The Oakland Raiders went 4-12 a year ago but were expected to be significantly better after making wholesale changes in the offseason. The Raiders, who upset Denver last week 25-24, are 4-7. The Kansas City Chiefs were 13-3 and won the AFC West last season. Granted, they caught many breaks in doing but are still too talented a ballclub to be 3-8.
The Chiefs won both of last year's games, 17-10 and 27-24. The two teams also meet on Christmas Day in Kansas City. Here's a closer look at Sunday's game:
Chiefs on offense: This side of the ball cannot be lumped with problem areas for Kansas City even though it will be shorthanded. The Chiefs might be hobbling their offense will test the Raider defense. Running back Priest Holmes is out with a knee injury while quarterback Trent Green is listed as questionable with a rib injury. Green, however, said he would play Sunday.
Anthony Blaylock will start in place of Holmes. He might not be the threat that Holmes is but the Chiefs have fashioned the third-best running attack in the NFL because they have three elite offensive lineman. There might not be a better guard in the NFL than Will Shields. In addition, center Casey Wiegmann and tackle Willie Roaf are among the best at their positions.
Raiders on offense: Oakland is also going to be shorthanded. Running back Tyrone Wheatley is out with a hamstring injury. Granted, Oakland has the least productive ground game in the NFL but Wheatley is the closest thing to a consistent threat.
Oakland's defense will be in for a challenging day but the good news is that Kansas City's defense is suspect enough for the Raiders offense to return the favor. The Chiefs are 17th against the run and 30th against the pass.
Special teams: It sounds like a broken record but it's true, few teams can rival or surpass the Raiders kicking combination of punter Shane Lechler and kick Sebastian Janikowski. Oakland's coverage units have been a little, but not enormously, better under special teams coach Joe Avezzano. They'll be tested this week against the always dangerous Dante Hall.
Bottom line: Kansas City has lost four straight but don't bet on a Dick Vermeil-coached team not being prepared, especially in a rivalry game. Oakland is also looking to finish the season strong, buoyed by the momentum of beating Denver.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com ,