Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders: Only Raider Pride Left To Play For
It comes down to this: Beat Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs in week 17 and the Oakland Raiders will go 8-8 overall and 6-0 in division.
This would mean they can no longer be called losers. It's a lot to play for.
The last time these two teams met, the Chiefs started strong, but the Raiders stormed back in the second half to earn an overtime victory.
The game plan for Oakland should look much the same as it did in the previous matchup, but it has to be executed from start to finish if the Raiders want to win again.
The Chiefs have clinched the AFC West division title. Therefore, they don't have much to play for—except to ruin the Raiders hopes of a non-losing season.
The Chiefs will be motivated to extend the Raiders' streak of seven straight losing seasons; the Raiders will be playing to drop the moniker of "perennial losers."
This should be as close to war as a football game can get.
Let's have a look at the keys to a Raider victory...
Play With Intensity From The Start
In their first meeting, the Raiders started slow and allowed the Chiefs to dominate the first half on their way to a 10-0 halftime lead.
The Raiders came out strong in the second half and squeaked out a 23-20 win.
Kansas City learned their lesson from this, and if it happens again, the Chiefs will put the Raiders away for good.
Oakland has to have intensity from the opening kick and play like they did in the second half of their Week 9 win against the Chiefs.
Another slow start and the Raiders will end the season with a loss and an eighth-straight losing record.
Pressure Matt Cassel
In Week 9, Matt Cassel went virtually untouched in the first half. In the second half, however, the Raiders got to Cassel three times.
Cassel has shown that when he's pressured he panics and makes mistakes—and the Chiefs offense sputters.
The Raiders have get to Cassel early and often to slow down the Kansas City offense and not allow them to get out to a lead and force the Raider offense into being one-dimensional.
A blitz package like the one in the second half of Week 9 and the one that beat the Chargers will work well.
Putting Cassel on the turf will lead to three-and-outs from the Chiefs. That will make winning a lot easier on the Raiders.
Contain The Chiefs Running Game
Back in Week 9, Jamaal Charles racked up 100 total yards on just 15 touches, about half the number of touches he's is used to getting.
I don't expect this to be the case come Sunday.
Todd Haley and the Chiefs coaching staff will surely recognize the error of their ways and get Charles more involved in the gameplan.
That being the case, the Raider defense has to "lace 'em up tight."
Charles is an explosive back that can break a big play at any moment. His vision is great, his patients is better and his lateral quickness rivals the best backs in the league.
Containing Charles and Thomas Jones is a must for the Raiders to have a chance at victory.
Text-book tackling, gap discipline and "playing down hill" should be the mantra of the Raider defense this Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead.
Account For Tony Moeaki On Every Play
Whether running a route on pass plays or blocking in the running game, Tony Moeaki is an extremely talented and effective tight end.
In the last game, Moeaki got 63 yards on six catches—many for first downs.
Matching up on Moeaki will be difficult. Safeties are too small and linebackers are too slow. Mike Mitchell did a decent job, but the Chiefs tight end still got his yards.
I would suggest using a faster linebacker like Thomas Howard or Travis Goethel to cover Moeaki on most plays. However, showing Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss a trend will result in adjustments and big yards.
Varying the coverages and switching players out frequently will keep Weiss, Cassel and the rest of the Chiefs offense guessing.
"Nnamdi Asomugha, Meet Dwayne Bowe. Dwayne, This Is Nnamdi."
Everyone knows who the Raiders' best cover man is—Nnamdi Asomugha.
Everyone knows who the Chiefs' best receiver is—Dwayne Bowe.
Pound The Chiefs Front Seven to Death
The Chiefs have the 11th-ranked run defense, but it must be tested early and often anyway.
Getting the ball not only to Darren McFadden, but to Michael Bush and Marcel Reece, will be critical for the Raiders to have success.
Wearing out Ron Edwards, Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson will force the Chiefs linebackers to play close to the line. This will create a bigger area in front of the safeties for Jason Campbell and Zach Miller to hook up over the middle of the field.
Getting a relentless running game going can pay huge dividends in the play-action passing game. Play action is Campbell's strong suit and usually results in big plays for the Raiders.
Force Brandon Flowers To Chase Jacoby Ford All Day Long
The Raider win over the Chiefs in Week 9 was the coming out party for rookie wide receiver Jacoby Ford.
Ford amassed 242 total yards on 10 touches, including returning the second-half kickoff for a touchdown that seized the momentum for the Raiders.
Ford pretty much had his way with Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers. Out-hustling, out-working and out-fighting him for the ball for most of the game.
Raider fans should hope this becomes a trend for the impressive rookie from Clemson.
A Mistake-Free Day From Jason Campbell
Jason Campbell wasn't spectacular in the Week 9 game against the Chiefs, but he was good enough: 19 of 33 for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interception proved to be just barely good enough to beat the Chiefs.
I don't think another performance like that will work this time.
Campbell has to protect the ball, take what the defense gives him and avoid mistakes. Just "manage the game."
Any mistakes are likely to result in good field position and points for the Chiefs.
Worse yet, forcing the Raider defense to play more than 25 or 30 minutes in the game will tire them out and allow the Chiefs to get a lot of cheap yards and points.
Locate and Block Tamba Hali
Tamba Hali is the Chiefs' leader in sacks with 12.
In the previous meeting, Hali was fairly quiet with only two tackles and one sack. That is well below his normal impact.
I expect Hali to come out with something to prove.
Getting Hali blocked can make or break the Raiders passing game. Using a tight end—or two—to help the offensive tackles with him may be necessary.
Whatever Hue Jackson decides on to control Hali needs to work. The fewer times the fans hear Hali's name called, the better for the Raiders.
Another Good Special Teams Day
One of the biggest snubs in the Pro Bowl voting (besides Michael Huff) was leaving Jacoby Ford off as the return specialist.
Ford has three returns for touchdown this year and has proven himself to be more than capable of changing a game.
Raider Nation should hope he can keep this up.
As for the rest of special teams...
Another horrific breakdown like the one late in the game against Jacksonville will put the Raiders in a hole—a hole out of which they may not be able to climb.
John Fassel needs to preach lane responsibility and fundamental tackling. Anything less, and Dexter McCluster could be dancing in the end zone.
In The End...
Despite what the "Cable-haters" say, the Raiders are much improved under Tom Cable—regardless of how this game turns out.
Seven consecutive years of double digit losses is over, the team is playing harder than at anytime since Jon Gruden left and the fans and "experts" alike are finally beginning to notice the Raiders.
All that aside, Cable and the Raiders have a chance at a .500 season. This would mark the first non-losing season since the Super Bowl run in 2002.
More importantly the Raiders and their fans could no longer be called "losers."
In fact, this team could wind up 6-0 in the AFC West. It wouldn't mean a playoff berth, but bragging rights for the fans against their rivals is something the Raiders haven't had in a while, either.
We could look back at the losses to the 49ers, Cardinals, Texans and Jaguars and say "if only," but that won't change anything.
All that can be done now is appreciate how far this team has come and cast our eyes toward a brighter future.
What do you say, Raider Nation? Let me hear you in the comments.