Raiders visit Chiefs in key AFC West battle
The AFC West showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and the visiting Oakland Raiders on Sunday already loomed as a potential shootout.
The drama of a three-way tie atop to the division plus Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peter's suspension and the injury status of wide receiver Amari Cooper makes this Week 7 rematch compelling.
Oakland scored a wild come-from-behind 31-30 win in the first meeting this season thanks to a touchdown on an untimed down after time expired.
"It was a heck of game, very entertaining, certainly for the fans," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "It was a tightly contested ballgame, lot of production from both sides and we were able to scratch out a win."
The fortunes of the two clubs swing viciously since that October night in Oakland. The Chiefs entered the game with a 5-1 record, building a commanding divisional lead. The Raiders entered the game 2-4 on a four-game losing streak and watching their postseason aspirations slip away.
Now both clubs stand atop the AFC along with the Los Angeles Chargers. The teams face each other over the season's final month, creating a round-robin of sorts for the division title.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid tries to downplay the idea of a make-or-break game, but he left little doubt the importance of Sunday's noon matchup at Arrowhead Stadium.
"You got to come out, you got to play well, you got to do the things where you come out," Reid said. "That's how this league is. We like to say it's week-to-week but it really is. We say it but this league is so competitive and every week is an important week. It's no different than this week here. It's very, very important."
Del Rio said teams understand the important of late-season divisional games.
"You like to think as a coach you bring that intensity every week but I think guys that you're playing twice a year and you know a little bit better, there's a little bit of natural tenancy to ratchet it up," Del Rio said.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith agrees.
"These are hard fought games," Smith said. "They are close and they come down to the smallest of things. You scratch and you fight for all those little things. You anticipate it probably being a similar situation, coming down to the end of the game and who can make the play."
Both teams may have incentive to find greater ferocity this week with absences taking a toll. Reid suspended his All-Pro cornerback Peters for the game following his outburst during Sunday's 38-31 loss to the New York Jets. Peters picked up an official's penalty flag and heaved it into the crowd before leaving for the locker room with more than two minutes remaining.
Cooper's availability remains a question mark for the Raiders. He missed Sunday's 24-17 victory over the New York Giants with a concussion.
He exited the league's concussion protocol this week, but remains on the sidelines with an ankle injury. Cooper torched the Chiefs for 11 catches and 210 yards with two scores in Week 7.
The Chiefs played that game without cornerback Steven Nelson, who missed the first seven games with a core muscle injury. The club also added veteran corner Darrelle Revis, who made his Chiefs debut Sunday against the Jets.
Del Rio remains wary of the Chiefs defense even without Peters.
"Obviously anytime a player goes down whether it's an injury, whether it's something like this, you treat it the same and I'm sure they will," Del Rio said. "You go on to the next player. They've got good players. It's really the Raiders versus the Chiefs and we all have to adjust based on different guys being available or not."
Oakland also has a weapon little-used in their last outing against the Chiefs. Running back Marshawn Lynch rushed only twice for nine yards before earning a disqualification from the game. He rushed on the field after Peters earned a flag for unnecessary roughness for a hit on quarterback Derek Carr.
"I think he's done a nice job for us," Del Rio said. "We're glad to have him. He's been really effective, went over 100 yards last week, which was the first time on the year. We like the way he's working at it."
The coaches may not want to admit the importance of a single game, but Smith admits the significance given the logjam atop the AFC West standings and the Raiders' earlier win in Oakland.
"This is it, we are in the fourth quarter of the season," Smith said. "Three out of the four are division games. These next two, it is a three-way tie. We are going to play the two other guys these next two weeks. We can't get ahead of ourselves. Right here, we have a team that beat us earlier this year and we have to find a way to rebound."
Updated December 6, 2017