Sunday the Raiders welcome a second straight rival to Oakland to open the season. Last week the Broncos came to town and left with an L because, well, they’re a very bad team. This week the Chiefs come for a visit, coming off a season opening win of their own over the Jaguars in which the high-powered KC offense was on full display, hanging 40 points on the Jags in their own house.
I wanted to know a few things about this Chiefs team coming to town, so I spoke with Pete Sweeney who is the site manager of SB Nation’s Chiefs site Arrowhead Pride.
1. Was Sammy Watkins performance a fluke or a sign of things to come?
When the Chiefs first acquired Sammy Watkins last offseason, they made it clear they thought he was a blue player, and he has looked the part — when healthy. The problem has always been that often is not the case (Watkins started only nine games for the Chiefs last year, 14 the year before and eight the year before that). This training camp, he explained how he changed his offseason process — listening more closely to Chiefs trainers, and he was confident he is as healthy he has ever been. National pundits like ESPN’s Louis Riddick and NFL Network’s Peter Schrager said the Chiefs felt Watkins “looked incredible” this offseason. I was always hesitant to jump on board, but the truth is that was the perfect way to describe his Week 1 game with 198 yards and three touchdowns. Because of the injury to Tyreek Hill (expected to miss 4-6) weeks, I think Watkins’ resurgence is a sign of things to come — that is, you guessed it, if he can stay healthy.
For what it’s worth, I believe Chiefs-Raiders profiles more as a Travis Kelce game when it comes to the Chiefs’ offense.
2. How much will this team miss Tyreek Hill?
I don’t think there is a player in the league like Tyreek Hill, so quite a bit. There are players who are as close to as fast (like rookie Mecole Hardman) but never completely in stride, and the unworldly difference with Hill is it seems like he can run at that top speed for a fun 60 minutes. Even without Hill, I still believe the Chiefs offense is the second-best unit in the league to the New England Patriots, but it does bring them a step back closer to ordinary. If Kelce were to go down, or more likely as we just covered, Watkins — that is when things will get rather interesting for the Chiefs.
3. If there’s one thing that would get in the way of the Chiefs making a run this year, what would it be?
Cornerback play and losing in a shootout because of it. Every team has a deficiency, and for the Chiefs, it’s the cornerback room. The starters are Charvarius Ward, Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland, and on their unofficial depth chart, each position is backed up by Rashad Fenton, who is not ready to play. In case of an injury, I’d bet Steve Spagnuolo would opt to put Tyrann Mathieu or rookie Juan Thornhill there over Fenton. Help is on the way with Morris Claiborne returning from suspension Week 5, but that has no impact on this game. If Derek Carr can keep up with Patrick Mahomes by picking on a guy like Ward with a guy like Tyrell Williams, things could get interesting.
4. Frank Clark appears to be the biggest addition to this team. Is there someone else we shouldn’t be discounting?
I feel like Mathieu is obvious, so I’ll stick with the rookie in Thornhill. Thornhill started the first game of his career next to Mathieu in Week 1, as Spagnuolo said he earned the spot during preseason and training camp. He led the Chiefs with eight tackles against the Jaguars, has a nose for the ball and plays multiple positions. I know Carr takes care of the ball (less against the Chiefs), but if he throws a pick, look for Thornhill to be a top candidate. A great guy off the field, we noticed he tapped into a mean streak between the whistles Week 1.
5. We know how good the Chiefs offense is. It’s the defense that has seen the turnover. Is it better, worse, or the same as last year and why?
This isn’t a good answer (apologies), but I don’t quite know yet?
The progression seemed flat in the first game, but I’ve wondered if that was because due to injuries and availability, the defensive players did not get to play much with one another as a full unit in the preseason — just one or two snaps. The reworked defensive line looked manageable and Gardner Minshew, who didn’t know he was going to play, threw 22 of 25 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. I’ll put it this way — I think the defense is improved because it has to be, right?
But I didn’t see it last week.
Bonus: As much as I find the “bonus” question annoying (Doesn’t that just make it six questions? How is that a bonus?) since you asked, I’ll ask as well. Score prediction and how?
Luckily for me I already had this prediction done for our staff predictions. Copy, paste and…
It’s a new day for the Raiders, as some of the things Jon Gruden put in place as part of his 10-year plan are beginning to come to fruition — that was evident on Monday Night Football in the Raiders’ 24-16 win against the Denver Broncos. On Sunday, we’ll find out if that had more to do with the Raiders’ on the rise or the Broncos on the decline. I tend to think it was a combination of both, and I expect every factor we’ve mentioned to play a role in determining the outcome of the game on Sunday. There will be emotion in the final Chiefs-Raiders game in the Black Hole before the rivalry moves to a city called Paradise, Nevada (not quite the same ring). Derek Carr has the Raiders offense moving while the Chiefs will be without Tyreek Hill. Gruden called losing rookie safety Johnathan Abram a “big blow,” and I would agree. Though the Raiders feel a year away, I think they’re actually in the game for two quarters before the Chiefs offense is still too much. Chiefs 37, Raiders 27
Thanks for having me, and enjoy the game.