Chiefs playing to win vs Oakland with playoff spot assured
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Andy Reid likes to point to the DNA of his team when asked about its remarkable turnaround, from a ragtag 1-5 bunch to a group that's won a franchise record-tying nine straight games.
When asked about Sunday's game against Oakland, his own DNA showed through.
''If you have an opportunity to win the AFC West,'' Reid said, ''I think that's important.''
You see, the Chiefs (10-5) are already headed to the playoffs after a one-year absence, and might be best served to play a lesser opponent on the road as a wild-card team. But if they beat the Raiders (7-8) and Denver loses to San Diego in a game happening at the same time, the Chiefs would win the AFC West and get a potentially tougher opponent at Arrowhead Stadium.
That's why it might be tempting for Reid to rest his starters, as he did in Kansas City's finale two years ago - though the possibility of a division title wasn't at stake back then.
''We're planning to win the game. That's how we go,'' Reid said. ''I just know we have to play this one and everyone is getting ready to do that, and that's how we're focused.''
Every coach says they take one game at a time. So do most players. That's how the statement has become such a cliche, a part of locker room vernacular in just about every sport.
But the Chiefs had no alternative after their lousy start. They couldn't think about the playoffs with one victory six weeks into the season, nor contemplate a division title. They had to focus on a second win, then a third - and eventually, positive momentum took over.
That's why they insist they'll be able to focus on Oakland rather than the playoffs.
''The leadership in this locker room, you know, the veteran guys, they have that selfless example that gets set here, and it's team first,'' Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. ''That is the focus here. And the focus is today, and it's short-sighted and it's this week and nobody's thinking about anything else. I think all of those things are big factors in all of that.''
The Raiders have nothing else to think about but this week.
Not only would they love to send one of their biggest rivals into the postseason with a loss, they have a chance to match their best record since 2002. Finishing at .500 may be a small step, but it's an important one for a team that went 3-13 last season.
''Everything has been better than last year, so that's nice,'' Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. ''But at the same time, it'll push you, because no matter what we finish, it's not where we want to be. It's not where I want to be, I know that.''
As the Chiefs and Raiders prepare to meet, here are the dominant storylines:
WHAT A RUSH: The Chiefs hope to get Tamba Hali back after missing a game with a broken thumb, but OLB Justin Houston is still recovering from a hyperextended knee. Dee Ford has been replacing him, but he struggled in last week's victory over Cleveland.
WOODSON'S GOODBYE: After an emotional final game at the Oakland Coliseum last week, 39-year-old Raiders safety Charles Woodson will end his 18-year career in Arrowhead Stadium - the same place where it began. Woodson is tied for fifth all-time with Ken Riley with 65 career interceptions, and is tied with Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper for the most defensive touchdowns with 13.
TRIPLETS: Carr needs 207 yards passing to reach 4,000. That would give Oakland a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher (Latavius Murray) and 1,000-yard receiver (Amari Cooper) for the first time in franchise history. The 1996 Patriots (Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn, Curtis Martin) are the only other team to have three players 25 or under reach those marks in the same season.
RECORD CHASING: Carr needs three TD passes to match Daryle Lamonica's single-season franchise record of 34 set in 1969, while pass rusher Khalil Mack needs one sack to tie Derrick Burgess' team mark of 16 set in 2005. ''Guys that come in this league that have talent (and) work hard like he does, it gives him a chance to do special things,'' Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said of Mack.
SPEAKING OF RECORDS: The Chiefs have never won 10 straight games. The best they've done is nine wins three times, two of those coming in the past three years. ''I think momentum's a real thing and that stuff builds,'' Smith said. ''These stages get bigger and bigger. That's why you've been doing all of that, for these moments. And it's embracing that.''
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