KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs could have taken this week off, assured of not only their third consecutive AFC West title but also the No. 1 seed in the playoffs before the Oakland Raiders came to town.
Instead, they’ll have everything on the line today.
The Chiefs blew a fourth-quarter lead against the Chargers a couple weeks ago, and last week they lost a shootout in Seattle. They are now 0-2 with a chance to clinch the division, and they risk falling all the way to the No. 5 seed in the playoffs if they can’t defeat one of their longtime rivals.
“Last time I checked we are in a pretty good position here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I know it can become a woe-is-me thing and this is how it happens, it can be a negative. I feel like throughout the team, though, the guys understand where they’re at and what they need to do to fix it.
“The objective is to win games,” Reid said. “We have one game left here in the regular season.”
Now, the Chiefs long ago locked up a spot in the postseason, so that won’t be an issue when they kick off against Oakland at the same time the Chargers are playing the Broncos. But what happens over the ensuing hours could potentially have massive playoff ramifications.
If the Chiefs (11-4) win, they get a path through Arrowhead Stadium. If they lose and the Chargers win, Los Angeles vaults to the top of the AFC West and the No. 1 seed.
If both teams lose, the Patriots or Texans would have a chance to snare the top spot, and Kansas City could conceivably go from having a bye to a wild-card matchup next weekend.
“It’s a very small margin between winning and losing,” Reid said. “Very, very small. The pace can change quickly. So it’s important the attitude is right, and Kansas City has had a lot of ups and downs. Are players and coaches willing to make a change? We have an opportunity to do that.”
The Raiders (4-11) would like nothing more than to play spoiler. They’ve lost seven of their last eight against the Chiefs, including a 40-33 shootout in Oakland earlier this season.
But despite a season’s worth of turmoil with no end in sight — who knows where they will play next season? — the Raiders have quietly performed better. They beat the Steelers and Broncos in recent weeks and coach Jon Gruden believes his vast rebuilding job is making progress.
“We’re trying to get some momentum for our offseason,” Gruden said. “This is our first year here. I know the expectations were high for some, but we’re laying the foundation for how we want to play.
“All we can do is keep developing our team,” he said, “and fight like hell for 60 minutes.”
As the Raiders and Chiefs prepare to meet, here are some key story lines:
The Chiefs remain without wide receiver Sammy Watkins because of a sore foot, but they hope to get cornerback Kendall Fuller back from a broken hand. Their defense was shredded by the Seahawks when he decided at game time that he would be unable to go. “That’s a day-to-day thing,” Reid said, “but I think he feels a lot better.”
HEALTH CHECK, PART 2
Raiders left guard Kelechi Osemele returned last week against Denver and instantly upgraded the entire offense. He did not allow a pressure in 31 passing snaps and helped pave the way for Doug Martin to run for a season-best 107 yards. “It’s always good to be able to do that,” said Osemele, who’d been out with a knee injury. “It’s a great feeling, man.”
One of the few bright spots for Oakland this season has been rookie kicker Daniel Carlson, who is perfect on extra points and 15 of 16 on field goals since signing in October. The fifth-round pick was cut by Minnesota after missing all three field goals in Week 2, but he could break Sebastian Janikowski’s franchise record for field-goal accuracy in a season set in 2012. “To me that’s something you enjoy later in life,” he said. “You enjoy it in the offseason a little.”
Oakland’s rookie tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker have taken plenty of heat as the offensive line has failed to protect Derek Carr much of the season. “I know Pro Football Focus has some statistics that aren’t always positive,” Gruden said, “but they played very good, and not just pass protecting but run blocking and handling the audibles. We have seen a lot of progress there.”
One common thread during the Chiefs’ late-season slide: slow starts by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who nonetheless remains a top candidate for league MVP. He was 1 of 7 out of the gates against Seattle, though he bounced back to have another solid game.
“It’s all about the next play. The next play you always have an opportunity to do better,” Mahomes said. “As long as you go out there and execute the next play, that’s the best thing you can do.”