How crazy is the AFC West this season?
After this weekend, the Oakland Raiders could be in first place – or last place.
The 2-4 Raiders go into Kansas City to play the 1-5 Chiefs today, and a victory would put Oakland at 3-4, meaning that if the 3-3 Chargers (who play the Browns Monday night) and 3-3 Broncos (who host the Saints Sunday night) lose, there would be a three-way tie atop the division with still nine games to play.
If the Chiefs knock off Oakland, however, the Raiders and K.C. would be tied at the bottom.
So, after six games, plenty of disappointments and a recent improvement in play, the Raiders find themselves still with hope that they can turn this season into something meaningful. To do that, however, they’ll have to take the next step, beating a struggling Chiefs team at Arrowhead Stadium.
Oddsmakers have made the Chiefs one-point favorites.
Kansas City, which has benched quarterback Matt Cassel in favor of Brady Quinn, who gets his first start Sunday, has yet to win at home (0-3) while the Raiders have yet to win on the road (0-3).
Not only will the Chiefs have a new QB Sunday, but they’re hoping they’ll have running back Peyton Hillis, too. Hillis, who suffered a high ankle sprain a month ago, practiced this week and could play Sunday. Hillis would provide some extra firepower to a strong Chiefs rushing game that features Jamaal Charles. Kansas City is third in the league in rushing and Charles ranks sixth among individual backs.
If the Chiefs are going to win Sunday, they’ll need to have success rushing against the Oakland defense and have Quinn manage the offense well. To date, the Chiefs’ biggest problem has been turnovers. Through just six games, the Chiefs have a minus-15 turnover ratio, a pace that would put them at minus-40 – far above the NFL season record of minus-30 by the Pittsburgh Steelers of 1965. Already, the Chiefs have given the ball up on fumbles or interceptions 21 times, with Cassel responsible for 14 of them – the reason Quinn is starting against the Raiders.
The Raiders who have played much better the best two weeks after coming out of their bye week – with a near-upset of the Falcons and then a victory over Jacksonville last week in overtime – know they may be in for a spirited battle at Arrowhead Sunday. Apparently, the Chiefs, who also realize they could keep themselves alive in the AFC West with a win, don’t think much of the Raiders.
This week, Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali said he and his teammates are ready for Oakland, which he says has a reputation for dirty play.
“The Raiders, they come in, they cheapshot, they hit you,” Hali told the Kansas City Star. Hali didn’t single out any Raiders specifically. But Hali said the Chiefs have to be ready because, “They’re a good team and a fast team and they play dirty. We’ve got to come out swinging.”
He added: “I’m not naming names. It is what it is. We’ve got to be ready to play and keep our composure, stay poised and be able to get this win.”
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group: “He’s entitled to his opinion.” But Oakland fullback Marcel Reece was more expansive.
In fact, Reece says it’s a good thing Hali thinks the way he does. It means the Raiders already are in his head.
“If somebody’s talking about you, you’re doing something right,” Reece told Corkran. “We play hard. We don’t play dirty. … Like I said, if somebody says something about you, it means you’re doing something right.”
The Raiders did much more right the past two weeks than they did in their first four games. The defense has tightened up and the running game is showing signs it may be improving. And, in the win over the Jaguars, the Raiders went to a no-huddle offense in the second half that was much more effective. Quarterback Carson Palmer played very well against Jacksonville and, in fact, his having a strong season.
Palmer’s 86.0 passer rating is his highest since 2007 and he’s thrown for 1,732 yards, 11th most in the NFL.
Palmer’s hope, though, is that this is the week Oakland gets its running attack up to speed and the offense becomes more balanced.
“We want to run the football,” he told reporters this week. “That’s what we talk about, that’s what we work on. The better you run the football, those yards might go up and the pass attempts go down.”