The AFC West suddenly got very interesting on Sunday with the Chargers and Chiefs suddenly right back in the race for the division crowd after big wins. It seems unbelievable that a Kansas City team that lost it’s first two games by a combined score of 89-10 could still have a shot at a playoff spot with two games remaining, but that’s the type of year it has been in the AFC West.
For Oakland, it seems like a long time ago that they were 7-4 and seemingly cruising towards the postseason. However, last week’s late loss to Detroit, coupled with their two humbling defeats at the hands of Miami and Green Bay, have brought them right back into the chasing pack.
As we hit the last two weeks of the season, the race for the AFC West is one of the most intriguing stories in the NFL, with this being the only divisional matchup in the West this week. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three areas to focus on this Sunday.
Oakland’s Defensive Line v Kansas City’s Offensive Line
It gives a little glimpse into why the Chiefs front office and ownership had to fire Todd Haley when you realise that they start the worst offensive tackle we have graded this year in Barry Richardson (-38.0), yet cut Jared Gaither seemingly for one bad false start penalty against Pittsburgh. There’s really no nice way to say how bad Richardson has been this year, giving up seven sacks, six hits and 34 pressures while also being our worst graded run blocking RT by some distance. The rest of the Chiefs line all have positive pass blocking grades, however all bar Branden Albert (+4.3) have struggled as run blockers.
The Raiders DL is one of the very best in the league and is led once again by Richard Seymour (+14.9), who is second in our pass-rushing grades amongst defensive tackles. But the line is much more than just Seymour – all of the top five defensive linemen in Oakland (in terms of snap counts) have a PFF grade of +4.1 or higher. However, there is one troubling aspect to the unit; penalties. Combined, the Raiders DL has committed a staggering 34 penalties, that’s something they need to improve on this week and beyond if they plan to make a serious playoff run.
Oakland’s Wide Receivers v Kansas City’s Cornerbacks
Rookie Denarius Moore (+5.6) has proved to be very much a boom or bust type of player for the Raiders, with more than half of his receiving yards (269) and three of his four touchdowns caught coming in just two games. He has seven games this year where has less than 20 yards through the air, however he has dropped just the one pass all year. Meanwhile, it sure looks like Carson Palmer (-2.0) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (-0.6) are on the same page with 13 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown in the last two weeks. Topping it off, Heyward-Bey has forced six missed tackled these past two games.
In Kansas City Brandon Flowers (+9.6) has recovered from an early season slump, that saw him have three multiple touchdowns allowed games in the first five, to allowing just the one touchdown in the last nine – much more like we expected from him. Opposite Flowers, Brandon Carr (+1.8) has allowed 50.7% of the throws into his coverage to be caught for 485 yards and three touchdown while breaking up seven passes and picking off three more.
At the heart of what the Chiefs do defensively is Tamba Hali (+29.2), who has been fantastic as a pass rusher once again this year, coming in to this week as our fourth highest graded pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker. He comes into this game in form after generating three sacks and six pressures in last week’s shocking win over the Green Bay Packers when he made Marshall Newhouse look down right silly on many occasions. For the year Hali has managed 12 sacks, nine hits and 36 pressures, and the Chiefs will need more of the same if they are to pull off an even bigger surprise than Sunday’s win and take the AFC West crown.