Five to Watch: Chiefs vs. Raiders

Talk about a not-so-ready-for-primetime game. On Saturday night the Chiefs invade the Black Hole with little chance of making the playoffs. Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards will be looking at some of his younger players. His counterpart, Art Shell, will likely be scouring the NFL want ads as rumors persist that he'll be fired at the end of the season.

The NFL Network might want to reconsider televising any Raiders games in 2007. This franchise is in the proverbial toilet and it doesn't look like they'll become a real football team anytime soon.

The Chiefs have fallen off the playoff path thanks to a trio of consecutive losses beginning at Cleveland, home against Baltimore and at San Diego last weekend.

Kansas City is in this position because of a poor 2-5 road record, but this should be an easy game for them to win, especially with the Raiders still mired in a seven-game losing streak. The Chiefs have been consistent on the road. In every game, outside of Denver, they didn't come out with the passion and fire needed to win.

Edwards greatest challenge this season has been trying to change the team's road mindset. After another poor showing against the Chargers, a game that could have been won had the offensive line stepped up, the Chiefs are a team in transition.

There are no longer any places to hide for this team. The players know the offense isn't going to lead the NFL any longer. Green has struggled mightily since his return, and that bodes the question about his future.

For now he'll have the final two games of the season to show what he has left in the tank.

For the team as a whole, there are other players who'll be fighting for jobs. Right tackle Chris Terry could get a two-game audition that might lead to a starting spot next season. The veteran from Seattle has taken most of the reps with the first unit this week. Outside of Kyle Turley, Terry has the most experience of any of the tackles on the roster. With a solid offseason in Kansas City, he might be the answer for one of the potentially four open slots along the offensive line in 2007.

On defense, the Chiefs didn't play poorly the last two weeks, but they didn't get the job done, either. This unit is leaps and bounds better than last year's group. The impact of Edwards on the defense is the primary cause for their improved play in 2006.

As he starts to infuse his philosophies and younger players into the mix this defense could be very solid next season. One of them, defensive end Tamba Hali, finally broke through the wall last weekend that had stalled his rookie season.

But for me, the most exciting aspect of this defense could be the two young safeties, Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page. They'll enter the 2007 season as the starters and they'll bring an element to this defense that is sorely missing – speed.

But all of this chatter about next year's team comes at a price for Chiefs fans. That means the 2006 season is nearing an end. It's not going to end in the manner we all wanted when this team stood 7-4 three weeks ago.

With two meaningless games left, the Chiefs have to find some identity to build upon for a more serious playoff run next season. There are two rules that apply to teams playing football games with little to play for in December. One, they can crawl into a hole like the Raiders have this season, or they can come out swinging and show that winning is important regardless of your record.

The Chiefs are a good football team. Not a great one, and certainly not a playoff team, but winning is important for this football team. They need to learn that again if they expect to win more games next season.

Five to Watch:
1. RB Larry Johnson - After opening his mouth at the conclusion of the game in San Diego, Johnson needs to have a monster game tomorrow. His teammates can't be too happy with him, and I bet the chat Edwards had with him wasn't filtered. Johnson has to decide he's willing to be the best he can be for this team. Until he backs it up week in and week out by running, catching and blocking, he'll have a tough time regaining the respect back.

2. QB Trent Green - As I stated earlier, Gren isn't playing up to his abilities. He's owned the Raiders, but a quarterback has to be confident to continue that trend and Green currently isn't. The Raiders will be blitzing in obvious passing situations and it's important that Green makes better decisions throwing the ball on first and second down. If he continues to throw interceptions, these next two games could be his last as a Chief.

3. LB Keyaron Fox - Heading into this game a year ago, Key Fox was starting to come into his own, but he tore up his knee. With Kendrell Bell playing less each week, Fox has shown that he can make plays. He's winning the battle to earn a starting spot next year.

4. K Lawrence Tynes - Tynes has two games left this season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He's grown up in Kansas City and fought off some tough obstacles. A game-winning field goal in Oakland might just seal the deal for a new contract.

5. OC Mike Solari - Solari was unable to solve the 3-4 defenses of Baltimore and San Diego the last two weeks. Against the Raiders, who also possess a solid front seven, Solari needs to throw the ball down the field. Johnson probably isn't going to get into a running groove so Solari needs to rely on his receivers. This might be a good week to bring Jeff Webb off the bench and give him a few shots down the middle of the field.

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