Chiefs: QB Aaron Murray, WR A.J. Jenkins, WR Donnie Avery, CB Chris Owens, CB Jamell Fleming, C Eric Kush, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
Raiders: QB Matt McGloin, CB Carlos Rogers, CB TJ Carrie, S Jonathan Dowling, G Gabe Jackson, G Tony Bergstrom, TE David Ausberry.
Teams around the NFL are struggling to run near the opponent’s goal line. NFL teams in last week’s games rushed for a total of 10 touchdowns. The Chiefs scored three of them, all from inside the 20.
“I don’t think there’s a magic secret to it,’’ quarterback Alex Smith said. “It’s good plans and it’s going out there and playing well.”
Actually, it’s more than just that.
“We’ve got a good running back, I guess,’’ coach Andy Reid said.
Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. At about 200 pounds, Jamaal Charles doesn’t look like he should be a good red zone runner. Big plays should be more his thing.
But Charles doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to run in tight quarters.
“A guy like Jamaal has great vision, a great feel, is hard to bring down on the first point of contact, can obviously make the first guy miss and then get himself into the end zone,’’ offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “Having a guy like that definitely makes it a little bit better for you in that run game.”
It’s not just Charles, though. The Chiefs also give the ball at times to Knile Davis near the goal line. Davis doesn’t have Charles’ vision or patience but he is more powerful and more capable of making his own hole.
Charles had two touchdowns last week against Seattle, Davis one. Charles has eight rushing touchdowns this season, Davis five.
“We don’t really care which one is in necessarily, just that they’re fresh and ready to go,’’ Reid said.
The Chiefs, according to numberFire, have an 85 percent chance to make the playoffs, a 43 percent chance to win the AFC West championship, 15 percent chance to win the AFC title and an eight percent shot to win the Super Bowl.
Those numbers are slightly behind those of the Denver Broncos, who are given an 87 percent chance to make the playoffs, 54 percent to win the AFC West, 21 percent chance to win the AFC and 12 percent chance to win the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs and Broncos are tied for the AFC West lead with identical 7-3 records. They meet for the final time in the regular season at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 30.
NumberFire also calculated the chances for the Oakland Raiders, who are 0-10, to win each of their remaining six games. That’s of interest to Chiefs fans because Kansas City plays the Raiders twice, the first game being Thursday night in Oakland.
Those numbers show the Raiders have a 31 percent chance of beating the Chiefs Thursday. But Oakland, according to numberFire, has just an 18 percent shot at beating the Chiefs on Dec. 14 at Arrowhead.
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs won 56-31 in Oakland last season.
Historically, facing teams as bad as the 0-10 Raiders hasn't been a good thing for Kansas City.
In four previous games against teams with a record of 0-10 or worse, the Chiefs have won only once, though that victory came against Oakland in 1962, the sole other time the Raiders lost their first 10 games.
Chiefs and Smith turn it around
After losing their first two games this season, the Chiefs had a 12 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to numberFire.com.
By winning seven of eight games since then, including its last five, Kansas City has raised its playoff odds to 85 percent, third best in the AFC behind the Patriots and Broncos.
Alex Smith, who threw a career-high five touchdown passes against Oakland last season, has been key to this year's turnaround.
After throwing three interceptions in Week 1, Smith has been picked off once in nine games. Only Aaron Rodgers has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio over that span.
Smith doesn't take many chances down the field, though, averaging nearly a full air yard fewer per throw than any quarterback in any of the last five seasons.
Whether because of Smith's choices or the quality of the receiving corps, Chiefs wide receivers have yet to catch a touchdown pass, and they're last in the NFL in both receptions (79) and yards (917), trailing seven other individual wide receivers in yards this season.
Raiders streaking the wrong way
The Raiders haven't won a game in over a year, since winning at Houston on November 17 last season.
Their 16-game losing streak is three away from the franchise record, and it's more than three times longer than the next-longest active streak of five, held by the Giants and Panthers.
According to numberFire.com, Oakland has a 13 percent chance of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go 0-16 in a season. On the bright side, the Raiders have a 70 percent chance of finishing with the league's worst record and getting the first pick in next year's draft.
The Raiders have only led once in the second half this season (Week 6 vs. Chargers). And during their 16-game losing streak, they've run a total of seven second-half plays with a lead. Every other team has run at least 83 such plays in that span.
Thursday night isn't likely to be easier for the Raiders, at least on the ground. Oakland has a league-low two rushing touchdowns, and the Chiefs have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season, becoming the fifth team to do that through 10 games in the Super Bowl era.
With that in mind, the only fantasy-relevant injury news for the Thursday night contest is at the Chiefs’ tight end position:
Travis Kelce, ribs/shoulder (P), and Anthony Fasano, knee (Q): Fasano missed the team’s Week 11 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks with a bruised knee but did return to limited practice this week. His status for Thursday night is up in the air, not that it should significantly impact the role of Kelce, who remains the better pass-catching tight end option for the Chiefs.
Kelce’s listing on the injury report this week with both rib and shoulder ailments reflects the wear and tear of a long season. He injured his rib cartilage in Week 7 against the San Diego Chargers but hasn’t missed any time. His game status is not in jeopardy. Listed as a full participant in practice each day and entering the game as probable, Kelce will be on the field Thursday night.
The Chiefs score a touchdown on 70 percent of their trips inside the 20 (third in the league) and allow a TD on 42 percent of opponent trips (second). They will meet a team on Thursday that is their match in this department. The Raiders are second in red zone offense (75 percent) and seventh in red zone defense (50 percent).
The difference is that the Chiefs have made twice as many trips inside the 20 as the Raiders, while they’ve defended their end zone from up close fewer times.
That could be the difference here. The Chiefs’ ability to run the ball inside the 20 is helping to save their season. They’re third in yards per carry in the red zone (3.57) and are tied for the league lead with 13 rushing touchdowns from inside the 20.
My prediction: Chiefs 24, Raiders 13
At this time last season, the Kansas City Chiefs were 9-1 and in first place in their division. Through 10 games in 2014, the Chiefs are 7-3, tied with Denver in the AFC West standings but technically second by virtue of losing to the Broncos in Denver back in Week 2. And yet, despite an inferior record and spot in the division standings, there's little doubt that the Chiefs are a better team now than they were at this juncture of the season in 2013.
Catalyzed by a strong rushing attack, a mistake-free quarterback and a relentless pass rush, the Chiefs have emerged as an AFC contender. Here's why they could create trouble for either the Patriots or Broncos in the postseason.
Their ground game is tough to stop
Since returning from an injury in Week 5, running back Jamaal Charles has been on a torrential pace against terrific competition. Four of the Chiefs' seven opponents during that stretch have ranked among the NFL's top 10 rushing defenses, but Kansas City has remained undeterred in featuring Charles.
PORT ARTHUR, Texas -- The little boy with the soft eyes and easy smile couldn't stop crying. He wept inside that dilapidated, three-bedroom house, wondering how cancer could take his grandmother's life. Grandma was always so strong, so sure of herself, so capable of handling anything that came her way. That's how Mazelle Smith Miller set such a fine example for the 32 grandkids who always found their way into her home. She didn't take any crap from anybody.
The little boy thought about this often. He was only 8 years old, a second-grader who was known for drawing his grandmother's adoration, but he knew even then all that she had done. He walked outside, tears still streaming down his face, and noticed a bright light surrounding the house. The way Jamaal Charles describes it, it was as if his grandmother was providing one last reminder of what she'd meant to so many lives.
There had been so much love surrounding that house -- from family dinners to relay races between cousins to football games in the streets -- that had been a source of strength for Jamaal. He still had his grandfather, Oscar, and plenty of strong role models, but he felt the need to make a vow to himself: I'm going to keep this family together, and I'm going to do it through football.
It has been two decades since Charles, now a three-time Pro Bowl running back with the Kansas City Chiefs, made that promise. He thought about the audacity of that oath recently as he sat on the porch of that same house this past June. Charles was just hours removed from finishing the first day of the annual youth football camp he holds in his hometown, so he already was in a good mood. Thinking about all the twists and turns his life has taken over the past 20 years only made him happier.
The Kansas City Chiefs have won seven of their last eight games and at 7-3 are tied for first place in the AFC West. Their push for a playoff spot begins in earnest with Thursday night's game in Oakland against the Raiders, who are making a push of their own.
The Oakland Raiders are 0-10. With a difficult closing schedule, including a Dec. 14 game against the Chiefs in Kansas City, Oakland is in danger of finishing the season as a winless team.
ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Raiders reporter Mike Wagaman preview the game.
Teicher: Mike, the Raiders have a difficult remaining schedule. Do you think they'll win one of their final six games or are they destined to become the NFL's latest team to finish a winless season?
Wagaman: A month ago I would have said the idea was ludicrous, simply because it's next to impossible for an NFL team to go winless. It's easier to win the Super Bowl than to go 0-16. Yet that's exactly what the Raiders are staring at, and to be honest, Adam, I don't see a winnable game left on their schedule. At one point it seemed like the Week 13 game in St. Louis or the Week 16 matchup with Buffalo might be games Oakland could steal, but that's not true anymore. You'd think they'd catch one team sleeping, but even if that were true, the Raiders would have to play a near-perfect game -- something they haven't done for more than a year now.
Adam, the Chiefs own the NFL's No. 1 pass defense and haven't given up a rushing touchdown this season, but their overall run defense has been up and down. Are opponents having success on the ground because they don't want to throw against that pass rush or is there more going on?
Teicher: It's been a number of factors. The Chiefs have played almost the entire season without three of their best run defenders. End Mike DeVito, linebackers Derrick Johnson and Joe Mays would have helped, but two of them haven't played since the season opener and Mays is only now coming back. Another of their best run defenders, safety Eric Berry, missed five games. The Chiefs also made a commitment to eliminate the big pass play, to some extent, at the expense of allowing some rushing yardage. They allowed a ton of big pass plays last season and were determined to reduce that number this season. They've done it, but at a cost to their run defense.
Give us a little scouting report on Oakland's rookie quarterback Derek Carr. It's his first time facing the Chiefs. What are his strengths and weaknesses? Is he closer to being the next Rich Gannon for the Raiders or the next JaMarcus Russell?
Wagaman: Carr's development this season has been extraordinary considering the Raiders don't have any playmakers in their receiving corps and the running game has been nonexistent. Physically, he can make all the throws and has solid footwork, which has enabled him to avoid being sacked much. Carr has shown good touch on the short passes and has a nice zip on the ball on the few occasions he's been able to air it out deep. He also has a remarkable poise in the pocket and doesn't get rattled easily. Remember, Adam, this kid has been studying films of NFL teams since he was a teen, when he would study tape with his older brother David. Still, it's far too early to compare him to Gannon, who was an 11-year vet when he came to the Raiders. Carr is also clearly more serious about his craft than Russell ever was. I think the answer is that he's right about where most NFL rookie quarterbacks would love to be, firmly planted as the starter and learning both from his successes and mistakes.
Adam, when Alex Smith was in the Bay Area with San Francisco he was known as a game manager, which is code for an average quarterback who avoids making the costly mistakes. He seemed to shake that label during his first year in Kansas City, but what's gone wrong with the passing game this season?
Teicher: The Chiefs aren't getting many big passing plays. Their longest pass play of the season is 34 yards, which is the worst in the league. But they've made it work because they can run the ball effectively and run it in the red zone, they're very good in both the red zone and on third down and, perhaps most importantly, are committing few turnovers. That's where Smith comes in. He's doing an extraordinary job of protecting the ball. Eventually, they'll need more from him. They'll run into an opponent who takes away the run and Smith will have to do more. For now, he's doing exactly as he's been asked to do.
The Raiders went on a free-agent signing binge over the offseason, which makes their record all the more disappointing. Losing with youth is bad enough, but it's worse losing with veterans. Does Oakland have any young players other than Carr who might still be with them if the Raiders eventually turn their program around?
Wagaman: General manager Reggie McKenzie has taken a lot of heat, and rightfully so, for many of the free-agent moves he's made since taking over in 2012. However, Oakland's most recent draft has produced three starters -- Carr, linebacker Khalil Mack and left guard Gabe Jackson -- and a fourth (cornerback TJ Carrie) who has been a valuable fill-in defensively while doubling as the kick returner. The three starters are going to be the cornerstone for this franchise moving forward. Tight end Mychal Rivera and wide receiver Brice Butler also have shown some long-term potential. The only other younger player who has shown any kind of consistent promise is wide receiver Rod Streater, who has been on injured reserve most of the season with a broken foot. Beyond that, the rest of the youth on the roster is too unproven to make an honest evaluation. But at this point, you have to believe with the way things are going, if the youngsters had much to offer, they'd be in the lineup already.
Adam, the last time the Raiders saw Jamaal Charles, they held him to 20 yards on eight carries. He's had some big games against Oakland prior to that, and this season he looks like he's back to his old self. He doesn't get the national attention that guys such as Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson get, but does Charles deserve to be talked about as an elite back?
Teicher: Charles is for real. The Chiefs are getting next to nothing from their wide receivers and have a patchwork offensive line featuring one rookie and two street free-agent starters. Charles is still delivering for them. It is interesting that the Raiders have generally done a better job of containing Charles in the running game over the years than most other frequent Chiefs' opponents. But the last time Charles played against the Raiders, he caught eight passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns, so the Raiders need to cover him far better than they did then.
The Chiefs will try that feat again Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders. Avery, who is recovering from surgery for a sports hernia, and Jenkins, who has an injured shoulder, won't play in Oakland.
I'm wondering whether the Chiefs will do as well without them in Oakland as they did Sunday in beating the Seattle Seahawks. That was a most unusual game, a fact acknowledged by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. The Chiefs ran only 44 plays before Smith kneeled twice to end the game. Just 16 of those plays were passes and Smith threw only four of them for a wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, every time.
Bowe caught two passes for 18 yards. That's an incredibly small output from the wide receivers for a winning team that scores 24 points in an NFL game. I'd be surprised if the Chiefs can win the game or get to 24 points again with those stats from their wide receivers.
Jamaal Charles had a monster game against the Seahawks, rushing for 159 yards and eight per carry. His history against the Raiders suggests that won't happen Thursday night, though I've given up being surprised at anything Charles does any more.
But it's prudent for the Chiefs to believe they will need more in Oakland from Smith, their passing game and their wide receivers in particular. Bowe had been on a nice four-game run (25 catches, 296 yards) before last week. The Chiefs need production like that from Bowe every week. They also need more from Frankie Hammond Jr., the other starter, as well as De'Anthony Thomas, Junior Hemingway and Albert Wilson.
If they don't get more from those players, the Chiefs could be in trouble in Oakland.
"No," Smith said. "It's not the same but it's an even playing field. Both teams are working on a short week and both teams have to deal with it but obviously you are missing quite a few days there to put in more to watch more film, get more rest, all of those things. But both teams deal with it.
Perhaps one reason is that only one of the participating teams has the burden of travel the day before the game. In this case, it's the Chiefs who have to haul themselves to Kansas City International and make the flight to California.
The NFL began the season-long Thursday night package of games in 2012. The Chiefs have had to travel every year. In 2012, they went to San Diego, where they lost 31-13 to the Chargers. Last year, the Chiefs beat the Eagles, 26-16.
Neither of those games was especially artistic. That the players can't get adequate rest after a Sunday game is only part of the problem.
"The obvious is you don't have as much time to (prepare and install the game plans)," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "You don't have as much meeting time, don't have as much practice time. I think what you have to do is you really have to make a real important decision about what can be handled, what can get done here and sometimes you may not be able to dive in and take a personnel grouping or opponent apart.
"We're combining a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday here into one practice. I don't think you can ever feel that prepared and I think as a coach, you kind of balance that out in your mind saying, 'Well, the opponent's in the same pickle that we're in.' "
The Raiders are hopeful Carr can be a better player than many of his predecessors. Here is a list of quarterbacks who have started for the Raiders against the Chiefs since Rich Gannon played for the last time against Kansas City in 2003:
There are some talented players on that list. Seven of those players were former first-round draft picks. Two were overall No. 1 picks.
They just weren’t productive players for Oakland. So the bar isn’t set very high for Carr, the Raiders’ second-round draft pick.
“He certainly has exceeded the expectations," Oakland coach Tony Sparano said of Carr, who beat out veteran Matt Schaub in the preseason to be the starter. “I think he’s progressively getting better and better and better. I’ve been around a lot of young quarterbacks and there are very few that get ahead of the curve in year one. I think he’s started to get ahead of the curve."
Carr’s first 10 games have been promising. Though the Raiders are 0-10, they can’t put the blame on their rookie quarterback. He has one of the league’s lowest passer ratings at 76.8 but isn’t throwing an inordinate number of interceptions, which is generally the calling card of a rookie passer.
Carr isn’t getting sacked a lot (just 11 times) so he’s not taking a physical beating. But it’s natural to wonder whether all the losing will drag him down.
It didn’t sound like it has so far.
“I know good times are coming here in Oakland," Carr said on Tuesday. “We’re going to turn this thing around eventually. I’m happy they chose me to be a part of it because I can’t wait for those times to come.
“You wouldn’t think that we’re an 0-10 team because we haven’t given up on each other and we haven’t given up on this organization. We just continue to fight."