Rivalry games don’t come much more fun than Sunday night’s AFC West showdown between the 8-1 Chiefs and 6-3 Raiders in Las Vegas.
The result of the game will do one of two things:
It will either considerably tighten up a division race that was not expected to be close at all this season. Or it will set up the division to be a runaway for the Chiefs, which was the expected result all along.
Adding to the intrigue was some early-week chatter from Chiefs coach Andy Reid about the Raiders team buses taking a “victory lap’’ around Arrowhead Stadium in October after they beat the Chiefs, 40-32, for their first win over Kansas City since Jon Gruden took over as coach in 2018.
The victory lap clearly agitated Reid, who told reporters, “They won the game, so they can do anything they want to do. That’s not our style.”
Here’s what is Reid’s style: He has been historically dominant in games after a bye, which the Chiefs were on last week, going 18-3.
More ominous stats for the Raiders: The Chiefs are 29-4 against the AFC West since 2015. And, no team has defeated Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes twice in the regular season.
Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl MVP and the league MVP in 2018, is so talented he doesn’t need bulletin board material, but Gruden delivered it nonetheless.
“You can find a smart-aleck bus driver in Kansas City who made some snide comments when we got on the bus,’’ Gruden told reporters. “Maybe that’s why we drove around the stadium, to tick him off. You know, this is ridiculous. Next question.”
The next question is this: How good are the Raiders, and was that win in Kansas City a one-off?
If it was, then the Chiefs will be well on their way to winning a fifth consecutive AFC West title with a win over the Raiders.
This game is the first since 2016 — when both teams tied for the division title at 12-4 — that they’ve played with so much at stake for both sides. Kansas City is 12-3 against the Raiders since Reid took over as head coach in 2013.
“It’s two good football teams playing each other,” Reid said. “I don’t think either team likes the other that much, as they’ve stated before.”
Gruden, despite his coaching motivational mind game, showed respect for the Chiefs.
“They’re the world champions,’’ he said. “You have to do whatever it takes to try and win the game. That particular day [in October], it just seemed to be a shootout. There’s no guarantee we’re going to make a first down this time. We’ll see how it goes.’’
In the previous meeting, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was a big playmaker — throwing for 219 yards on deep throws, connecting with receivers Henry Ruggs III and Nelson Agholor on long TD passes.
“They made some good plays, they came out on fire,’’ Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward told reporters. “They had a good game plan. They had an answer for the things were doing, but this week we’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’
The Raiders rushing attack has been alive of late, averaging 190.7 yards in each of their past three games, all wins.
“If we have to do that to win, awesome; if we don’t, awesome,’’ Carr said. “Whatever we have to do to win, that’s what I’m ready to do.’’
The Raiders has allowed 14.7 points per game the past three weeks — forcing five turnovers in a win over the Broncos last week. The challenge against the Chiefs will be more difficult — not only because Kansas City is so prolific on offense, but because the Raiders have been hit hard by COVID-19.
Their starting defensive end Clelin Ferrell tested positive early in the week, joining linebacker Cory Littleton on the list. They join eight other defensive players who were placed on the COVID-19 list as “high risk’’ close contacts — including starters Lamarcus Joyner, Maliek Collins, Johnathan Abram and Johnathan Hankins.
“It’s what you have to do,’’ Gruden said. “Everybody has to adapt to a lot of things in every phase of life. We had to go through some things before. We’ll be there on Sunday, and we’ll be prepared.’’
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