Raiders Face Uphill Battle vs. Chiefs Thursday Night

After four straight losses, Oakland needs a big performance against AFC West-leading Kansas City to keep its hopes alive for 2017

In the NFL, every game is essentially a “must-win” game, because there are only 16 of them. A single win or loss can make or break a season.

But some games rise above the norm, and the Raiders’ Thursday night nationally-televised matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs is one of them.

After losing four straight games to fall to 2-4, the Raiders must beat the 5-1, AFC West-leading Chiefs if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

To do that, though, the Oakland offense will have to come alive again after a month of sleepwalking through losses to Washington, Denver, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Chargers. In those four games the Raiders have averaged just 13.3 points per game.

That won’t cut it against the Chiefs, who are tied for second in the NFL in scoring, putting up 29.5 points per game. The Raiders will need to score early and often.

The Oakland offense will need to regain its mojo of 2016, when it ranked sixth overall in the league. This season, it is 30th in total offense. The Raiders also are 27th in passing yards, 21st in third-down conversion rate and 24th in rushing.

Yet this week, Oakland offensive coordinator Todd Downing – who’s been the focus of attention for his unit’s struggles – said he believes the Raiders aren’t far from where they were a season ago. He believes just one play here or there in a game has gone wrong, and that’s easily fixable.

“When you look at the tape, you can see that we’re so close on so many things,” Downing told reporters this week. “I know that sounds cliché and I know that sounds like someone sitting up here … (with) rose-colored glasses, but it’s the truth. We know that we’re just this close to making a couple more plays each game and being able to come out on top and feeling like we put together a good product.”

Plus, the Chiefs defense may be vulnerable. Kansas City has allowed more than 378 yards per game, which ranks 29th in the league.

Yet, there are a couple of things in the Chiefs’ favor. One is Derek Carr. The other is Alex Smith.

Carr is just 1-5 as a starter vs. K.C. and Smith is 9-1 vs. Oakland in his career (with both the 49ers and Chiefs). Against the Chiefs, Carr’s numbers are far below his career averages. He’s completed just 55 percent of his throws for six touchdowns and five interceptions and only 4.92 yards per attempt. The Chiefs play Carr as well as anybody, plus Carr may still be bothered by a back injury suffered three weeks ago (though he says he's fine).

Smith, meanwhile, has 19 TD passes and only four picks against Oakland. Last season he averaged 10.15 and 10.18 yards per pass attempt in a pair of wins over the Raiders (26-10 and 21-13).

Oddmakers have made the Raiders three-point underdogs for Thurday’s game, which is scheduled for a 5:25 p.m. kickoff at O.co Coliseum.

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