The Kansas City Chiefs will try to make it three straight wins when they take on the Oakland Raiders in the Black Hole Sunday afternoon.
Currently two games back of the San Diego Chargers, the Chiefs have a chance to really make some noise in the AFC West. If they can take out the Raiders Sunday and then come home and take care of business against the Broncos on Monday Night Football, all of a sudden the landscape within the division could look significantly different.
The Raiders have been impressive this season going 4-2 under first year coach Hue Jackson including wins the last two weeks against the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns following the death of owner Al Davis.
After losing starting quarterback Jason Campbell last week, the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer but it remains to be seen if he will see any time against the Chiefs. Instead the Kansas City defense could see backup Kyle Boller, who was solid — yet unspectacular — going 8-for-14 for 100 yards against Cleveland.
With a deadly stretch of games coming in a month, this is when the Chiefs cannot afford to have a let down.
Here are three players from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Jackie Battle
The Kansas City offense has ridden the resurgent Matt Cassel over the last two and a half games, but it was the career day from Battle last game against the Indianapolis Colts that was the most surprising. Battle was a star on the ground with 119 yards on 19 carries, giving the Chiefs their first legitimate option since Jamaal Charles was lost for the season. In his first 37 games in the NFL, Battle had totaled just 155 yards.
If the Chiefs are going to walk out of Oakland with a win, they will need to show off their sixth ranked rushing attack. With Thomas Jones slowed by age and Dexter McCluster best used as a change of pace back, the bulk of the carries are going to go to Battle.
Defense: Kelly Gregg
After failing to show up — like most of his teammates — in the Chiefs opening season blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills, Gregg has held down the defensive line. He is averaging better than three tackles a game, including four each of the last two weeks against the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts.
The Raiders showed last week that they are vulnerable up the middle, with Browns rookie Phil Taylor spending his fair share of time in the backfield last week, including a sack and two tackles for a loss.
With the Chiefs facing such a strong rushing attack, Gregg will need to do some damage inside or it will be a long day for the defense chasing Darren McFadden all over the field.
Special Teams: Javier Arenas
It’s going to happen. It might not be this week but Arenas, the Chiefs primary returner, will take a kick off or punt to the house. After struggling to adjust as a returner during his rookie season, Arenas has looked smooth in the return game.
Josh Cribbs is one of the best in the game, but he took a punt back 31 yards against the Raiders last week and all told Cleveland had three returns of at least 20 yards. Earlier in the year, the Jets ripped off two returns of at least 50 yards. Countless times this season Arenas has been one block away and now he faces a Raiders special teams unit that has been vulnerable.
Offense: Darren McFadden
No matter who lines up under center for Oakland, McFadden is the player that will decide the game. He is leading the league in rushing and has already put up a 171 yard effort. McFadden is also the second-leading receiver for the Raiders behind Darrius Heyward-Bey.
So far in his career, the Chiefs have actually had some success containing McFadden. He had 164 yards in just his second game in the NFL, but his four other games against the Chiefs he has only been able to pick up 148 yards on 40 carries.
If Battle the Chiefs running game is going to do any damage, they will have to find a way to black Seymour. The All Pro is putting together one of his better seasons with 19 tackles and five sacks.
There are plenty of physical players on the Oakland defense that will look to bully the Kansas City offense into penalties, but Seymour leads that unit and no doubt was the focus for Bill Muir and Todd Haley when they put this week’s game plan together. Stop — or at least slow down — Seymour and you keep Cassel on his feet and Battle, Jones and McCluster moving forward.
Special Teams: Jacoby Ford
He doesn’t have the name recognition of McFadden or Seymour, but Ford could end up being the most difficult player for the Chiefs to contain. He certainly was last season. That’s when he destroyed Kansas City with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown (not to mention the career-best 148 yards receiving).
Like plenty of other Raiders, Ford has blazing speed and can use it to turn in a big play at any moment. Last week he had a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, showing he isn’t afraid to take the ball out of the end zone.
The only way to assure keeping the explosive Ford under wraps is to hope Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop has enough leg to put the ball out of the endzone all day long.