The Stage is Set: Chiefs vs Raiders in AFC West Battle

The Stage is Set: Chiefs vs Raiders in AFC West Battle

12 weeks into the NFL season, one of professional football’s oldest, most storied rivalries finally gets the stage. The (7-3) Kansas City Chiefs and the (5-6) Las Vegas Raiders will battle for the 129th time on Sunday afternoon at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada; the game kicks off at 3:25 PM Arrowhead time.

The Chiefs entered the weekend as 8.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. That reflects Kansas City only losing once in this head-to-head matchup since quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the reins. However, the Raiders have won two of three games since firing head coach Josh McDaniels and replacing him with interim coach Antonio Pierce, revitalized as they sit in position to contend for the postseason this year.

I have five things to watch in the important AFC West battle:

1. The status of Maxx Crosby

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On the Raiders’ final injury report, defensive end Maxx Crosby was listed as doubtful to play in the game with a knee injury. Las Vegas’ best player hasn’t practiced all week — and may miss this matchup for the first time in his career.

It would be the first game he has ever missed in his five-year, 77-game career. I can’t help but think Crosby finds a way to be on the field, ready to build off the three sacks he earned in two games against Kansas City last year.

Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy is prepared; he described what makes the two-time Pro Bowler such a presence during his press conference Monday.

“This guy doesn’t come off the field,” Nagy asserted to reporters. “He is on the field every play, and he is going 120 miles per hour on every play; you have to know where he is at… He’s going to make plays, that is what he does, but we have to make sure he doesn’t make a game-changing play.”

If Crosby can’t go, the Chiefs’ offense would have every reason to make this a comfortable win. Another sloppy game of turnovers, penalties, and drops would be strongly discouraging.

2. Covering Davante Adams

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Only three wide receivers have been targeted more than the Raiders’ Davante Adams this season. He has seen throws from three different quarterbacks, now rolling with rookie Aidan O’Connell for the fourth-consecutive start.

Adams hasn’t gotten over 90 yards in any of the three gamesand the Chiefs are looking to keep it that way with cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo confirmed that Monday while also acknowledging that cornerback Trent McDuffie is trusted there.

“We’ll find ways to get [Sneed] on Davante,” Spags assured. “It won’t be all the time, because sometimes when LJ and Trent are in there, we’re okay with them going right or left, so it’s not every down.”

O’Connell has targeted Adams 18 more times than anyone else on the team over the last three games. If the Chiefs take that connection away, the rookie could be food for a hungry pass rush, prepared to dine after playing some of the hardest quarterbacks to get to in recent weeks.

3. Limiting Josh Jacobs on the ground

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If the Raiders can’t get the ball comfortably to Adams, the offense will pound the rock — something it has leaned on since the coaching change. In that stretch, the Raiders rank ninth in success rate on rush playsmeaning rushes by Josh Jacobs have been consistently keeping the unit ahead of the sticks.

I highlight Jacobs because he leads the NFL in rushing attempts. He has taken 91% of the rush attempts at running back over the last three weeks, most of that coming in a 30-6 blowout win over the New York Giants.

It’s all him, and members of the Chiefs’ defense know that their hard hats will be required for work this weekend.

4. Can the pass offense finish?

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Recently, the Chiefs’ offense has built early leads by executing on early downs and controlling the game at the line of scrimmage. When defenses overcorrected and forced the Chiefs to throw, the unit failed to step up, resulting in the second-half statistics you’ve cringed at all week.

The pass game has to find its rhythm, and it might have to this week. The Raiders’ defense has played well against the run: only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers allow more EPA/rush attempts than Las Vegas over the last three games. In last week’s 20-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Raiders held Miami to 46 yards less than their season average.

The Chiefs’ rushing attack may find room initially, but the Raiders are capable of clamping down. Can the pass game step up and finish this week?

5. Execution on special teams

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Outside of kicker Harrison Butker, the Chiefs’ special teams unit hasn’t played up to its standard this season. This week, that group may need to really lock in, according to special teams coordinator Dave Toub:

“The Raiders are a good football team,” Toub began during a press conference Monday. “We do statistics all year long and we keep track, they are ranked number one on special teams. they definitely have our attention… they’re a really good unit. They fly around.”

The boost from that phase could be what has propelled the Raiders to a 5-6 record, winning in the margins. Toub noted both sides of the return game to be important.

“They have a great returner in [DeAndre] Carter, he’s excellent,” Toub shared. “The punter is having a year that is crazy good, [A.J.] Cole, he’s doing it really, really well. It’s going to be a tough one on a short week.”

Punt returner Kadarius Toney found space multiple times last week. Yet, wide receiver Richie James is slated to be the primary punt returner again. With the Chiefs’ defense bound to force plenty of punts, the operation on that play must be clean.

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2023-11-25 18:00:00
#ChiefsRaiders #NFL #Week #watch

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