From the Sports Network
The Oakland Raiders could leave the McAfee Coliseum field following their game with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday with a share of first place in the AFC West.
They could also wave goodbye to a handful of very dubious streaks.
The Silver and Black, once one of the most revered franchises in the National Football League, have been a punching bag in their own division of late.
The Raiders have lost 16 straight games against AFC West opponents since upsetting the Broncos on the road in Week 12 of the 2004 season.
Oakland has lost 11 consecutive division home games since a win over San Diego in Week 4 of 2003.
The Raiders have lost eight in a row against the Chiefs since 2002, a stretch that has been presided over by three different head coaches and five different quarterbacks.
A win on Sunday could put an end to all of those slides, and could also continue the renaissance the team has hinted at under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin.
The Raiders are 2-3 in their first-year under Kiffin, and one year after being steamrolled during a 2-14 campaign, have been competitive in each of their five games to date. Oakland missed out on a chance to maintain first place in the division with a 28-14 loss in San Diego last Sunday, but with a victory over the Chiefs can pull even with the 3-3 Chargers, who are idle in Week 7. (Denver is also 2-3 and can take a share of first with a win over Pittsburgh Sunday night).
The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be looking to seize sole possession of first place, while maintaining their status as perhaps the NFL's biggest overachiever.
Herm Edwards' squad moved to a surprising 3-3 with a 27-20 victory over the Bengals last Sunday, a game in which they kept preseason playoff favorite Cincinnati at arm's length throughout.
Kansas City has not been alone atop the AFC West since September of 2005, when it started 2-0.
Kansas City holds a 49-42-2 edge in its all-time regular season series with Oakland, which dates back to 1960. The Chiefs have won eight straight in the series, sweeping home-and-homes in each of the past four seasons. Last year, Kansas City took a 17-13 home decision in Week 11 and a 20-9 triumph in Oakland in Week 16. The Raiders last defeated the Chiefs during the 2002 campaign, winning a 24-0 decision at home.
In addition to the regular season history, the teams have met three times in the playoffs, with Kansas City holding a 2-1 edge. The Raiders won a 1968 AFL Division Playoff, the Chiefs returned the favor with a 17-7 victory in the 1969 AFL Championship, and Kansas City also triumphed in a 1991 AFC First- Round Playoff.
Edwards is 5-4 against the Raiders as a head coach, including playoff losses for his Jets to Oakland in both 2001 and 2002. The Raiders' Kiffin will be meeting both Edwards and Kansas City for the first time as a head coach. Edwards served as a member of the Tampa Bay staff along with Kiffin's father, Monte, from 1996 through 2000.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
It appeared at the beginning of last week that Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard (1293 passing yards, 6 TD, 6 INT) might not even play against the Bengals due to a shoulder injury sustained in the previous week's loss to Jacksonville. Not only did Huard play, but he turned in his finest performance of the season to date, completing 20-of-27 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in a winning effort. The journeyman threw most often to tight end Tony Gonzalez (38 receptions, 3 TD), who caught nine passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns to become the NFL's all time TD leader for tight ends with 64. Second-year-pro Jeff Webb (13 receptions) also had a big day with seven grabs for 78 yards, and rookie Dwayne Bowe (26 receptions, 3 TD) continued to make an impact with four receptions totaling 48 yards. In the backfield, the struggling Larry Johnson (394 rushing yards, 1 TD, 21 receptions) got untracked with a season-high 119 yards on 31 carries, also scoring his first touchdown of 2007. Johnson could have some help in the backfield this week, as veteran Priest Holmes could make his first game appearance since suffering a severe neck and back injury against the Chargers in 2005. The Kansas City line must do a better job of blocking for its backs and protecting the quarterback, as Huard was dropped five times against the Bengals.
The Chiefs will be trying to establish Johnson and possibly Holmes against a Raiders defense that is allowing a league-worst 5.6 yards per rush. Oakland had no answer for Chargers All-Pro LaDainian Tomlinson last week, allowing him to accumulate a season-best 198 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries for the day. The linebacking corps, led by Thomas Howard (31 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) and Kirk Morrison (33 tackles, 3 INT), has been great in coverage all season but has been less sturdy against opposing ground games. In the trenches, the club needs more presence from tackles Warren Sapp (11 tackles) and Terdell Sands (5 tackles). The Raiders have been better against the pass than the run (13th in the league, 212.3 yards per game), but have only seven sacks on the year and just two of the team's nine interceptions (both by cornerback Stanford Routt) have come from the secondary. End Derrick Burgess, who has been bothered by a calf problem, is looking for his first sack of 2007 after totaling 27 in the past two seasons. Tackle Gerard Warren (7 tackles), who missed last week's loss with a thigh injury, leads the team with three sacks but is a game-time decision for Sunday.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Set to make his first home start as a Raider is Daunte Culpepper (422 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT), who is 1-1 since taking over for the injured Josh McCown (broken toe). Culpepper was 24-of-37 passing for 230 yards against the Chargers, but also turned the ball over three times and was sacked on six occasions. The highlight for the three-time Pro Bowler, who brings a modest 81.6 passer rating with him into Sunday's contest, was a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to rookie tight end Zach Miller (10 receptions, 1 TD). Wideout Ronald Curry (22 receptions, 2 TD) had a game-high six catches for 73 yards in San Diego, and fellow receivers Jerry Porter (10 receptions, 3 TD) and Mike Williams (5 receptions) logged three receptions each. The running game is in a fluid state at this stage, as starter LaMont Jordan (466 rushing yards, 2 TD, 18 receptions) is still bothered by a back injury, Justin Fargas (271 rushing yards) is seeking another opportunity after a 179-yard performance against the Dolphins in Week 4, and ex-Colt Dominic Rhodes is still seeking his first official touch since returning from a four-game suspension to start the season. Jordan carried 18 times for 42 yards last week, also catching six passes for 46 yards out of the backfield.
Job number one for the Chiefs will be bringing pressure against the less-than- mobile Culpepper, with defensive end Jared Allen (17 tackles, 6 sacks) leading that charge. Allen dropped the Bengals' Carson Palmer for 2.5 sacks last week, bringing his total to six sacks in the past four games. Allen's forced fumble of Palmer (collected by defensive tackle Ron Edwards) was one of three turnovers the team picked up in the win, with safety Bernard Pollard (28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and cornerback Patrick Surtain (24 tackles, 1 INT) also intercepting the quarterback once each. The Chiefs were solid against the run in Week 6, surrendering just 78 ground yards, including eight on four carries for former Pro Bowler Rudi Johnson. Linebackers Donnie Edwards (47 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), Derrick Johnson (32 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT), and Napoleon Harris (43 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) have been at the heart of a run-stopping force that ranks 20th against opposing ground attacks (117.7 yards per game).
The Chiefs have one bona fide fantasy starter - Gonzalez - who continues to produce in his 11th year in the league. Johnson finally put together his first solid fantasy day of 2007 last week, and is worth starting again versus a suspect Oakland run defense. Only start other Chiefs like Huard and Bowe if you're desperate. On the Oakland side, there are no obvious fantasy plays, though Jordan should get you a decent point total if healthy and Culpepper is just a couple of weeks removed from a huge fantasy day at Miami. Both of these defenses are worth consideration to start, since the Chiefs can get to the quarterback and the Raiders have a high interception total.
That first place is on the line in this game is an upset unto itself, as the Chiefs and Raiders were expected by many to battle for avoidance of the AFC West cellar (which they ultimately still may). Both of these clubs have overachieved thus far, but who has more upward mobility? It says here that it's Oakland. The Raiders have looked all year like a team desperate to reverse their horrid recent past, and will come out focused in an effort to put all those AFC West losing streaks behind them on Sunday. The Oakland defense is not great, but a Kansas City attack that is still very much a work in progress won't be able to take advantage, and will give Culpepper and the Raider offense one too many short fields with which to work.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 21, Chiefs 17