Entering Week 15, it seemed inevitable that the Kansas City Chiefs would enter the playoffs as the first wild card team in the AFC. After "Thursday Night Football," the club’s game with the Oakland Raiders has a little more significance.
The Denver Broncos were upset by the San Diego Chargers to open up the week. The loss shortened Denver’s lead over Kansas City in the AFC West to just a half-game. The Chiefs need to finish ahead of the Broncos in order to win the division because they lost both head-to-head meetings. That is a much more realistic possibility, though, with Denver’s most recent defeat. Finishing in first place could also mean they have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They share the same record as New England, but the Patriots have a few tough games left with visits to Miami and Baltimore.
The Chiefs are looking to turn things around after their worst stretch of the 2013 season, by far. Following a 9-0 start, the Chiefs lost three straight, including two to the Broncos. They went undefeated on the strength of the best defense in the NFL, but the unit hasn’t been nearly as good since. During their winning streak, Kansas City never once allowed more than 17 points. In their three-game skid, they surrendered 27, 41 and 35 points.
"I think that there are ups and downs in the National Football League," head coach Andy Reid said. "I think you need to learn how to handle them and you can't get too high for the highs and you can't get too low for the lows.
In their first matchup with the Raiders, the Chiefs didn’t have any problems defensively. Oakland scored just seven points, and Kansas City forced Terrelle Pryor into throwing three interceptions, including one that Husain Abdullah returned for a touchdown. Tamaba Hali had 2.5 sacks in the contest, and was recently named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in Week 14.
Justin Houston had a sack against the Raiders, but he might not be ready for Round 2 against Oakland. The linebacker has missed the last game with an elbow injury and has been limited in practice. Houston is tied for the team lead with 11 sacks.
Pryor started at quarterback when the teams first met, but Matt McGloin will get the call for the Raiders this time around. The rookie threw three touchdown passes in his first start, leading to an Oakland victory. Since then, he’s lost three straight games. While McGloin will get the majority of the snaps, Pryor will likely see some time as well. In Oakland’s Week 14 loss to the New York Jets, Pryor completed two of five passes and ran the ball three times for four yards.
The Raiders did a good job of slowing down the Chiefs’ offense when they went head-to-head, but Kansas City was able to score off turnovers. Alex Smith threw for just 128 yards, and Jamaal Charles picked up just 78 yards on the ground.
The betting line at most Las Vegas casinos has the Chiefs as 4.5-point favorites. The Raiders have struggled of late, but overall they’ve been good against the point spread, going 8-5. The Chiefs, however, are tied for the best record against the spread on the road at 5-1.
Betting Odds: Kansas City -4.5, 41.5
Prediction: Kansas City 27, Oakland 20