When: 8:25 p.m. ET, Thursday Where: O.co Coliseum, Oakland TV: NFL Network
The Kansas City Chiefs have won seven of their last eight games and at 7-3 are tied for first place in the AFC West. Their push for a playoff spot begins in earnest with Thursday night's game in Oakland against the Raiders, who are making a push of their own.
The Oakland Raiders are 0-10. With a difficult closing schedule, including a Dec. 14 game against the Chiefs in Kansas City, Oakland is in danger of finishing the season as a winless team.
ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Raiders reporter Mike Wagaman preview the game.
Teicher: Mike, the Raiders have a difficult remaining schedule. Do you think they'll win one of their final six games or are they destined to become the NFL's latest team to finish a winless season?
Wagaman: A month ago I would have said the idea was ludicrous, simply because it's next to impossible for an NFL team to go winless. It's easier to win the Super Bowl than to go 0-16. Yet that's exactly what the Raiders are staring at, and to be honest, Adam, I don't see a winnable game left on their schedule. At one point it seemed like the Week 13 game in St. Louis or the Week 16 matchup with Buffalo might be games Oakland could steal, but that's not true anymore. You'd think they'd catch one team sleeping, but even if that were true, the Raiders would have to play a near-perfect game -- something they haven't done for more than a year now.
Adam, the Chiefs own the NFL's No. 1 pass defense and haven't given up a rushing touchdown this season, but their overall run defense has been up and down. Are opponents having success on the ground because they don't want to throw against that pass rush or is there more going on?
Teicher: It's been a number of factors. The Chiefs have played almost the entire season without three of their best run defenders. End Mike DeVito, linebackers Derrick Johnson and Joe Mays would have helped, but two of them haven't played since the season opener and Mays is only now coming back. Another of their best run defenders, safety Eric Berry, missed five games. The Chiefs also made a commitment to eliminate the big pass play, to some extent, at the expense of allowing some rushing yardage. They allowed a ton of big pass plays last season and were determined to reduce that number this season. They've done it, but at a cost to their run defense.
Give us a little scouting report on Oakland's rookie quarterback Derek Carr. It's his first time facing the Chiefs. What are his strengths and weaknesses? Is he closer to being the next Rich Gannon for the Raiders or the next JaMarcus Russell?
Wagaman: Carr's development this season has been extraordinary considering the Raiders don't have any playmakers in their receiving corps and the running game has been nonexistent. Physically, he can make all the throws and has solid footwork, which has enabled him to avoid being sacked much. Carr has shown good touch on the short passes and has a nice zip on the ball on the few occasions he's been able to air it out deep. He also has a remarkable poise in the pocket and doesn't get rattled easily. Remember, Adam, this kid has been studying films of NFL teams since he was a teen, when he would study tape with his older brother David. Still, it's far too early to compare him to Gannon, who was an 11-year vet when he came to the Raiders. Carr is also clearly more serious about his craft than Russell ever was. I think the answer is that he's right about where most NFL rookie quarterbacks would love to be, firmly planted as the starter and learning both from his successes and mistakes.
Adam, when Alex Smith was in the Bay Area with San Francisco he was known as a game manager, which is code for an average quarterback who avoids making the costly mistakes. He seemed to shake that label during his first year in Kansas City, but what's gone wrong with the passing game this season?
Teicher: The Chiefs aren't getting many big passing plays. Their longest pass play of the season is 34 yards, which is the worst in the league. But they've made it work because they can run the ball effectively and run it in the red zone, they're very good in both the red zone and on third down and, perhaps most importantly, are committing few turnovers. That's where Smith comes in. He's doing an extraordinary job of protecting the ball. Eventually, they'll need more from him. They'll run into an opponent who takes away the run and Smith will have to do more. For now, he's doing exactly as he's been asked to do.
The Raiders went on a free-agent signing binge over the offseason, which makes their record all the more disappointing. Losing with youth is bad enough, but it's worse losing with veterans. Does Oakland have any young players other than Carr who might still be with them if the Raiders eventually turn their program around?
Wagaman: General manager Reggie McKenzie has taken a lot of heat, and rightfully so, for many of the free-agent moves he's made since taking over in 2012. However, Oakland's most recent draft has produced three starters -- Carr, linebacker Khalil Mack and left guard Gabe Jackson -- and a fourth (cornerback TJ Carrie) who has been a valuable fill-in defensively while doubling as the kick returner. The three starters are going to be the cornerstone for this franchise moving forward. Tight end Mychal Rivera and wide receiver Brice Butler also have shown some long-term potential. The only other younger player who has shown any kind of consistent promise is wide receiver Rod Streater, who has been on injured reserve most of the season with a broken foot. Beyond that, the rest of the youth on the roster is too unproven to make an honest evaluation. But at this point, you have to believe with the way things are going, if the youngsters had much to offer, they'd be in the lineup already.
Adam, the last time the Raiders saw Jamaal Charles, they held him to 20 yards on eight carries. He's had some big games against Oakland prior to that, and this season he looks like he's back to his old self. He doesn't get the national attention that guys such as Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson get, but does Charles deserve to be talked about as an elite back?
Teicher: Charles is for real. The Chiefs are getting next to nothing from their wide receivers and have a patchwork offensive line featuring one rookie and two street free-agent starters. Charles is still delivering for them. It is interesting that the Raiders have generally done a better job of containing Charles in the running game over the years than most other frequent Chiefs' opponents. But the last time Charles played against the Raiders, he caught eight passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns, so the Raiders need to cover him far better than they did then.