KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the third week in a row, the Chiefs have a third consecutive AFC West championship and the No. 1 seed in the AFC at stake. A victory guarantees the road to the Super Bowl goes through Arrowhead Stadium.
The Oakland Raiders won’t get the respect they deserve, but coach Jon Gruden has this team heading in arguably a much more competitive direction since their last matchup against the Chiefs.
This week is the 2018 Super Bowl for Gruden's team as his mic’d up segment on the NFL’s twitter account illustrated that with some colorful language on his desire to beat the Chiefs.
A chance to deny the Chiefs a top seed and a division title would make Gruden's offseason. This also is an opportunity for him to show his players how far they have come.
The last time these two teams played in the final game of the season produced a 23-17 victory as the Chiefs closed the 2015 season with a 10-game win streak. This season, the stakes are much higher, but here is how the Chiefs can claim their crown:
1. Play with a ruthless mentality
Playoff season is around the corner and the Chiefs need to use this week as a dress rehearsal. If the Chiefs want to succeed in the playoffs, they need to have the relentless mentality to execute every play and technique to perfection.
Coach Andy Reid, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and company can't be satisfied with any lead or any big play.
2. Pressure QB Derek Carr relentlessly
Oakland quarterback Derek Carr struggles against pressure. It speeds up his throws and knocks him out of sync with his receivers.
He also becomes indecisive after taking a couple of hits and will fade away from throws similar to Los Angeles Chargers' QB Philip Rivers.
The Chiefs need to set the tempo on defense and take the fight to the Raiders. If they are pressuring, it can also help stop the run at the line of scrimmage.
3. Eliminate TE Jared Cook
Tight end Jared Cook, who has been limited in practice this week with a rib injury, is the key to the Raiders' passing game.
The Chiefs would be wise to bracket him and chip him at the line of scrimmage. He brings Carr confidence and provides rhythm for the passing game.
Carr might hit some fades to wide receiver Jordy Nelson against single high coverage, but Cook is who moves the chains.
4. Utilize 'trips' formations
The Raiders struggled with the "trips" formation, three wide receivers to the same side, during their last meeting.
The Chiefs routinely had receivers open deep on post-corner route combinations and levels routes.
A steady dose of similar formations should bring success. They can also utilize it as a clear out for flats passes with the running backs.
5. Misdirection play-action
The Raiders' defense is overly aggressive against the run, which creates massive voids in their coverages as they flow hard to the play side.
The Chiefs can utilize this to their advantage with screens, bootlegs and by exploiting the intermediate level down the seams and with deep crossing routes. Kansas City also can run some very effective pick routes knowing this.
5. Hit cutback rush lanes
As mentioned above, the Raiders flow hard to the play side of most runs and have poor discipline on the back side of runs.
Running back Damien Williams's speed can exploit such breakdown very quickly with some explosive runs that routinely move the chains early. Once the Raiders adjust, the Chiefs can start attacking the play side with tosses, traps and zone reads.
The Chiefs will likely need one of two game plans to come out of Sunday with a victory. The first one is to attack the Raiders' defense early and gain a substantial lead while pressuring on defense to expand that lead with as many possessions for the offense as possible.
The second option is to play ball control on offense with eight-plus plays per drives, averaging average above 4 yards per play, to keep the Raiders' run game (and Chiefs' defense) off the field.
The defense’s inability to get off the field and the quick strike nature of the offense wears down the pass rush before they reach the fourth quarter. It will be a unique balancing act for the Chiefs to find the right blend for victory.
The Chiefs must begin to develop the playoff mentality this weekend. The team has lost three of its last five, which is eerily similar to 2013 when they lost five of their last seven before the 45-44 loss to the Colts in the AFC Wild Card round.
It's also reminiscent of 2014, when Kansas City lost four of its last six before missing the playoffs at 9-7.
This weekend is their playoffs dress rehearsal with all the spoils in front of them.
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