There are just 16 opportunities for NFL teams to show what they’re made of, and the Oakland Raiders will have their final chance to do just that as they hit the road for the 2018 regular season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Andy Reid’s team has everything to play for, and you best believe the Silver and Black would like to play spoiler, and head into the offseason with a winning mark over their final seven games.
Games at Arrowhead Stadium are always a challenge –that place gets loud – but the Raiders are playing some of their best football of 2018, and anything can happen when these AFC West foes get together.
Kickoff has been moved back to 1:25 pm PT; here are six things to watch for once the action gets underway.
1. Will the Raiders start fast?
Christmas Eve was exceptional for the Silver and Black.
The win over the Denver Broncos was obviously the highlight of the night, but man, when you throw in the atmosphere, Marshawn Lynch lighting the torch, and the passion that Raider Nation brought, it really was a memorable one.
Heck, Derek Carr did a lap of the field following the clock hitting triple zeroes, the vibes were that good.
But, alas, that was last week, and the good times are now in the rearview mirror as Head Coach Jon Gruden’s team has quite the challenge in front of them Sunday afternoon.
The Chiefs put up points in a big way – their 35.3 points per game is tops in the league – so if the Raiders want to hang with Patrick Mahomes and Co., they’re going to need to put up some points early.
Let’s see if they can do just that.
2. It’s all about ball security
The last time these two AFC West foes tangoed – in Week 13 for those of you who somehow forgot – the Raiders actually hung pretty tough with the Chiefs, but looking back, it was the Silver and Black’s turnovers that really did them in.
In the seven-point loss, the Raiders fumbled four times, losing three, and if you’re giving the ball away for free at that high of a clip, to one of the best offenses in the league, it’s hard to win football games.
Well, no Raiders running back coughed up the rock last week against the Broncos, and the group is playing some of its best football of 2018.
You don’t want to give Mahomes any more chances with the ball then he’s already going to get, so ball security – both on the ground and from Carr– is going to be paramount.
3. Since we’re talking about the Raiders running backs….
Keep the ground and pound going, baby!
Doug Martin put together his best game as a Raider last week – a 21-carry, 107-yard performance – and considering the fact that the Chiefs have struggled mightily at times stopping the run, I would assume that’s a weakness that Head Coach Jon Gruden wants to take advantage of.
The Raiders have found the most success this year when the big fellas up front control the line of scrimmage and give the running backs chances to make plays, so in Sunday’s game, which should be a chilly one, keep an eye on the Raiders offensive line to see if they can do just that.
If they can, and the Raiders control the time of possession, I like the Silver and Black’s chances, even in a raucous, road environment.
4. Take advantage of the chances Mahomes gives you
Look, Patrick Mahomes is having an absolutely stellar 2018 campaign.
His 48 passing touchdowns are not only the most in the league, they’re the most in the league by a wide margin, and with 4,816 passing yards, he’s likely not only going to eclipse the 5,000-yard mark, but there’s a pretty good chance he’ll finish the season with the passing yard title.
The former Texas Tech Red Raider has been superb this season, and it’s a big reason why he’s a favorite to win MVP, but as good as Mahomes has been, the big-armed quarterback will definitely give the opposing defenses chances to make plays.
The Silver and Black didn’t pick off Mahomes during the team’s Week 13 clash at the OACC, but coming off a Monday night performance where the Raiders secondary got Case Keenum not once, but twice, I’m excited to see if Rashaan Melvin and Co., can keep that positive momentum rocking in KC.
We all know Mahomes likes to force the issues at times, hopefully the Raiders can take advantage of that eagerness to make a play.
5. Don’t let Chris Jones eat
The Raiders offensive line pulled a Gandalf Monday night, and told Von Miller and Bradley Chubb that they simply would not pass and get to Derek Carr.
The dynamic duo – one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the NFL – were complete non-factors in the Raiders primetime win earlier this week, but the offensive line will have yet another big challenge in front of them this weekend trying to stop Chris Jones.
With 15.5 sacks in 2018 – including sacks in 11-straight games – the former Mississippi State Bulldog has shown that he deserves to have his name in the conversation when you’re talking about elite pass rushers in the NFL.
Like I said, the Silver and Black’s o-line is coming off a very impressive performance in Week 16; if the team wants to end 2018 on a high note, they’ll have to find a way to replicate that success Sunday.
6. Don’t let the atmosphere dictate what you want to do
I’ve been to Arrowhead a few times now, and let me tell you; it’s loud.
Not only is it loud from whistle to whistle, but it’s usually always cold, and a cold, loud, rowdy environment makes things pretty challenging for the opposition.
The Chiefs really need this game, but playing spoiler would be the best start to 2019 I could ask for.
It’s going to be jumping Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium, but if there’s any person who can quiet the noise and get to work, it’s Derek Carr.