Sunday’s divisional match-up between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders marks the beginning of a new era in the AFC West. No longer does the division belong to the San Diego Chargers; no longer are the Chargers a lock to make the playoffs. In fact, this year there will be no powder blue uniforms in the AFC playoffs, but that does not mean that teams facing the Chiefs should overlook them, including the Raiders this Sunday in what will be their 2010 version of a Super Bowl. The Chiefs play well as a team and have good coaching with talented players. And they have no intention of sitting their starters on Sunday and handing an unbeaten divisional record to their rivals this Sunday.
Chiefs head coach Todd Haley told Bay area reporters that he has no intentions of sitting his starters on Sunday when the Chiefs play the Raiders. Some teams likely will sit their starters to give them some rest and recuperation time headed into the most important games of the year. But Haley says that his team needs the good vibes of a winning streak heading into the postseason, “We need to take advantage of every practice day we have and every game we have.’’
His quarterback, Matt Cassel, agrees with his coach’s sentiment, “Absolutely we plan on playing it like a regular game. I’m planning on playing 60 minutes and I think everyone else in the locker room is too. The last thing you want to do is go out and get your butt kicked by the Raiders on Sunday and lose any momentum we’ve built up to this point.’’
Perhaps the biggest difference between the winner of the division this year, the Chiefs, and the runner-up, the Raiders, has been the penalties and turnovers that were given up by the Oakland squad. The Raiders stand to set NFL records for penalties in a season as well as penalty yards in a season, previously set by their opponents on Sunday back in 1998. 55 of their current 138 penalties are for false starts, offside, and delay of game. The NFL’s least penalized team, the Atlanta Falcons, only have 54 total penalties all year. They will likely be the number one seed in the NFC this year. The Raiders are tied for fourth with 18 holding penalties. These are penalties that have to be cleaned up for next season.
But more than the penalties, Coach Cable thinks the turnovers are what hurt the team the most this year. The Raiders offense has turned the ball over 25 times this year while the team only created 22 turnovers that went in their favor, giving them a turnover margin of -3. Certainly when you look at teams that finish in the top ten at any level of football, the turnover margin is generally in their favor. In addition, many of the Raiders turnovers, especially early in the season were deep in their own territory, giving their opponents not only good field position, but also energy, excitement, and early leads on a team that wasn’t built to come from behind.
The Raiders have given up 30 or more points six times, losing all six games. In those games, they have 13 turnovers and six takeaways. Compared to their opponents Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs only have 12 offensive turnovers all year. “The turnover thing really hurt this football team in terms of giving people extra opportunities,’’ said coach Cable in his Friday press briefing before the team left Alameda en route to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Look for the Raiders to try and be more disciplined in this game. They have done really well not turning the ball over late in the season, like against Indianapolis last week when they surrendered 0 offensive turnovers, but still have to work on getting those brain fart penalties down. What’s ironic, or futile depending on how you view it, is that a large portion of the offside penalties came via Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, the two guys who are closest to the center and thus the pre-snap football.
In other Raiders related news, San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is headed to injured reserve with plantar fasciitis, so Raiders tight end Zach Miller will most likely be elevated to his first Pro Bowl game. “It would be great,” Miller said to reporters. “It’s always been a goal of mine, I’m just happy I was voted as high as I was, even though I was playing with a foot injury. Obviously I want to be one of those guys picked on the roster, but with the injuries this year and missing time, I feel like I ended up with a pretty good season.’’
Meanwhile, Raiders placekicker Sebastian Janikowski remains in a foul mood after receiving the news that he will not be the AFC Pro Bowl team’s kicker this year. After leading the NFL in scoring and setting a Raiders single-season scoring record this year (135 points thus far), the Raiders all-time leading scorer is becoming used to getting the short end of the stick with regards to Pro Bowl voting, “I’ve lead the league in field goals (and) scoring, it’s happened before; same story.’’
Teammate Shane Lechler doesn’t quite understand it either, and even went so far as to say that most coaches in this league would trade their kicker for Janikowski any day of the week, although they might not say so out loud. But for as well as he played this season, the fans will always look back to those three missed opportunities on field goals in a 24-23 loss in Arizona earlier this year as part of the reason why the Raiders are not in the 2010 postseason.
In 2011, the Raiders have their work cut out for them. It will be the tedious task of holding themselves accountable for not making those mental mistakes that cost you those games that you probably should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve won.
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