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Raiders-Chiefs: 3 key matchups; Raiders must be Swift to slow down Travis Kelce

Can Las Vegas pull off the upset?

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs
Nate Hobbs, Travis Kelce
Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

This Week 12 matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs is what rivalry games are all about. The campaign is quickly coming to a close and the Raiders need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive (realistically at least), and the Chiefs can’t afford to give up any more ground to earn the AFC’s top seed as they head into the weekend second in the conference.

That makes for a classic AFC West battle, however, Las Vegas enters the game as heavy underdogs on DraftKings Sportsbook, so it’s crucial that they win the three key matchups below.

1) Raiders OL vs. Chris Jones

Ideally, for a “matchup,” it’d be one player versus another. However, part of the problem with keeping Chris Jones off the quarterback is he lines up at several different spots.

Per Pro Football Focus, Jones has taken 402 defensive snaps this year. Of those, 115 have come as a left defensive end, 83 at right defensive tackle, 74 at left DT and 59 as a right defense end with a few more coming at REO and LEO.

The four-time All-Pro likes to test his opponent’s offensive line and see who’s having an off-game as that’s a big reason he’s built a reputation as one of the best interior pass-rushers in the NFL.

This season has been no different either with Jones ranking tied for seventh at the position in pressures (36) while recording the fewest pass-rush snaps of anyone in the top 10, according to PFF. Also, his 16.9 percent pass-rush win rate is sixth-best among defensive tackles.

As a whole, the Raiders’ offensive line has held up well in pass protection as they rank 12th in PFF’s efficiency rating (85.7). However, the last two weeks have been a different story with left tackle Kolton Miller out as those figures have dropped to 26th and 78.0.

Miller was at least a limited participant in two practices last week which is a good sign he can return this Sunday, but—at the time of writing—there has been no confirmation that he’ll be back in the fold against Kansas City. And even if he is, the other four offensive linemen will need to be on top of their games to keep Aidan O’Connell clean.

2) Davante Adams vs. L’Jarius Sneed

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
Davante Adams
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Somewhat quietly, L’Jarius Sneed has been a pretty good corner this year and unlike a lot of other players at the position in the modern game, he does quite a bit of traveling. Of his 546 snaps at wide corner, 319 have come on the left and 227 have been on the right, per PFF.

Sneed has been stingy in coverage this year as he’s only given up a 54.3 completion percentage when targeted. That ranks 21st among cornerbacks which is impressive considering only one player in the top 20 has had more coverage snaps than him and just four players have been targeted more often.

Also, his 52.1 passer rating when targeted is ninth-best at the position, and he’s one of just 12 corners to record at least 200 coverage snaps and not allow a touchdown this season.

However, Sneed does lead all defensive backs with 13 penalties—three more than anyone else—which is something Davante Adams might be able to take advantage of.

While the Raiders’ instability at quarterback has prevented Adams from putting up the eye-popping numbers we’ve become accustomed to from him, he still ranks 11th among wideouts with 64 catches, 13th in yards (741) and tied for 16th with 14 touchdowns. He’s also been decently efficient, recording 2.01 yards per route run—tied for 25th—according to PFF.

So, whether the end result is a catch or defensive pass interference, the Raiders will need their top pass-catcher to win and win often to help move the ball down the field against a stingy defense that gives up the fourth-fewest yards per game (283.2) in the NFL.

3) Robert Spillane & Marcus Epps vs. Travis Kelce

While Kansas City is undoubtedly led by their defense and the majority of their pass-catchers are bad this year, Las Vegas can’t forget about Travis Kelce who is still one of the best tight ends in the league.

Kelce still ranks within the top three at the position in receptions (64, second), yards (641, third) and touchdowns (five, tied for second) despite playing in one to two fewer games than anyone else in the top 10. Also, he’s terrorized the Raiders throughout his career with 100 catches for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns in 18 games, which comes out to per-game figures of 5.6, 71.6 and 0.6.

However, the Silver and Black do have a couple of new players who are solid a keeping tight ends in check.

Robert Spillane is having a breakout year in coverage as he ranks tied for 25th among linebackers with a 71.4 PFF coverage grade. Even better, he owns the seventh-best passer rating when targeted (64.4) at the position and is 14th with 12.6 coverage snaps per reception allowed.

Spillane has also held his own against a few other notable tight ends this season like Sam LaPorta—one catch for eight yards against Spillane, per PFF— and Dawson Knox—zero catches. Granted, neither of those guys is on Kelce’s level, but the linebacker does at least have a good track record of success against the position over the last few months.

Marcus Epps has also been stingy in coverage on the campaign, surrendering just 117 receiving yards and allowing a reception once every 28.3 coverage snaps. Epps also has some experience against Kelce as those two squared off in last season’s Super Bowl, but the latter did have the slight advantage with one target that went for 18 yards and a touchdown.

One thing to note is Epps did go down with an injury in Miami. So if he can’t play, Isaiah Pola-Mao—who had an outstanding performance against the Dolphins—will likely take his place and fill this role. However, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Monday that Epps suffered a stinger last Sunday. So, he did avoid major injury and could be ready to go.

Regardless, winning this matchup will go a long way toward how much success the Raiders’ defense has as a whole.