Chiefs vs. Raiders: Five Things to Watch

Here are five storylines to watch during the game on Sunday

The Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) travel to take on the Oakland Raiders (5-6) on Sunday in a key AFC West divisional matchup.

The Chiefs have won five straight and have plenty of momentum, but that was also the case a year ago when the streaking Chiefs were upset by the winless Raiders on Thursday Night Football.

That game hasn't been lost upon this group, and they're prepared to take on an improved Raiders team this year.

Here are five other storylines to follow during Sunday's game:

1. Can they win the turnover battle again?

If you're looking for reasons behind the Chiefs current five-game winning streak, look no further than turnover differential.

Over the past five games, the Chiefs defense has forced 14 turnovers, 10 via interception and 4 via fumble recovery.

In all of 2014, the Chiefs defense, which finished No. 2 in the NFL in scoring in allowing just 17.6 points per game, had just 6 interceptions total.

This year, the Chiefs have five players with multiple interceptions, led by rookie first-round pick Marcus Peters with 4.

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On the offensive side, it's been the complete opposite; the Chiefs have actually set a franchise record for most consecutive games without a turnover (5).

The only other teams in NFL history to go five straight games without a turnover are the 2010 New England Patriots, who went seven games, and the 2011 San Francisco 49ers, who went five straight games and were also led at quarterback by Alex Smith.

Taking care of the ball isn't new to Smith. That's been his M.O. throughout his career, and the Chiefs are winning right now because of it.

He has thrown 283 consecutive passes without an interception, which is a franchise best and is just another 76 away from breaking the all-time NFL record, currently held by Tom Brady (358).

The Chiefs currently rank No. 2 in the NFL with a plus-12 turnover differential, only trailing the Carolina Panthers (plus-16).

2. The battle of the two young standouts

They're both in the conversation for the NFL's Rookie of the Year award on their respective sides of the ball, and Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper and cornerback Marcus Peters are going to have fans glued in to their matchup whenever they find themselves lined up across one another.

Cooper, the No. 4 overall pick in last April's NFL Draft, has been every bit as advertised.

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"I think he's a very finished receiver as a young guy, meaning he knows how to run routes, he understands coverages," Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton explained. "He doesn't get fooled in coverages very often. I just think he's a very natural guy catching the football. He's got great hands.

"I just think the guy's had a great year as a rookie and has done a fabulous job for them."

Cooper leads all rookie receivers with 58 receptions for 851 yards and 4 touchdowns, and his four games with 100-plus yards receiving ranks seventh among all players.

Here are a few things Cooper is playing for on Sunday:

With 49 yards receiving, he'd become the third rookie since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with 900 yards receiving through his team's first 12 games (Anquan Boldin in 2003, Randy Moss in 1998).

With 149 yards receiving, he'd become the fourth player in NFL history with 1,000 yards receiving at age 21 or younger.

Cooper eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark would make him the first Raider to reach the milestone since Randy Moss (1,005) in 2005.

While those kind of numbers and performances may be intimidating to some, that's not the case with the rookie standout who will at times, find himself across from Cooper.

Peters is looking forward to going up against him.

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"He's doing his thing," Peters said of Cooper on Thursday. "He's putting on for the rookies this year, and it's good to see him doing his thing.

"Now, we have to go out there and go battle."

Peters said he hasn't crossed paths with Cooper in the past, but that they have some connections through their agents and that he respects his game.

These two will be matched up for the next several years, and Sunday's matchup will set the tone for a fantastic showdown twice a year moving forward.

3. Will the Chiefs continue their vertical passing attack?

One of the big takeaways from the Chiefs win last Sunday over the Buffalo Bills was the vertical passing attack from Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense.

Smith completed three passes to Maclin that traveled more than 30 yards in the air, and each was critical in leading to the victory.

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After the game, both coach Andy Reid and Smith explained that the success was about seeing the right look to take those shots.

Rex Ryan and the Bills ran a lot of single-high looks and Jeremy Maclin found himself in one-on-one situations on the outside.

"If we're even, I'm leaving," Maclin has said about one-on-one looks.

In facing the Raiders this weekend, they will see some more single-high looks, but the personnel they'll face makes it a bit more of a challenge.

"With Charles Woodson back there, he's reading quarterbacks' eyes pretty well and you see him coming off the hatch to make some great plays," Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "Alex [Smith] has got to be real, not like deliberate, but decisive with his eyes and where he's looking and be on point that way.

"It's a little more of a zone feel than what we've seen in the past. They're also working some combo coverages on third down so you see teams that are, for an instance Cincinnati, an A.J. Green, you see kind of some combo coverage there."

The ability to pick up chunk yards on offense will be a key for the Chiefs on Sunday, but they've got to be careful with Woodson back there. Woodson, at 39 years old, will play in his 250th game on Sunday, the fourth-most among active players.

He has 65 career interceptions, including 5 this year, which has him tied for second-most in the NFL.


LAST TIME THEY MET

Photos from the Chiefs Week 15 matchup against the Raiders


4. Who will get the carries at running back for the Chiefs?

When Jamaal Charles was lost for the season with a torn ACL back in Week 5, Charcandrick West immediately stepped into that role and produced.

At the beginning of this five-game winning streak, West was carrying the load for the Chiefs offense.

In the three games before his injury against San Diego, West managed to gain 412 yards of total offense (276 rushing, 136 receiving) and 4 touchdowns.

After West injured his hamstring and left the game early against the Chargers two weeks ago, Spencer Ware became the next man up.

"He's done a nice job the last couple of weeks," Pederson said of Ware. "Again, two young guys (Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware) have really picked up our offense and our scheme. And again, repetition in the run game, so we're not changing a bunch of things, has really helped these two excel on the field."

Over the past two games, Ware has 30 carries for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Now that West is back and practicing after his hamstring injury, both players should see action on Sunday against the Raiders.

They both bring something different to the table—West is a little shiftier and Ware brings more downhill, North and South thunder—something West enjoys watching about his teammate.

"I wish I was big enough to do stuff like that," West said. "I can do it, but I can't go in there like that."

5. With Justin Houston missing practice time, how could Dee Ford's return impact the defense?

After suffering a hyperextended knee in last Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, linebacker Justin Houston hasn't practiced for the Chiefs all week after being listed as "day-to-day" on Wednesday.

With questions surrounding Houston's availability for Sunday's game, the attention turns to second-year player Dee Ford, who returned to practice this week after suffering a back injury during pregame warmups against the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago.

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"Just a freakish accident," Ford said of that injury.

In nine games this season, Ford has 9 tackles and 1 pass defensed, but he's looking forward to the opportunity to playing opposite Tamba Hali should Houston not be able to go.

"I know the opportunity is there now," he mentioned. "Like I said, I don't want to put too much emphasis on one game, but I'm excited.

"I'm not going to lie to you. It's exciting."

The Raiders offensive line has surrendered just 14 sacks all seasons, which ties them for the fewest in the NFL. That number is also due to quarterback Derek Carr's ability to get rid of the ball quickly. The Chiefs will have their hands full on Sunday with Carr, Cooper and company.

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