If this is to be the final game in Oakland between the Kansas City Chiefs and Raiders, those old AFL rivals, then it’s only fitting that it be a meaningful one.
In terms of the postseason, the Raiders find themselves in a must-win situation at O.co Coliseum this afternoon. And they won’t do it against a team on a more serious roll than the Chiefs, winners of their last five games by a combined 160-61 score.
At 5-6, the Raiders trail the Chiefs (6-5) by one game in the AFC wild-card race. The Houston Texans (6-5) are in the second and final spot.
“There’s some great battles over the years,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “We just want to do our part, play well on Sunday and win this game. Certainly, from a historical standpoint, there have been a lot of great battles. But right now, honestly, my full attention is on finding a way to win Sunday.”
After a 1-5 start, the Chiefs were all but written off for the season. Not only is coach Andy Reid’s team back in the playoff race, but it can be part of NFL history in the process. Of the 218 teams that started 1-5 since the 1970 season, only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals earned a playoff berth.
The common thread in the Chiefs’ turnaround has been been turnovers. Their defense took the ball away 14 times in the last 20 quarters, while their offense did not commit a turnover.
“You’re not going to get a lot of opportunities, so when you have them, you have to really take advantage,” Raiders defense coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “At the same time, they really put high value on protecting the ball, and you know the stats that go with it. You protect the ball, you win a lot of ball games. If we take the ball away, we win a lot of ball games. It’s our offensive and defensive philosophy.”
The play of quarterback Alex Smith has been indicative of his team as a whole. The ex-49er has played some of the best ball of his career during the streak and hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 283 pass attempts, the third-best streak in the last 30 years.
“I remember watching [Smith] when he was in San Francisco and my brother [David Carr] was here, so I remember watching him then, too,” counterpart Derek Carr said. “So I’ve watched him a lot, and I think he’s a great player.”
Yet this isn’t quite the same Smith who had been a so-called game manager for much of his career. More apt to take shots downfield, behind one of the better lines in the league, he’s on pace to throw for 3,500-plus yards in a season for the first time in his career.
“I think Alex has been a good player his entire time in the league,” Del Rio said. “He’s a good quarterback. He’ll beat you with his feet. He’ll beat you with his arm. He’s poised. He hasn’t turned the ball over. That typically leads to good football.”
Smith also a threat to run the ball when the situation calls for it, something he rarely did in his 49ers’ days. He has averaged 5.0 attempts per game and 5.5 yards per try.
“Yeah, we’re real conscious of that,” defensive end Khalil Mack said. “He’ll get out of [the pocket] at any time, at any given moment. So you got to be ready for it.”
The Raiders would like to reboot their run game after three consecutive games of 84 yards or fewer on the ground, and the improved health of center Rodney Hudson (sprained ankle) would be a step in that direction. The Pro Bowl candidate worked with the first unit at practice this week.
The status of running back Taiwan Jones and cornerback Neiko Thorpe was less certain after limited practice time.