KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Raiders feel like QB Daunte Culpepper gives them the opportunity to stretch the field to WRs Ronald Curry and Jerry Porter. The problem is pass protection has been a concern, especially with the ground game not as threatening with Culpepper more comfortable playing out of the shotgun.
Oakland's ability to keep the game within a score could come down to protecting Culpepper against the league's No. 9 pass rush (25 sacks).
Several Chiefs have voiced the desire that QB Brodie Croyle be allowed to use his strong arm to stretch the field. Without Johnson and retired Priest Holmes, coach Herm Edwards might not have much of a choice with rookie Kolby Smith the primary back this Sunday.
Edwards doesn't want to shatter Croyle's confidence, but while the Raiders have the league's No. 6 pass defense, they only have 17 sacks on the season.
FAST FACTS: Raiders RB Justin Fargas is averaging 4.9 yards on 66 carries on the road this season. ... Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez's seven touchdown catches against Oakland is his most against any team.
--QB Daunte Culpepper has never taken a snap in a regular season game at Arrowhead Stadium. He was a rookie in 1999 and did not play when the Minnesota Vikings lost 31-28 to the Chiefs at Arrowhead.
--WR Ronald Curry's receptions of 46 and 49 yards against Minnesota were the two longest-yardage plays since undergoing his second Achilles' surgery in 2004.
--PK Sebastian Janikowski, after piling up an NFL-best 18 touchbacks in his first eight games, has not had one in his last two games.
--DE-DT Tyler Brayton has not recorded a sack since Nov. 30, 2005 -- a span of 25 games.
--DE Jared Allen faces a key matchup with veteran Oakland LT Barry Sims Sunday at Arrowhead. The Chiefs need to get more pressure on the Raiders QB, whether it's Daunte Culpepper or JaMarcus Russell in spot relief, than they did in their 12-10 win at Oakland earlier this year.
--RB Gilbert Harris, a practice squad player elevated to the Chiefs' 53-man roster Wednesday after the surprise retirement of Priest Holmes, impressed his Chiefs coaches when he approached Herm Edwards prior to Wednesday's workout. "I'm not scared," Harris said of the prospect of playing in his first game after being out of football in 2007. It was exactly the kind of thing Edwards wanted to hear from a player thrust into the prospect of suddenly seeing action in his first NFL game.
For Chris Clemons, making his way on to the Raiders' roster wasn't any more daunting than one of the family gatherings of his youth in Griffin, Ga.
"If you don't work at it, you're never going to get anything," Clemons said. "That's how it was when I was growing up. My grandmomma had 15 kids. I have 80-something cousins. So it wasn't like you could just walk in the house and get a piece of bread. You had to earn your way to eat around the house."
A 'tweener who is listed as a linebacker but plays as a pass rushing end, Clemons has been a pleasant surprise on a disappointing defense, leading the Raiders with five sacks. He had two in a 29-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
"He's not a big-name guy, not a big-money guy, just a guy who came to work every day," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. "He took to coaching, got better, improved himself. He's here all the time. On days off, he's up in (defensive line coach) Keith Millard's room, watching film."
Clemons, 6-feet-3 and a sleek 240 pounds, was undrafted out of Georgia after suffering a shoulder injury as a senior. He spent the 2003 season on injured reserve with the Washington Redskins, playing for Washington in 2004 and 2005.
He showed some flashes, recovering from a hamstring injury in 2004 and posting three sacks in six games. He played 14 games last season and was out of football last season before latching on with Oakland.
"I was in programs where it was popularity over play," Clemons said. "That's how it was when I was in college. That's how it was when I was in Washington. I just had to make a name for myself."
Kiffin said on the first day of training camp he wasn't concerned with draft status, reputation or payroll. Clemons quickly moved into the rotation as a nickel pass rusher and never surrendered his spot.
True to his word, when the Raiders roster was finalized, Quentin Moses, the 65th overall pick of the draft out of Georgia, was cut. Clemons, the Georgia product who came in as a street free agent, was on the team.
"When I first got here, I told coach what my goal was," Clemons said. "I told him I wanted to make this team. I told him I had to make a lot of sacrifices to make the team. I knew I had to give it up each and every day of practice and each and every game. That's how I approach each and every day."
Kolby Smith's dream of becoming an NFL starter is going to become a reality sooner than he expected.
Following Wednesday's surprise retirement of Priest Holmes, who was replacing injured starter Larry Johnson in the Chiefs backfield, the rookie Smith will be Kansas City's starting halfback when the 4-6 Chiefs play host to Oakland in a game they absolutely have to win to keep whatever playoff hopes they still have alive.
"This is a great opportunity for me," Smith said this week after learning of Holmes' retirement. "Everybody dreams as a little kid of becoming a starter in the NFL one day. Mine has come a little sooner than what I expected."
Ready or not, Smith -- who was an effective replacement for Michael Bush at Louisville last year -- will carry Kansas City's hopes of mounting any kind of running game against the Raiders' 31st ranked running defense Sunday in Arrowhead.
Smith has hardly been impressive in limited duty during his first NFL season. He's carried all of 10 times and managed a mere 19 yards. But with Johnson down for an extended period -- he is not coming back anytime soon -- and Holmes retired, Smith and Gilbert Harris, a rookie back elevated from the practice squad after being out of football in 2006 -- are the only running backs in the Chiefs locker room.
"I'm ready for it," Smith insisted. "It's a division game, a rivalry game against the Oakland Raiders. There is no better situation than to come in and put the team on your back and take them where we need to go."
PREDICTION: Raiders 24-16