The Kansas City Chiefs have won five straight, easily one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
The Raiders have scuffled some lately, finally snapping a three-game skid with a narrow escape against the Tennessee Titans.
Both teams are in the AFC Wild Card chase, though the Raiders need a run to get back in the mix. Most every road to serious contention starts with a victory Sunday over the Chiefs. The Raiders will need quality performances from several to excel and slow a talented Kansas City squad.
10) PR/KR Jeremy Ross, Raiders
The Cal alum is the latest attempt to find production in the return game. Things haven’t gone well to this point, with ineffectiveness and fumbling issues combining to produce troubling results in the battle for field position. Ross was signed and inserted into action against Tennessee. He gave the punt return game a lift, with 12.3 yards per return. He also lost a fumble on a kickoff, which set the Raiders back. Head coach Jack Del Rio gave him a vote of confidence this week, so he’ll get a second shot to produce. Those turnovers have got to stop. He simply can’t put it on the ground.
9) CB Marcus Peters, Chiefs
Peters has a homecoming ahead. The first-round pick is from Oakland and proud of his upbringing, expecting a big crowd for his first NFL game in the East Bay. He comes back wearing a badge of honor. He is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, adjusting well to the pro game after leaving the University of Washington. He has four interceptions and 13 passes defensed. He stays on one side -– Kansas City doesn’t shadow receivers -- meaning he’ll have a hand in covering everyone on the outside.
8) CB David Amerson, Raiders
The Week 3 waiver claim has emerged as a short-term and potentially long-term option at cornerback. He’s fresh off the game of his life, when he had an interception and six passes defensed against Tennessee. He isn’t void of mistakes, but has used his ball skills and length to become a solid cover corner. Continued success could lead the Raiders to keep him opposite T.J. Carrie, giving a weak position strength as the team grows.
7) Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs
Kansas City hasn’t had a deep threat in years. Maclin gives them one, and allows quarterback Alex Smith to throw downfield with confidence. He has 772 yards and three touchdowns, with just one interception thrown his way. He averages 13.5 yards per reception, and gives Kansas City an ability to stretch the field and take defenders away from the front.
6) LB Malcolm Smith, Raiders
The fifth-year veteran has played nearly every snap this season, as the only stable force in the linebacker corps. He does a lot of work in coverage, and will be responsible for covering tight end Travis Kelce and running backs on intermediate route routes. His effectiveness in coverage will go a long way in determining a winner of this pivotal game.
5) LT Donald Penn, Raiders
The veteran blind-side blocker is a top 10 tackle in pass protection, but has struggled recently. He has given up two sacks and five other pressures in the last three games, after giving up one sack and seven pressures in the previous eight games. He’ll have his hands full with the Chiefs’ dynamic 3-4 defense, which features Tamba Hali leading an intense group. He needs to be near perfect to give the Raiders and chance to throw down field.
4) OLB Tamba Hali, Chiefs
Justin Houston has been ruled out of Sunday’s game with a knee injury. That’s a major boon for the Raiders offense, but they must contend with Hali in the pass rush. He can wreck a game on his own, with 6.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits and 42 other pressures. Hali’s an excellent run defender as well, meaning the pass rush remains a force despite Houston’s absence.
3) RB Latavius Murray, Raiders
The Raiders have struggled to run efficiently in recent weeks, ending a five week run where their yards per carry were sky high. Murray needs to get moving and reach the second level consistently to establish a solid time of possession for his team and steadily generate first downs. The Raiders worked on their run game this week, which could produce better gains if they got things right.
2) TE Travis Kelce, Chiefs
Tight ends have been kryptonite for the Raiders, who have been exploited in the middle of the field all season by established tight ends and newbies. Kelce might be the fastest tight end they’ve faced. He has become an effective safety net for quarterback Alex Smith, with 54 receptions for 689 yards this season and nine games with at least five catches. The Raiders uses linebackers and safeties to guard tight end, all must be effective to diffuse this potent offensive weapon.
1) QB Derek Carr, Raiders
The Raiders need to win this game, and more often than not, they only emerge victorious when the offense scores consistently. The second-year pro has been the most consistent means to scoring points. The Chiefs defense is a solid against the run and pass, so Carr must make plays in difficult situations while avoiding mistakes to keep the offense rolling.