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Raiders vs. Chiefs: Five questions with the enemy

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

Editor’s Note: With the Raiders preparing for an all-important battle with the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday, I had the opportunity to ask Arrowhead Pride Editor-In-Chief Pete Sweeney about about the upcoming matchup. He discusses Kansas City’s Super Bowl prospects, the Chiefs lack of respect for Derek Carr’s deep ball, and more below. You can catch my side of things here.

Q: The Chiefs have had an uneven year and currently sit just one game ahead of the Raiders in first place in the AFC West. Are fans starting to worry a little bit about this team’s ability to contend for a Super Bowl?

Our most recent FanPulse rating suggested that 75% of the fan base feels confident in the direction of the team. That sounds about right.

The Chiefs came into the season with grand expectations, and they have certainly taken a hit with losses to the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texas, Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans.

But the saving grace has been this: though the Chiefs really haven’t looked to be among the NFL’s best teams at any point this season, they have still managed seven wins in 11 games, which is not easy to do in the NFL.

I also find there is a belief that the Chiefs have yet to click on all cylinders quite yet — meaning simultaneously good outings from the offense, defense and special teams.

So while it would be fair to say some worry has set in, I also believe the fan base has found reason to hope.

Q: The Chiefs run defense has been their main Achilles heel this season. How do you expect Steve Spagnuolo to counter a powerful Raider rushing attack spearheaded by Josh Jacobs and the heaviest starting offensive line in the NFL?

Because the Chiefs likely don’t respect Derek Carr’s ability to throw the ball downfield, we see defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo keeping his safeties a little closer to the box to offer some additional help.

Chris Jones, when playing, has been solid this year, Frank Clark is coming off his best game as a Chief and Alex Okafor is expected to make his return to the lineup after a few games off due to injury.

Defending the run remains one of my biggest concerns if this Chiefs team is going to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Chiefs have allowed more than 150 yards in five games this season, including 188 yards to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, 132 to Indianapolis’ Marlon Mack and 125 to Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson.

Josh Jacobs projects as a player who will be a significant problem on Sunday.

Q: Who is an under-the-radar player on offense and defense that has made a major impact for the Chiefs this year?

Offense: Wide receiver Mecole Hardman has put together a productive rookie season. Limited in opportunities because of the trio of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, Hardman has made the most of the touches he has received. Hardman leads the Chiefs in 19.6 yards per reception, and the Chiefs feel he could be their next home-run threat as a punt returner.

Defense: Second-year cornerback Charvarius Ward has been strong for the Chiefs in the secondary all year long. The Chiefs acquired Ward in late August 2018 for offensive lineman Parker Ehinger, who has bounced around the league since the deal. According to Chiefs dot com, Ward ranks in the top eight cornerbacks in the league when it comes to passer rating against. The coaching staff has mentioned how he has gained confidence each week.

Q: What matchups do you think Andy Reid and the Chiefs offense will exploit? Will we see more of the same from that crazy, 28-point second quarter outburst from Week 2?

We believe the Raiders missing some of their top defenders in safety Karl Joseph and linebacker Vontaze Burfict will badly hurt them in handling the Chiefs. Of all the Chiefs’ weapons, and there are a lot of them, I’d predict tight end Travis Kelce to do the most damage, especially in the middle of the field, as Hill and Watkins open things up. Like we saw in the second quarter during that first game Week 2, an outburst is possible, and that is why the Raiders utilizing Jacobs for ball control will be crucial to their success.

Q: What is your prediction for this game? And how do you expect the final AFC West standings to shake out?

I have thought since the preseason that the Raiders were a year away. Great play from their young players (kudos to Mike Mayock) has sped that timeline up, but I still think they are missing the most important piece — a quarterback to compete with Patrick Mahomes. I saw that this game is a 9.5-point spread, but I think that is too high. The Raiders respond well and make it a game after being embarrassed by New York, but the Chiefs are still too much in a one-score loss, 31-24. The Chiefs eventually win the division in the No. 3 or No 4 spot, finding themselves playing at Arrowhead on wild-card weekend.