8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Chiefs -6.5, Over/Under: 56.5
Bitter rivals meet in a grudge match as the reigning Super Bowl Champion, Kansas City Chiefs, look to avenge their lone loss of the season as they travel to Sin City to face the Las Vegas Raiders, from Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Though it seems ridiculous to ask aloud, but does it appear that the Chiefs (8-1, 1st in AFC West) are flying under the radar? What with the Pittsburgh Steelers being the last remaining unbeaten, and the proverbial carousel of contenders within the NFC spitting out a new favorite each week, is it possible that we’ve all managed to forget about the defending champs? Perhaps this is a function of them coming off their Bye Week, but it seems absurd that nobody is really paying attention to a team that has lost just one game in little over a calendar year, led by one of the true elderstatesmen of the league, Andy Reid, and claiming an MVP Quarterback, Patrick Mahomes (66.9%, 2,687 YDS, 7.66 NY/A, 25 TD, 1 INT, 87.0 QBR), surrounded by arguably the most lethal cache of talent in the NFL. However, that’s precisely what has happened, and our bet is that Reid & Co wouldn’t have it any other way in this most peculiar of campaigns that has been influenced so adversely by COVID-19. So how do we rate Kansas City roughly midway through their schedule, you ask? Well, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, we rate them rather highly as a matter of fact.
Indeed, in a season in which so many teams have been ravaged by injuries and beset by players/staff testing positive for COVID, the Chiefs have been rather fortunate thus far in navigating through the mine-infested battlefield that has been the 2020 Regular Season, avoiding any calamitous injuries, or significant absences caused by a positive test. Apart from a pair of meetings with the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills being moved later in those respective weeks (both of which were won rather comfortably), the schedule has remained largely intact, and with the exception of Right Tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, who remains on the Reserve/COVID List with a back injury, there have been no major injuries to speak of. The Offense continues to be one of the most explosive and prolific in the league, averaging a healthy 31.8 points per game (2nd Overall) on 417.6 total yards (2nd Overall), including 303.3 yards through the air (1st Overall) on 7.6 net yards per attempt (2nd Overall), and another 114.3 yards on the ground (14th Overall) on 4.5 yards per carry (11th Overall), while also converting on 50.0% of their third downs (2nd Overall) and scoring a touchdown on 65.7% of their trips into the red zone (10th Overall). Pulling the trigger is Mahomes, who we constantly need to remind ourselves is still only 25-years old, yet operates like a seasoned veteran; through just nine games he’s already tossed twenty-five touchdowns, one away from his total of last season altogether. Now some may argue that with a team built like Kansas City, the only thing that can truly stop them is themselves, or in other words complacency. Well, we don’t think that’s really going to be a problem for them this week, for there is plenty of bulletin board material to motivate them in this showdown with the Raiders, who coincidentally handed them their lone defeat of the campaign, snapping their thirteen-game winning streak dating back to last November. In an entertaining 40-32 shootout at Arrowhead back on October 11th, the hosts appeared to be well on their way towards running their bitter rivals out of the state of Missouri for the tenth consecutive year, racing out to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. However, momentum changed hands as the visitors began to relentlessly attack them downfield during a wild period that featured THIRTY-FOUR points scored between the two sides, with Las Vegas scoring on passing touchdowns of fifty-nine and seventy-two yards. Squared away at 24-24 at the half, the Silver & Black would run off seventeen unanswered points following intermission, keeping Mahomes & Co off the field long enough to hold onto the upset. In the end, the Raiders hit each of the major points within the blueprint to beat the Chiefs, rushing the football successfully (35 CAR, 144 YDS) and keeping the chains moving (a combined 9-of-16 on 3rd and 4th Down) en route to owning a commanding advantage in time of possession (35:18), all the while taking care of the football and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. But it was the big plays more than anything that were the most glaring of issues, as Steve Spagnuolo’s Defense relinquished four plays of fifty or more yards. The veteran Defensive Coordinator was credited with this unit’s major improvement over the course of last season, and in 2020 they have largely remained on course, ranking sixth in points allowed (20.3), and fourteenth in total yards allowed (354.1). Of course that first figure has been aided greatly by fourteen takeaways (7th Overall) and the fact that they so frequently find themselves playing with a lead thanks to the exploits of the Offense certainly hasn’t hurt either. Teams that have been patient enough have proven to be fully capable of running against them, with opponents averaging 138.4 yards (29th Overall) on 4.8 yards per rush (27th Overall), which has been a major factor in their problems defending within the red zone, where they’ve relinquished a touchdown on 75.0% of opportunities (29th Overall). That affair also proved to be a nadir for Mahomes this season, with the signal-caller posting season-lows in completion percentage (51.2%) and passer rating (83.5), while tossing his only interception of 2020 and suffering a season-high three sacks. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough fuel for the fire, the Raiders apparently drove victory laps around Arrowhead via the bus after the win, which is something that Reid, who seemed irritated by it all, publicly stated that “they won the game, so they can do anything they want to do. That’s not our style.” We think this rematch has been circled in BOLD ink on many a calendar across the team’s headquarters…
When we last saw the Chiefs, they headed into their Bye Week winning their fourth in a row, though it took some work to fight off the upstart Carolina Panthers in a tightly-contested 33-31 affair. Carolina came out on fire, driving straight down the field and scoring a pair of touchdowns on their first two possessions, the first consisting of fifteen plays for seventy-five yards and the latter nine for seventy-four. The hosts however were relegated to field goals on their first two drives, trailing 14-6 midway through the second frame, though they would eventually get into gear following some uncharacteristic mistakes; after Mahomes found Demarcus Robinson (21 REC, 220 YDS, 10.5 Y/R, 2 TD) for a short touchdown to pull within one, Kansas City saw their ensuing possession end with a fumble lost by Robinson, and the one after that come up short as well, with Harrison Butker missing a 48-yard field goal. Fortunately, the visitors would miss a field goal attempt of their own on the next drive, which is when business indeed picked up as the two sides traded touchdowns on the following five possessions. Mahomes would hook up with Rookie Tailback, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (126 CAR, 586 YDS, 4.7 Y/A, 2 TD), for a 4-yard touchdown to take the lead, and then hit Pro-Bowl Receiver, Tyreek Hill (44 REC, 650 YDS, 14.8 Y/R, 9 TD), for a pair of scores, the first twenty-eight yards and the second two. However, the Panthers would not go away, driving seventy-five yards for another touchdown to cut the lead to two, and after forcing a punt set up one final opportunity for a walk-off field goal, though their 67-yard attempt would fail to pass through the uprights. Again, this was an affair that was eerily similar to the previous meeting with the Raiders, as Reid and Spagnuolo saw their Defense give up 435 yards on thirty first downs, struggle to get off the field (10-of-19 on 3rd and 4th Down), struggle to stop the run (24 CAR, 104 YDS), and lose time of possession (38:01-21:59). If not for Mahomes’ heroics (30-of-45, 372 YDS, 4 TD), this outcome could have turned out very differently. With a week to rest, we imagine that they’ll be better prepared to correct some of these obvious flaws that have been exploited by their opponents of late, particularly given Reid’s track record in such instances; throughout the course of his 22-year career as a Head Coach, Reid is a staggering 18-3 (.857) when coming off a Bye, with four of the last five games following a Bye coming against the Raiders, all of which have been victories.
Meanwhile, now is the time for the Raiders (6-3, 2nd in AFC West) to prove whether or not they are legitimately a Playoff team, or simply another flawed side incapable of achieving their goals. In 2019 they found themselves in a very similar position, though ultimately couldn’t stand prosperity, wasting a 6-4 record en route to losing five of their final six outings. Indeed, Jon Gruden and his charges certainly hope that they’ve matured enough to prevent another collapse, though at 6-3 and with the reigning Super Bowl Champion on deck, the potential is there for history to repeat itself. With that said, Las Vegas has gotten to this point of their campaign despite facing one of the most arduous schedules in the league, with their opponents thus far sporting a daunting 47-37 (.559) record, including the likes of division leaders, Buffalo, New Orleans, and of course Kansas City, along with playoff contenders such as Cleveland and Tampa Bay. The Silver & Black bested three of those sides, and have now managed to win three in a row, which currently places them as the Fifth Seed in the tightly-contested AFC, which is huge for a franchise that has advanced to the Postseason on just one occasion (2016) since 2002. With four of their final seven games coming against teams with losing records, will they manage to get the job done this year?
Now in the third year of his second tenure with the Raiders, Jon Gruden has charted a patient course to rebuilding the club from the ground up, but then again that’s a luxury that he can afford following the unprecedented ten-year $100 million contract that he signed to return to the NFL following a nine-year absence spent largely in television. However, the 57-year old has proven that he hasn’t lost his touch as Las Vegas has persevered despite a number of hurdles that would typically hinder success. Let’s not forget that this franchise relocated to Sin City over the Summer, and despite their luxurious new stadium haven’t been able to enjoy a single fan in attendance, robbing them of any semblance of home field advantage. While that’s been a problem shared by many teams around the league, they’ve also been hit persistently by injuries and COVID, more so than most of the competition. The Offensive Line in particular has been beset by the virus, with as many as three starters missing action at any given point of time, chief among them mammoth Right Tackle, Trent Brown, who has been hospitalized on two occasions due to complications from COVID, while Left Tackle, Kolton Miller (Ankle), and Right Guard, Gabe Jackson (Illness), have missed time with injuries. Furthermore, the Defense has been hit as well, with Defensive End, Clelin Ferrell (19 TKL, 3 TFL, 7 QBH, 2 PD), and Defensive Back, LaMarcus Joyner (46 TKL, 5 TFL, 3 PD), recently placed on the Reserve/COVID List, which has prompted the NFL to punish the club harshly for their frequent indiscretions (including a charity event in which many prominent players were seen in attendance without proper facial covering), fining them $500,000, Gruden an additional $150,000, and stripping them of a 6th Round Pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The team’s Owner, Mark Davis, has since filed a series of appeals, lamenting the league’s draconian punishments (he may be his father’s son after all). However, they’ve continued to press forward, largely on the strength of an Offense that has quietly developed into a Top-10 unit. Las Vegas has averaged 28.3 points per game (8th Overall) on a balanced 378.8 total yards (13th Overall), and though they haven’t been as consistently explosive as they’d like, they’ve proven efficient enough, leading the league in third down percentage (50.4%), and average time per drive (3:12). Even with the injuries along the Line the running game has remained productive, averaging 139.2 yards (7th Overall), led by Sophomore Tailback, Josh Jacobs (182 CAR, 700 YDS, 3.8 Y/A, 8 TD), who has really come on of late, churning out 306 yards and three scores on 4.6 yards per attempt during this winning streak. Credit to veteran Offensive Line Coach, Tom Cable, who even without three starters has kept this group together, racking up 572 yards (190.7) over the last three outings. And then there is Derek Carr (69.3%, 2,156 YDS, 6.99 NY/A, 16 TD, 2 INT, 76.4 QBR), who despite everyone annually plotting ways to get him out of Las Vegas has instead authored what has been his finest campaign. The 29-year old hasn’t looked this good since 2016, and now that he’s in his third year in Gruden’s Offense and the talent base around him has improved, he has flourished into the franchise passer that the Raiders have paid him to be. The difference has come down to his decision-making and newfound affinity for throwing downfield, which is something that Gruden and the Coaching Staff have been asking for for years now; Carr’s 16-2 TD-INT Ratio is by far and away the best of his career, while his current QBR (76.4) is 10.8 points greater than the previous high set in 2019, with his intended air yards per attempt (7.7) over a full yard higher than last year. Look no further than that aforementioned meeting with the Chiefs for proof of his potential quality; he shredded Kansas City on 22-of-31 passing for a season-high 347 yards on a whopping 11.9 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns and an interception. This performance was in stark contrast to his previous history with the Chiefs, whom he was 2-10 against with fifteen touchdowns and sixteen turnovers, easily his most against any single opponent.
When we last saw the Raiders, they extended their winning streak to three games by dumping a second consecutive division rival, the Denver Broncos, in a 37-12 blowout. This one was never really all that close, folks, for after Denver kicked back-to-back field goals to cur the lead to 7-6, the hosts went on to score twenty-three unanswered points, thanks in large part to a watershed performance from a Defense that has long been the weak link of the team. Coming into Sunday’s affair Las Vegas had logged a meager FIVE takeaways in eight games, but nonetheless managed to double that total in one afternoon, claiming five from their division rival, including four interceptions of Drew Lock, and recovered fumble. It was a horror show for the Broncos, who saw three of their final five drives of the game end with a turnover, with the hosts relentlessly turning them into points. Veteran Safety, Jeff Heath (14 TKL, 3 INT, 3 PD), picked off Lock twice, while Linebacker, Nick Kwiatkoski (44 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 4 PD), and Defensive End, Carl Nassib (16 TKL, 2 TFL, 5 QBH, 1.5 SK, 1 INT, 3 PD), snared the others. Gruden hopes that this is the kind of showing that can build some much needed momentum and confidence for a young group in dire need of it; when looking at this unit, there are two things that they haven’t done well, and that is rush the passer (11, 27th Overall) and take the football away (10, 19th Overall), though on Sunday they produced that quintet of turnovers and sacked Lock twice, hitting him a total of seven times. Offensively, they were content to simply shove the ball down Denver’s collective throat, rushing for 203 yards and four scores on forty-one carries, leading to a commanding advantage in time of possession (36:38). Jacobs ended the affair with 112 yards on twenty-one attempts, while Devontae Booker (49 CAR, 304 YDS, 6.2 Y/A, 3 TD) added eighty-one yards of his own on sixteen carries, with each scoring twice.