This Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Las Vegas Raiders on the Sunday Night Football stage. The Chiefs are currently 5-4 on the season following a win against an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, and the Raiders are 5-3 following a stunning upset loss to the New York Giants.
Fact to Know: The Raiders have the fifth-highest early-down passing rate
This remains a stat that the Bills have consistently dominated throughout the season and that the Chiefs have once again remained around the top, as they have during every season of the Andy Reid era, but a notable team in the top five is certainly the Raiders. This is likely a big reason for the Raiders’ success, with them having a 0.142 Expected Points Added (EPA) per early-down dropback compared to a -0.116 EPA per early-down run. The top five teams in early-down passing rate have a combined 28-14 record, compared to the bottom five having a combined record of 16-27.
You pass the ball to win football games nowadays and the Raiders have done a good job of exceeding most expectations of them with a high passing rate, allowing quarterback Derek Carr to thrive as much as possible by giving him as many opportunities to go to work as possible.
Matchup to Watch: Frank Clark vs. Kolton Miller
Excluding the 2019 postseason, Clark is in by far his best run of form as a member of the Chiefs recently. In his last three games, Clark has received an 84.6 overall grade and an 87.0 pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF), both of which rank in the top five among edge rushers in that span. Clark is consistently winning and getting pressure at the moment and is showing the Chiefs what they were hoping for when they traded for him.
On the other side, Kolton Miller is showing the Raiders why they took him in the first round back in 2018 by putting on a breakout season of his own. This season, Miller is having by far the best PFF grades of his career, thanks to allowing just 13 total pressures at a 3.6% rate.
Miller will be a tough matchup, but Clark is certainly more than capable of taking him on and producing against him. Clark also won’t only be facing Miller, as 58% of his snaps this season have been on the right side against the left tackle, meaning he will be facing right tackle Brandon Parker often, too. Parker’s numbers this year, since Alex Leatherwood was moved inside to guard, have been ugly. That is a much easier matchup, and hopefully Clark and Melvin Ingram can do what they can against Parker as well.
Key to the Game: Build off of last week
The Packers game was a rough performance for the offense, scoring just 13 points, having terrible EPA numbers and by far their worst series success rate. With that said, it felt like Patrick Mahomes had his best game of the last three games where the offense felt flat for around the full game — and the PFF grades also agree with that, despite him having just 166 yards in the game. That final conversion from Mahomes also felt like a step forward as you saw that superstar Mahomes flash back up, which has gotten increasingly rarer for us to see over time this year.
On the other side of the ball, the defense is looking fantastic at the moment, though against pretty poor competition. Either way, it's a much-needed contrast from the disaster that was on full display in the early part of the season. In the last four weeks, the Chiefs’ defense has been 19th in EPA allowed per play, compared to the 32nd place ranking in the first five weeks. If this is a real improvement that also shows against better competition, that is a massive deal for the Chiefs going forward.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Raiders 21
There is obviously still plenty of uncertainty surrounding where the Chiefs are at the moment and where they are going for their short- and long-term future, but there were some things to be really excited about in three of the last four games. We very well could (and likely should) see some continuation of that in this one.
Mahomes gets his first multi-touchdown game in nearly a month and the Chiefs defense looks solid, getting several stops and a turnover or two as well. The Raiders try to make a late push to win and the Chiefs hold, thanks in part to a Frank Clark sack to continue moving past their ugly form of the early season.