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AFC West Grades: Raiders nipping at Kansas City’s heels

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs: 6-4

Grade: B

The Chiefs look more vulnerable than ever after dropping a trap game against the Titans on Sunday. And just a week after they grabbed a marquee win over the Vikings.

Quietly, Kansas City has lost four of their last six games, a precipitous fall from the perch they seemingly sat on after a 4-0 start. Remember when Kansas City was supposed to be the top challenger to New England in the AFC? They’re hardly holding off the Raiders right now.

Key Stat: 53 percent

Kansas City has the league’s No. 1 pass offense by DVOA at 53.0 percent. With the Raiders pass defense underwhelming throughout the year, plus injuries to Karl Joseph and Lamarcus Joyner, it’ll take a miracle to slow them down. Luckily, the Raider offense isn’t too far behind at No. 4 in the league in pass offense (38.7 percent) and might be able to steal a shootout in Arrowhead in Week 13 if things break right.

They need more from: Frank Clark

With Emmanuel Ogbah having season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral, the Chiefs will need even more from their premier offseason addition. Clark has been stout against the run as per usual, but his limited amount of quarterback pressures (12) is alarming given the state of the Chiefs secondary. Kansas City’s cornerbacks are prone to get exposed if they are forced to cover receivers for too long.

Oakland Raiders: 5-4

Grade: B

The Raiders set their course for playoffs and grabbed two straight pivotal wins that came right down to the wire. The schedule eases up over the next two games against the Bengals and Jets, but Oakland can’t afford to take either team lightly, as a slip up could be detrimental.

If the Raiders make the playoffs, don’t be surprised if Jon Gruden gets an extended handful of Coach of the Year votes. He’s got this youthful team ahead of schedule.

Key Stat: 53 of 111

The Raiders offense has faced 111 third downs this season and are converting 47.7 percent of the time. Thats the fourth best mark in the NFL. How are they doing it? A whole lot of Josh Jacobs and a real accurate Derek Carr.

With the Raiders getting ahead of the sticks on early downs by establishing a strong ground attack, Carr is free to throw easy check downs manufactured by the Gruden offense. Carr is completing a career-high 70.8 percent of his passes and looking more comfortable and decisive when he has time to let it rip.

They need more from: Nevin Lawson

With injuries to Joseph and Joyner, Lawson is going to need to step up right away into a potential starting role in the slot. The Raiders have used the 4-2-5 nickel alignment frequently and have used Joyner as the nickel CB over 90 percent of the time. When he’s been out, Lawson has come in. That’s been quite infrequent, however. Lawson played on only four percent of the Raiders defensive snaps last week.

Los Angeles Chargers: 4-6

Grade: C+

Philip Rivers couldn’t overcome the Raiders unexpected pass rush and was rattled into a bevy of turnovers in a game that may have effectively ended the Chargers playoff hopes. And right after a major 26-11 win against Green Bay at that.

This defense should get a huge with Derwin James available to play starting in Week 13. By then, they will be too far out of the playoff picture to realistically contend but just good enough to be a serious threat when they face Oakland on Dec. 22.

Key Stat: 45

That’s how many quarterback pressures Joey Bosa has this season according to Sports Info Solutions, a number that ranks No. 1 in the NFL. He’s tied for No. 1 among all defensive linemen with Chandler Jones in SIS’ total points saved metric. When this defense front has Bosa and a healthy Melvin Ingram on the field, they’re one of the toughest to combat in the league.

They need more from: The fans

Or maybe they just need more fans overall. Must be tough playing 16 road games a year.

Denver Broncos: 3-6

Grade: C-

For as bad as the Broncos have been this season, they’ve shown some signs of life. Four of Denver’s losses have been one-score games and they looked particularly good in their last outing against the Browns.

With road games against the Vikings and Bills up next, the feel-good vibes created against Cleveland will likely fade fast once the Broncos realize that they do in fact employ Brandon Allen as their current starting quarterback.

Key Stat: 36 percent

For a pass rush spearheaded by Von Miller and captained by a supposed defensive savant in Vic Fangio, the Broncos don’t create much pressure. They are No. 29 in ESPN’s pass rush win rate statistic at just 36 percent, ever-so-slightly above a much maligned Raiders pass rush. Bradley Chubb will obviously be a major boost to the unit next year when he returns from a torn ACL, but I’d be surprised if his addition alone can bring them back to premier status

They need more from: Noah Fant

Fant’s explosive play against the Browns showed just how much this team needs him on offense in the wake of the Emmanuel Sanders trade.

After grabbing 20 catches for 185 yards and 1 touchdown across his first eight games, the No. 20 overall pick set a career-high in receiving yards with 115 on three catches in his last outing. Fant needs to start showing promise as a receiver, considering that he currently has a subpar 46.9 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus.