Kansas City Chiefs vs. Las Vegas Raiders: Matchups, prediction for critical AFC showdown

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs visit Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders in a game rife with playoff implications.

It’s never too early to think about playoff implications when division rivals meet, particularly in the AFC West in 2021. Playoff implications are certainly on the line in the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Las Vegas Raiders matchup in Week 10.

At 5-3, the Raiders are tied with the Chargers atop the division and would be a Wild Card entrant into the playoffs if the season ended today. Meanwhile, the Chiefs enter this week at 5-4 and the AFC’s eighth seed. The Raiders, who have already lost their head coach Jon Gruden and dealt with the Henry Ruggs DUI wreck fallout, faced fresh adversity this week. They cut former first-round pick Damon Arnette after he brandished guns in a threatening social media post.

Kansas City Chiefs offense vs. Las Vegas Raiders defense

The Chiefs’ offense might not be broken, but it’s seriously sprained. The 36 points they’ve scored in the last three weeks are the fewest they’ve put up in a three-game span since 2017 — when Alex Smith was still their quarterback. Week 9 was the latest example of how far they’ve fallen. In a defensive struggle with the Green Bay Packers, they managed just 13 points, 237 yards, and 14 first downs.

The Raiders defensively have been remarkably consistent. They’ve allowed between 17 and 28 points in all eight of their games, including 24, 22, and 23 in the last three weeks. It would be unfair to pin last Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Giants on the defense. New York managed 248 yards of offense — including just 98 through the air — and had only 1 offensive touchdown. Las Vegas ranks fifth in yards per play allowed (5.1), but only five teams have had fewer interceptions (4).

Patrick Mahomes vs. Raiders defense

Evaluation of Mahomes in 2021 is a choose-your-own-adventure exercise. Even Mahomes would concede that he is playing well below his standard, and his traditional stats all reflect that.

Only Sam Darnold and Joe Burrow have thrown more interceptions than Mahomes’ 10. He’s 24th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per pass (7.0), and his passer rating (92.5) is 19th. But Mahomes still ranks ninth in EPA+CPOE (0.13), and his on-target rate (76.7%) is right at his career average.

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Turnovers are worrisome, sure, but many of those have been a function of bad luck. More than anything, he hasn’t stretched the field as he did in the past. His intended air yards per pass (7.8) are down significantly.

As for the Raiders, advanced stats agree with the traditional numbers. Las Vegas’ defense is 12th in EPA/play and 14th in total DVOA. In other words, not elite, but plenty good enough to win with an offense that’s clicking. The strength of that defense is in the passing game. The Raiders are second in yards per pass (5.9) and fifth in passing yards per game (207.1). They’re 10th in passing touchdowns surrendered (1.5 per game).

Advantage: Push

Chiefs weapons vs. Raiders defensive backs

The battle between the Rams’ Cooper Kupp and the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill for the most-targeted receiver in football looks like it’ll go down to the wire. Hill enters Week 10 with 101, just 2 targets behind Kupp. Never before has Hill been used this much. He’s 36 targets shy of his single-season career record — with eight games to go. But quantity hasn’t necessarily meant quality. His yards per catch (11.4) and yards per target (7.6) are both way down.

Likewise, Travis Kelce’s volume is up, but his efficiency is down in 2021. Kelce’s 68.4% catch rate is the second-lowest of his career. There’s a reason the Chiefs were in on Odell Beckham Jr. They need to diversify their offense. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire remained on injured reserve late in the week despite returning to practice.

When the Raiders poached cornerback Brandon Facyson off the Chargers’ practice squad last month, few gave much thought to an under-the-radar roster move. They’re noticing now. Facyson has been terrific in his four games with Vegas, leading the team with 5 pass breakups and allowing just 45.5% of his targets to be completed. He’s been a fine replacement for Trayvon Mullen, who has missed the last four games with a toe injury.

Additionally, Casey Hayward has proven there’s plenty of life left in his 32-year-old legs. Furthermore, rookie Trevon Moehrig is developing into a fine free safety.

Advantage: Push

Chiefs offensive line vs. Raiders front seven

There are some injury concerns in Kansas City. Lucas Niang (ribs) and Mike Remmers (knee) are both out for Sunday, meaning Andrew Wylie will start at right tackle. Plus, guard Kyle Long hasn’t played all year. And yet, the Chiefs still should be able to run the ball. K.C. has a top-10 run-blocking line, per Football Outsiders, a big reason why the Chiefs average 4.6 yards per carry. The pass protection has been strong, too; the Chiefs’ sack rate (4.5%) ranks seventh in football.

That will be tested by a Raiders front seven that has been totally disruptive the first half of the season. Vegas averages 8.5 quarterback hits per game, led by the punishing Maxx Crosby, who has 20 to go along with 5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. Yannick Ngakoue has been a key offseason pickup, leading the Raiders with 6 sacks, while Solomon Thomas is experiencing a career reboot in Vegas.

Advantage: Push

Las Vegas Raiders offense vs. Kansas City Chiefs defense

The Raiders turned the ball over 3 times in Week 9 — which explains how they scored just 16 points despite gaining 403 yards against the Giants. The good news is that ball insecurity has been the exception, not the rule, in 2021. Vegas had just 5 giveaways in its first seven games, including 0 fumbles lost. The Raiders rank sixth in yards per game (394.5) and eighth in yards per play (6.0) but 27th in red-zone efficiency (53.1%). Add it all together, and you’ve got the NFL’s 16th-ranked scoring offense (24.5 points per game).

Middle-of-the-pack rankings would be a marked improvement for the Chiefs’ defense, which is still last in yards per play (6.3), even after a season-best showing against the Packers in Week 9. Credit Kansas City’s defense for not blowing a layup game in Jordan Love’s first start. But don’t credit the Chiefs for much more. Sunday will be a far better test.

Derek Carr vs. Chiefs defense

Wild swings have been the story of Carr’s 2021 season. He has three games with a passer rating over 110 and three with a rating under 85. Week 9 was Bad Carr. He averaged just 6.4 yards per pass and threw 2 picks. That up-and-down reality is reflected in his season-long rankings. He’s 16th in both passer rating (97.0) and EPA+CPOE (0.11) and 17th in QBR (53.7).

Carr has lost 11 of 14 of his career meetings with the Chiefs, who have held him to 61% passing, 21 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 6.2 yards per attempt, and a passer rating of 80.1. By way of reference, Carr has completed 64.7% of his passes for 183 touchdowns, 78 interceptions, 7.1 yards per attempt, and a 92.5 overall rating since entering the league in 2014. But none of the Chiefs’ defenses were as bad as this year’s. Only two teams allow more yards per pass than Kansas City in 2021 (7.8), and opposing offenses pick up 43.1% of their third downs.

Advantage: Carr

Raiders weapons vs. Chiefs defensive backs

DeSean Jackson is expected to appear in certain packages Sunday after signing with the Raiders earlier in the week. His deep-threat speed would have made the late Al Davis drool. He’ll provide a missing element with Ruggs gone from the team. The Raiders’ top two pass catchers — Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow — simply don’t have that type of stretch-the-field ability. And it’s not like the Raiders can count on their ground game for big plays. Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, and Peyton Barber have averaged 3.8, 4.1, and 3.9 yards per carry, respectively.

A shaky Chiefs secondary could be even shakier Sunday with L’Jarius Sneed dealing with ankle and wrist injuries that cost him practice time this week. Sneed, who is questionable to play, is coming off his best game of the season, intercepting a pass and holding Love to 4.7 yards per target in Week 9. Tyrann Mathieu is a rare bright spot on a Chiefs secondary that has allowed 16 passing touchdowns in 2021.

Advantage: Raiders

Raiders offensive line vs. Chiefs defensive front

As mentioned above, the Raiders’ run offense is bad, and their run blocking is largely to blame. They have the league’s sixth-worst yards-per-carry average (3.7), and it doesn’t appear that Richie Incognito — who has missed the whole season to date due to injury — will be back any time soon.

Per Football Outsiders, the Raiders have the league’s 26th-ranked power-blocking line and are middle of the pack in pass protection. First-round pick Alex Leatherwood showed improvement in Week 9, but that’s only because the bar has been set so low. He’s already been moved inside to guard after struggling at tackle.

Can the Chiefs expose this weakness? It would be out of character. Kansas City has the NFL’s 31st sack rate (4.0%) and allows the fourth-most yards per carry (4.7). Yes, it’s that ugly.

Chris Jones has just 8 quarterback hits in nine games — and he leads the team. Linebacker Nick Bolton has been a rare bright spot with 9 tackles for loss. Frank Clark (1 sack, 2 tackles for loss) has been a non-factor. Melvin Ingram had no solo tackles, sacks, or quarterback hits in 29 snaps in his Chiefs debut.

Advantage: Push

Betting line and game prediction

No one has overestimated the Chiefs more than the public. And they’re at it again in Week 10. Despite going 2-7 against the spread thus far in 2021, Kansas City is still a 2.5-point road favorite. When will people learn?

Chiefs vs. Raiders Prediction: Raiders 27, Chiefs 24

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