefs hope Dee Ford can pick up the slack in the pass rush in his absence. Ford was the Chiefs' first round pick out of Auburn in 2014. He hasn't seen the field much because he had All Pro pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston ahead of him on the depth chart. He appeared in every game last season, but this will be his first full game and his first start.
More tight end trouble
Last week the Raiders faced a team in Tennessee that utilized the tight end a lot. The result was Delanie Walker catching six passes for 91 yards. They will get no rest this week, facing the Chiefs who love to utilize Travis Kelce and Alex Smith utilizes him well. Kelce has caught at least three passes in every game this season, and at least four in all but one game. He leads the team in touchdowns (4) and is second on the team in receiving (689 yards). This isn't as simple as a particular match-up because different players will likely be assigned to cover Kelce and he will be handed off in zone coverage as well.
Marcus Peters homecoming
For the first time in his burgeoning NFL career, Oakland native Marcus Peters will head back home to play a game. Peters was a Raiders fan growing up in West Oakland. He attended McClymond's High School, where his father still coaches and where his mother still works at the local YMCA.
"It's going to be special," Peters said of Sunday's game in Oakland. "It's going to be real special. I get to go display my talents in front of my community, my hometown.
"From the start, it's been nothing but love and support coming up out of there. All I can do is just go have an excellent game and enjoy it."
No doubt there will be a few Raiders fans who are a bit torn about their feelings for Peters. One of their own who will be in a uniform that is not at all friendly.
Donald Penn vs Tamba Hali
With Houston out, Hali is the Chiefs top pass rusher. The four-time Pro Bowler is second on the team with 6.5 sacks this season. Penn held up well against the rush in Tennessee but struggled against Ezekial Ansah when the Raiders played in Detroit the week before. Hali was held without a sack when the Chiefs came to Oakland last season, but he got one when the two teams met late last season in Kansas City and it was Penn he beat to get it.
Tony Bergstrom vs Donatri Poe
Unfortunately Rodney Hudson probably won't get a crack at his former team just yet. He is doubtful with a sprained knee and is replaced for the third time this season by Tony Bergstrom. Across from Bergstrom is the most athletic nose tackle in the NFL. Poe has been a Pro Bowler in two of his three NFL seasons. He is hard to move and hard to stop.
Poe was originally selected 11th overall in the 2012 draft and was the first defensive tackle off the board. Bergstrom was taken in that same draft at the tail end of the third round and was considered the best zone blocking guard in the draft. That's not quite how it's worked out for Bergstrom. Combine his injury issues with the Raiders ditching the zone blocking scheme after one season and Bergstrom made the mover to center to keep his roster spot. While he hasn't been a glaring liability at center in his few games at the position, the Raiders offense clearly misses Hudson.
Amari Cooper vs Marcus Peters
Fellow top pick rookie phenoms square off. Cooper was taken at fourth overall and Peters 18th. Both are making cases for themselves for Rookie of the Year on each side of the ball. Cooper leads all rookie receivers in yards, and Peters leads all rookies with four interceptions - one of which he returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Cooper is coming off winning Rookie of the Week for his seven-catch 115-yard performance in last week's win over the Titans. He will look at Sammy Watkins' six catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Chiefs as his blueprint for success this week against Peters and company.
6 keys to Chiefs 5-game win streak
For this week's Five Good Questions, I spoke with Joel Thorman of SB Nation Chiefs blog, Arrowhead Pride. He spilled a wealth of information on what is making the Raiders next opponent tick.
Khalil Mack vs Alex Smith
Part of what has made the Chiefs so dominant the past five weeks has been how efficient they have been on offense. Most notably the fact that Alex Smith hasn't thrown a pick since late September. If the Raiders are going to get Smith out of his comfort zone, Mack is the guy to do it. He had 2.0 sacks last week and leads the team with 7.0 sacks on the season. With Justin Tuck on IR and Aldon Smith suspended, Mack is far and away the Raiders top pass rusher and it will be his number one task to force Alex Smith to either get sacked or force a throw under duress. It will be Smith's job to find his receiver before Mack can get to him.
David Amerson vs Jeremy Maclin
As we know, defending the pas is a symbiotic relationship between the pass rush and coverage. Maclin's presence in the Chiefs offensive attack has given them a viable number one receiver for the first time in a while. He actually leads the team in receiving yards (as opposed to the tight end) and for once, the Chiefs are playing well even in the absence of Jamaal Charles.
Amerson has been the Raiders best cornerback this season. He has 10 passes defended over the past two weeks and 19 on the season. He has Maclin by an inch and five pounds. He also has two interceptions over the past four games. His ability to take Maclin away as the primary option keeps Smith in the pocket a bit longer as well as forces him to seek less attractive options for a completion.