Three Key Matchups: Raiders vs. Chiefs

KC Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs. Photo Credit: Ian Mortan - Under Creative Commons License

A win would have made life so much easier for Kansas City. Instead, with things all laid out for them, the Chiefs offered up an extremely disappointing 38-31 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle.

That second loss in a row was even worse after the Chargers and Texans had already lost. Now, instead of resting starters during the final week of the season, Andy Reid‘s squad is stuck reading through tie-breaker scenarios.

Kansas City still controls its destiny, but after a blazing start to the season Chiefs’ fans were hoping that it wouldn’t come down to needing a win to close the season. On the other side of the field, one of the franchise’s oldest and most bitter rivals would love to play Grinch.

Normally, this feature concentrates on player matchups. For the regular season’s final week, however, Sports Al Dente is taking a slightly different tact. What’s needed for a happy New Year in Kansas City? Just one thing really.

Chiefs vs. Themselves

Sure, the game is against Jon Gruden and his soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders (4-11). In reality, the Chiefs real battle is with themselves. Losing three straight games to end the season is not a way to go into the playoffs.

Kansas City defeated Oakland earlier in the year, but it wasn’t easy. Derek Carr threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to give the Raiders a lead before Patrick Mahomes rallied the team for a 40-33 victory. This time, there’s nothing for Gruden’s team to play for, except sticking it to their old AFL rival.

The Chiefs offense has been consistently spectacular. Mahomes already has authored one of the greatest seasons in NFL history by a quarterback, and with home-field advantage on the line, can add to that.

Similarly, his favorite target, Travis Kelce, is also making history.

Add on to that Tyreek Hill most likely setting the franchise’s single-season record for receiving yards, and it’s hard to argue with that the offense hasn’t done its share. Even the release of Kareem Hunt hasn’t hurt too much. Damien Williams has filled in admirably.

As it has been all season, the issue is with the defense. Bob Sutton’s group gave up five touchdowns to Seattle’s run-heavy offense, three of them on Russell Wilson tosses. In the previous Raiders game, Carr also threw three touchdowns. Kansas City is leading the NFL in scoring with 35.3 points per game. The team is fourth worst, though, in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score 27.9 points a contest.

All the Chiefs need to do is win to get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Unfortunately, the biggest stumbling block that they face is getting out of their own way to get that done.

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Denver Broncos

Kansas City’s dilemma would be far direr if Los Angeles (11-4) hadn’t laid an egg of its own. After beating the Chiefs in dramatic fashion, the Chargers followed with a 22-10 loss to Baltimore.

Philip Rivers has put together an outstanding season, but the tough Ravens defense made him look bad. The veteran couldn’t break 200 yards passing and threw two interceptions.

Los Angeles now has its own former AFL rival to contend with in Denver (6-9). Like the Raiders, the Broncos only real motivation at this point in the season is to play spoiler.

The Chargers know full well what’s at stake on Sunday.

Even if LA wins in Denver, it doesn’t matter if the Chiefs also win. If Kansas City slips up, though, Rivers and his Chargers will have a golden opportunity to capitalize at Mile High.

New York Jets vs. New England Patriots

Why do we ever bother to count them out? After some regular season struggles, the NFL’s version of Michael Myers, New England (10-5), is back yet again with a chance at home field through the playoffs.

It doesn’t seem to matter what happens each year, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady always seem to end up in the exact same place. The duo has now won the AFC East 10 years in a row.

Standing in their way in the final game are the Jets (4-11) and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. The young signal caller out of USC has been coming on late, throwing five touchdowns with no interceptions in his last two games.

That’s nice, but Belichick does not lose to rookie quarterbacks. Ever. New York fans might hate New England worse than any other group of people on the planet, but all the vitriol in the world doesn’t change that.

The Patriots are a long-shot to get the AFC’s number one seed. Both Kansas City and Los Angeles have to lose to inferior opponents for New England to even have a chance.

Still, the fact that Belichick and Brady are lurking in the shadows should be enough to give the rest of the conference a fresh round of nightmares.