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 beat the Tennessee Titans 40-35 last week, are 5-9. The Kansas City Chiefs were 13-3 and won the AFC West last season. The Chiefs outduelled the Raiders 34-27 three weeks ago in Oakland and this one figures to be a high-scoring affair as well.
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. Oakland did not pass the first test as the Chiefs tallied 501 yards of total offense and that was with cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon. Both individuals are likely to mis Saturday's game with injuries (Woodson, knee and Buchanon, tailbone). Running back Priest Holmes is out with a knee injury but Larry Johnson continues to shine in his absence.
Johnson 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.
Oakland's biggest challenge is slowing down tight end Tony Gonzalez but it might want to keep the Chiefs wide receivers in mind as well.
Raiders on offense: Oakland is also going to be shorthanded. Running back Tyrone Wheatley is out with a hamstring injury and wide receiver Ronald Curry is out for the season with an Achilles tendon injury. Look for quarterback Kerry Collins to keep looking to wide receiver Jerry Porter and tight end Teyo Johnson for big plays.
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.
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: Both teams are out of playoff contention but are playing better of late. Look for a high-scoring affair.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com ,