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Game of the Week: Chiefs-Raiders

T1_1104_charlesumphrey.jpg breaks down Sunday's Kansas City at Oakland game (4:15 p.m. ET, CBS).

The surprising Chiefs (5-2) head into Oakland against the resurgent Raiders (4-4) in a suddenly compelling meeting of old-school AFL rivals jockeying for playoff position.

1. It's time to welcome Kansas City and Oakland back to the big time -- at least for one week. Nobody saw Chiefs-Raiders as a meaningful game at the start of the season. Heck, nobody saw it as a meaningful game two weeks ago.

Both organizations have been among the worst teams in the league in recent years. In the case of the Raiders, it's been a seven-year stretch marked by a string of the worst teams in the otherwise proud half-century history of the franchise.

As recently as two weeks ago, the Chiefs were 3-2, appearing to have blown a great 3-0 start. The Raiders were bumbling through a 2-4 start, including a 17-9 loss to the then-winless 49ers.

Fast forward to Week 9 and Kansas City-Oakland is suddenly a surprising battle among the two top teams in the AFC West.

The stakes -- not to mention the logos on the helmets -- give the game the unexpected dusty old-school feel of Chiefs-Raiders football from bygone glory days. It resurrects, if only briefly, memories of the two most star-studded and successful teams of the old AFL and early AFC.

The Chiefs and Raiders represented the AFL in three of the first four Super Bowls -- and it would have been 4-for-4 if not for Joe Namath and the Jets. (The Jets edged Oakland in the AFL title game before shocking the NFL's Colts in Super Bowl III.)

The Chiefs or Raiders finished 1-2 in the AFL/AFC Western Division every year from 1966 to 1972, the first seven seasons of the Super Bowl Era. And at least one of the two teams won the division every year from 1966 to '76.

The rivalry's lost much of its luster in recent years. In fact, the former powerhouses and hated rivals have not finished 1-2 atop the AFC West since 1993.

For one week, anyway, the two old-school upstarts (yeah, it's an oxymoron) and their fans can relive the memories of Len Dawson, Daryle Lamonica, Hank Stram, John Madden and a time when Chiefs-Raiders was the biggest game on the schedule.

This week, it is.

2. Love the ground game? You'll love Chiefs-Raiders. Fans of old school football salivate at the thought of two dominant running teams butting heads for 60 minutes.

These fans will drool helplessly over their nacho plates Sunday as the two most prolific rushing attacks in the history of each franchise try to enforce their will upon the other.

The Chiefs average an incredible 190.4 yards per game on the ground -- making Kansas City the most productive rushing attack in football this year. But you might not that know that figure ranks among the highest averages by any team in NFL history. Kansas City is on pace to rush for 3,046 yards. Only the 1978 Patriots (3,165) and 1973 Bills (3,088 in 14 games) have topped 3,000 rushing yards in a season.

The Raiders are no slouch, either. They're second in the NFL, with an average of 168.5 yards per game on the ground. They've looked like the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers in recent weeks, rushing for a total of 567 yards in explosive wins over the Broncos and Seahawks.

Volume is nice. But the Cold, Hard Football Facts are more concerned with efficiency. And both teams excel in this area, too. Kansas City averages a tremendous 5.21 yards per attempt on the ground. Only Houston (5.32 YPA) is better this year. Oakland is fourth with 4.92.

Believe it or not, these numbers put the Chiefs and Raiders on pace to post the highest averages per rush attempt in the 51-season history of each franchise.

It's truly phenomenal production for both clubs in a league in which 4.0 YPA on the ground is the league-wide standard, year after year, and in which few teams deviate far from the mean.

Kansas City's Jamaal Charles is the true statistical star between both teams. He's an underappreciated and explosive force that football fans need to follow.

Charles has averaged a mind-boggling 6.0 YPA in his brief three-year career. He's been phenomenal this year, with a historic average of 6.47 YPA (103 attempts, 666 yards). Only two running backs in history have carried the ball at least 100 times and averaged 6.5 YPA over the course of an entire season. The last was Dan Towler of the L.A. Rams, way back in 1951.

Bottom line: Charles needs more love from fans and national media.

3. Romeo Crennel might deserve a spot in Canton if only for his performances as a defensive coordinator. The Chiefs are easily the surprise statistical story of the year. And much of the credit for the resurgence belongs to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who joined the staff before the start of the 2010 season.

We talked about Crennel's incredible career here a few weeks ago, before Kansas City's 19-9 loss to the Colts. His track record speaks for itself. The short version is that wherever Crennel goes, great things follow: stout defenses, dramatic turnarounds, consistent playoff appearances and even Super Bowl victories (five of 'em).

The Kansas City resurrection here in 2010 -- if it keeps up -- could go down as Crennel's finest hour. Consider:

• The Chiefs were 4-12 last year. They're 5-2 this year. • The Chiefs ranked 29th in scoring defense last year (26.5 PPG). They rank 5th in scoring defense this year (17.4 PPG). • The Chiefs surrendered 4.72 YPA on the ground last year (31st). They surrender 3.77 YPA on the ground this year (8th). • They ranked 24th last year in Bendability, our measure of defensive efficiency. They rank 4th in Bendability this year, frustrating opponents with their smart situational football. • Opposing quarterbacks last year averaged 7.55 yards per attempt. Opposing quarterbacks this year average 6.47 YPA -- an incredible improvement in one season.

So the statistical advances under Crennel have come instantly and they've come in all phases of defense: the Chiefs stop the run better, they stop the pass better, they play smarter football and they give up fewer points.

Given Crennel's track record, it's safe to assume that this sudden surge in Kansas City's defense is no coincidence.

You can't discuss the Raiders this week without mentioning their incredible last two games, in which they've humiliated the Broncos and Seahawks by a combined score of 92-17.

It's a stunning, improbable and largely inexplicable explosion for a team that was 2-4 and fresh off a loss to the lowly 49ers in mid-October.

How do you explain it?

Damned if we know. Basically, the Raiders found the right time to hit on all cylinders against struggling opponents. The Broncos are 2-6 and in chaos. The Seahawks are a terrible 1-3 team on the road.

But we do know this: it's hard to envision a scenario in which the good times keep rolling. The Raiders are still a fairly weak team statistically, weaker even than their 4-4 record would indicate.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, represent a very, very tough matchup and enjoy a huge statistical advantage in one key area -- a prolific ground game. The Raiders counter with a very weak run defense: they allow opposing runners to gash them for 127.4 YPG (26th) and 4.74 YPA (28th).

The Chiefs are also better at the most important position on the field. Quarterback Matt Cassel, coddled by an awesome ground game, has been incredibly efficient: 10 TD, 3 interceptions and a 90.4 passer rating.

Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell, who led the Raiders in each of their past two wins, has tossed 6 TD with 4 INT and a purely mediocre 82.5 passer rating.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts are clearly not sold on the suddenly explosive Raiders. Teams don't struggle for seven-plus years and suddenly turn into a juggernaut.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have the tools to gash the Raiders all day on the ground and move the ball more effectively through the air.

They should pound out a statement win that will give Kansas City a 2.5-game lead in the AFC West with eight remaining on their schedule.

Kansas City 26, Oakland 24

(Week 8 prediction: N.Y. Jets 24, Green Bay 20. Result: Green Bay 9, N.Y. Jets 0.)