The Oakland Raiders are essentially out of the AFC playoff picture, but that doesn't mean the final three games of the season don't carry some importance.
Both the players and coaching staff will be heavily evaluated as the season winds down, and it starts this Sunday with some great competition in the form of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Outside of a difficult day for Oakland's offensive line, the Raiders played the Chiefs pretty closely in their previous matchup in Kansas City this season and could have easily come away from that game with a win.
Since then, the Chiefs' offense has taken off, while the Raiders have seemingly taken a step back on both sides of the ball.
For the Raiders to have a chance at coming away with a win this time around, it comes down to a few key matchups, once again starting on the offensive line.
LT Jared Veldheer vs. OLB Tamba Hali
In the Raiders' loss to the Chiefs earlier in the season, the offensive line had their worst game yet, surrendering 10 sacks to the dominant Kansas City front seven.
The return of Jared Veldheer to the Raiders' lineup has been a huge boost for the line in the past few games, and it will continue to be this week as the big left tackle takes on the Chief's Pro Bowl end Tamba Hali. It is still unknown as to whether or not Justin Houston will return to game action for the Chiefs this week, so if Veldheer is able to shut down Hali, the Chiefs' pass rush could struggle overall.
In turn, this would allow quarterback Matt McGloin the necessary time in the pocket to find his receivers against a Chiefs secondary that is susceptible to the big play.
Considering McGloin's ability to move within the pocket, it will be interesting to see just how much better the Raiders' offensive line can fare in this game than in the last one. Either way, this represents one of the more important matchups to watch throughout.
Raiders Linebackers vs. RB Jamaal Charles
With the ability to score from anywhere on the field, Chiefs' running back Jamaal Charles continues to prove why he is considered among the league's best ball-carriers.
While the Raiders were able to slow down both he and the Chiefs' entire offense in their last meeting, the defense lately has seemed to take a few steps in the wrong direction.
To stay in this game and have a chance to win, the Raiders need to keep Charles from putting up one of those big games he has been accustomed to having in recent years, and it starts with the linebackers wrapping up whenever they get a chance.
For the most part, the starting unit of Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Sio Moore has played well, and that will have to continue on Sunday, as any missed tackle can result in Charles taking the ball the length of the field.
If the Chiefs are able to get the ground game going as they have done more often in recent weeks, this could be yet another long day for the silver and black.
WR Denarius Moore vs. CB Brandon Flowers
After practicing throughout the week, it looks as though Denarius Moore may be set to return on Sunday after missing the past few weeks with a shoulder injury.
In the Raiders' October loss in Kansas City, Moore had one of his better games of the season, catching five passes for 82 yards and one touchdown. If he can have similar success on Sunday, likely against K.C. corner Brandon Flowers, the Raiders' offense should be in good shape.
Taking into account the emergence of receiver Andre Holmes, as well as the continued development of tight end Mychal Rivera, the Raiders just may choose to put the ball in Matt McGloin's hands and rely on the passing attack this week.
Moore having success against the Chiefs' best cornerback would encourage that strategy even more, allowing the Raiders to move the ball down the field with some consistency.
Overall, the Raiders' key matchups in this game continue to revolve around some of the same focus areas: protecting the quarterback, stopping the run and moving the chains on offense.
If the Raiders can find some success within these three specific matchups, they could be in position for what would be a big upset win. If not, the Chiefs could take control from the game's outset.
Either way, this week marks the first of three games that will be extremely important in evaluating the entire Raiders team from top to bottom heading into next season.
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