Thursday Night Preview: Big Implications for the Playoff Picture

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There hasn’t been a bigger Thursday Night Football game in recent memory.  Many Thursday Night games are division games, and most don’t have very much implication.  Other games are games that wouldn’t be watched otherwise on Sundays.  But, that is not the case tonight.  The Raiders meet the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium with so much on the line.

What Could Happen to the AFC Playoff Picture?

With Oakland currently sitting atop the division and holding the first seed in the AFC Playoff picture, a win tonight would continue their dominance and bring them a seventh straight victory.  The Chiefs would also find themselves two games back of Oakland, effectively ending their shot at a division title.  An Oakland win would almost seal the division, and would put them in a great spot to contend for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

On the flip side, a win for the Chiefs would help themselves and the Broncos out.  The Chiefs would have swept the Raiders, and would take control of first in the AFC West.  But, the division would get a lot crazier, with all three playoff contenders having a shot at the division.  The Broncos would still have a shot as well, with them playing the Chiefs and Raiders in the final three weeks.  The Chiefs would still control their own destiny, and a win over Denver in the coming weeks would give them the division title.

So, in other words, an important game takes place tonight.

A Different Matchup This Time Around 

Last time around, the Chiefs shut the Raiders high powered offense down, only giving up 10 points.  But, the Raiders are riding high with confidence now and will never quit, no matter the situation they are in.  Being down in the second half to the Panthers and Bills the last two weeks has proved that.  So, if the Raiders get down early, don’t expect them to throw in the towel.

As far as the Chiefs go, Justin Houston returns to a very dominant pass rush.  Rookie second round pick Chris Jones has been excellent this season, and Dee Ford has finally found footing as a pass rusher.  Tamba Hali has also been steady this season.  Now, one of the best pass rushers in football returns to an already scary front.  The Raiders will have their hands full stopping the pass rush.

Matchup to Watch: Chiefs Pass Rush vs. Raiders Offensive Line

This will be the matchup to take a look at all night long.  The Chiefs, as discussed above, are well equipped to get to the quarterback and disrupt offenses.  But, they haven’t run into a group of maulers on the offensive line that the Raiders currently possess.  They have given Derek Carr plenty of clean pockets.  Rodney Hudson was a huge pickup two offseasons ago, and Kelechi Osemele was perhaps the best signing of this past one.  The run game can be effective at times, but they are much more consistent in pass protection.  If the Chiefs are to win tonight, they will need to throw Carr off of his game.

Key Players: Marcus Peters, KC, and Bruce Irvin, OAK

Marcus Peters is tasked with stopping both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.  If the Chiefs pass rush gets neutralized most of the game, which could happen due to the Raiders excellent protection, then it will be up to Peters, Berry and the secondary to cover and not let up big plays.  No matter what side he ends up on, Peters will have to be focused on every single snap.

As far as the Raiders, Khalil Mack has been flat out dominant down the stretch this season.  Now, it’s time for someone to step up on the line and make plays.  Bruce Irvin has an opportunity tonight to prove that he is a major piece of the defense.  The Chiefs will try to get the ball in the hands of their speedsters, especially Tyreek Hill.  Setting the edge in the run game and forcing the reverses the Chiefs run back inside will be a key part of stopping the Chiefs offense.

The Pick

The Raiders come in to Arrowhead very hot, but the cold night combined with the noise will provide a serious challenge for them.  The Chiefs keep finding ways to win games, no matter if it’s a fake punt or a pick returned for two points.  Alex Smith and company should be able to move the ball well against Oakland, and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce should get open downfield.  Both teams are going to try to control the clock, but the Chiefs defense will reign supreme.  Carr and the Raiders will give it all they’ve got, but those road divisional tilts are tough, especially down the stretch in December.

Chiefs 24, Raiders 20

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