By Merlin Edwards III
It is a common occurrence for fans of bad NFL teams to get complacent and expect their team to continue losing. A little like amateur golfing, when you start a round off with 3 triple bogey's, it gets in your head and you tend not to play well the rest of the day. Then you get frustrated and it's hard not to see the next round going the same way. It takes a couple lessons or tons of practice to get any better or get your confidence back. Well, the Oakland Raiders and their fans have taken lessons with new coaches and practiced enough to feel like they are the best players in the world. After starting 4-1, the Silver and Black are primed and ready to take hold of the AFC West division and make a serious run to (and in) the playoffs.
The Raiders were able to finally pull off a good home win and beat the chargers last Sunday 35-34. It puts the Chargers at 1-4 but they are still an extremely talented team and could pull off a comeback in the division. Remember last year when the Chiefs started 1-5? They ended up winning 10 games in a row to finish the season and even won a playoff game. The Chargers played a good, competitive game and couldn't pull it out at the end. Derek Carr had a mediocre game even though he went 25/40 with 317 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Carr really is the QB of the future for the Raiders. He, once again, drove his offense down the field at the end of the game for a go-ahead touchdown that ended up being the game winner. The defense was able to play bend-don't-break football again, and hold the Chargers just enough to let the offense win the game. New addition, Perry Riley was a huge help to the defense at linebacker, leading the team in tackles in his first game with the team. Sean Smith and Karl Joseph continued their rise in play this season by each recording pick and the secondary as a whole played much better. The Chargers really are a good team that the Raiders ended up beating because they were flat out better on Sunday. The Raiders were better on paper and better on the field and this game looks much better when you look at how the Chargers played on Thursday.
Anything can happen in the NFL and on Thursday Night Football, the Chargers beat the reigning Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos, and moved to 2-4. That puts the Broncos at 4-2 and if the Raiders can win this next game against the Kansas City Chiefs, they can take a lead and hold their own destiny in a division that they haven't won since 2002. There are a couple different things that the Chiefs do well that the Raiders must shut down in order to win this Sunday's game.
Andy Reid in his ENTIRE coaching career is 15-2 when coming off of a bye week. Lucky for the Raiders, that is exactly the case this week. The Chiefs also got trounced in Pittsburgh the week before their bye, so they will be chomping at the bit to get on the field and play a division rival. The Raiders defense up front has to be stout in this game and not let Jamaal Charles use his elusiveness and speed, to get outside and break long runs. He is one of the best running backs in the league, when healthy, and this is the first week he is at full strength in a very long time. He is going to be excited and aggressive and it will take a valiant effort to slow him down. The Raiders also seem to give up a lot of plays up the middle and on short passes, which will not work against Alex Smith and his offense. Their bread and butter is to dink and dunk and lull the defense to sleep before throwing shots over the top for big plays. Smith still is not going to throw the ball all over the yard and throw for 400 yards, but he is the quintessential game manager and will not turn the ball over often while making key throws. The Raiders do match up decently well with this team on defense though, and especially on offense.
The Raiders offense lead by Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree is even better than anyone could have imagined this season. They are once again in the top 10 in points per game, total yards per game, pass yards per game, and rush yards per game. The Chiefs are not great in the secondary and with consistent deep balls to the big Raider receivers, one on one matchups in man coverage can and will be won. The Chiefs run defense is very solid and without Latavious Murray, who was ruled out of this game, the Raiders will be going with a committee running back approach. Relying on Deandre Washington and Jalen Richard worked relatively well last week, but the Chargers run defense isn't nearly as good as the Chiefs. Their defense is nasty and the Raiders small running backs need to be elusive and count on the offensive line to be nastier. The Oakland offensive line has been everything as advertised this season and are clearly one of the best 5 groups in the league. Derek Carr has been sacked the least amount of times of any quarterback this season and the Raiders rushing game is ranked 5th in the NFL. They are the key to this game and if they can keep the big fellas for Kansas City at bay, they will win this game in a close one. The defense must continue to improve and showing signs of life and the offense has to pass another test of a good defense. Both things can be done.
My Prediction: Chiefs 21, Raiders 28