Why Raiders-Chiefs is the most important NFL game of 2016

BY Cameron DaSilva • December 14, 2016

This season has treated us to some truly fantastic and exciting NFL games. Cowboys-Steelers, Seahawks-Patriots, Broncos-Saints – those are a few that come to mind initially, all of which have proved to be pivotal games one way or the other for both teams. However, while those three provided flare, controversy and excitement, the biggest game of 2016 is happening Thursday night.

The 10-2 Oakland Raiders will head east to Kansas City, where they’ll take on the 9-3 Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium – one of the loudest venues in all of sports. First place in the AFC West is on the line, as is a potential first-round bye in the playoffs. Oh, and not to mention, it’s statistically one of the greatest matchups in Thursday Night Football’s history.

Since TNF began 11 years ago, only two games have pitted better teams against one another: Packers (10-1) vs. Cowboys (10-1) in 2007 and Ravens (7-3) vs. 49ers (9-1) in 2011. The combined winning percentage between the Chiefs and Raiders is .792, the third-best ever for Thursday night.

Do you  believe me now when I say it’s the biggest game of 2016? You should.

Not only is this certain to be one of the most memorable games of the season, but it’s also one of the most important. The Raiders currently hold a one-game lead in the division -- a division the 8-4 defending champion Broncos are just two games back in. That cushion, as well as their first-round bye, goes out the window if the Chiefs beat them Thursday night. A victory for Kansas City would move its record to 10-3, tying the Raiders atop the division. Only, it will be their second win over the Raiders this season, thus giving them the all-important tiebreaker.

Of course, the division won’t be decided in Week 14, particularly if the Chiefs win. There will still be three games remaining in the season, allowing the Raiders to make up for the loss to their division rival. Each team also still must play the Broncos. That doesn’t diminish the importance of this pivotal matchup, though. The winner will have a huge advantage and an inside track to a division crown and top-two seed in the AFC.

No game left on the schedule carries the weight of this one. Cowboys-Giants doesn’t, Patriots-Broncos won’t, and neither will Ravens-Steelers in Week 16. This is the single most important game of the season.

So, who has the advantage in the game of the year? You might be surprised, but it’s the Chiefs – and not just because they’re at home. Kansas City actually matches up perfectly with the Raiders, much as it did with the Atlanta Falcons last week.

The Chiefs laid out a blueprint for beating the Raiders back in Week 5, when they dismantled Oakland 26-10 on the road. The Chiefs got pressure on Derek Carr, sacking him twice and hitting him a handful of other times, while also playing physical defense on the outside. Marcus Peters (unsurprisingly) pulled down an interception while Dee Ford forced a fumble. That’s the mantra of the Chiefs’ defense: physical play, forcing turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterback.

The Raiders have one of the best offensive lines in the league, allowing just 12 sacks on the year, but the Chiefs are healthy on the edge. Justin Houston wasn’t healthy for their first meeting, and Ford was just coming into his own. Now with both players on the field, as well as Tamba Hali, Kansas City’s pass rush should be even better than it was nine weeks ago. That should worry the Raiders.

On offense, Oakland is obviously more explosive. Carr puts up points in a hurry thanks to his outstanding receivers, and the running game is a solid complement. But it’s the Chiefs that will have more success on that side of the ball. Why? Matchups.

Andy Reid loves to utilize running backs and tight ends in the passing game. Those positions almost always draw linebackers and safeties in coverage. Unfortunately for the Raiders, that’s where they’re weak – especially with rookie Karl Joseph ruled out. Travis Kelce, arguably the best tight end in football now that Gronk is out, will take full advantage of his favorable matchups with Perry Riley, Malcolm Smith or Reggie Nelson.

This will give Alex Smith easy throws that can also turn into big plays thanks to the Raiders’ suspect tackling. And when Kansas City turns to its ground game, it’ll have success. The Raiders are 29th against the run, once again the result of their poor linebacker play.

This game has huge playoff implications and will greatly benefit the winner’s chances of taking home the AFC West crown. That’s why it’s must-watch TV.

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