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NFL Preview - Kansas City (1-7) at Oakland (2-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Somehow, "flex scheduling" doesn't quite do it justice.
Rather, if it were possible, perhaps the NFL would consider simply ignoring the fact that one of its games is actually supposed to take place this weekend on the West Coast.
Or instead of onto its flagship, self-named cable network, maybe the league could jettison the clash from CBS toward some other unsuspecting entity - like VH1 or the Travel Channel.
Either way, it's difficult to underestimate the debacle that could unfold.
When the one-win Kansas City Chiefs visit the two-win Oakland Raiders, it'll be a stark reminder for both franchises of just how far they've each tumbled since halcyon days earlier in the decade.
The Chiefs were a No. 2 playoff seed as recently as 2003, winning 13 of 16 regular-season games before a home-field postseason loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts two weeks later.
They're 22 games under .500 in five-plus seasons since, including an inglorious recent run that's yielded just six wins in 39 games since the start of 2007.
And the Chiefs made other news this week by releasing workhorse running back Larry Johnson, who'd been suspended for two weeks by first-year coach Todd Haley.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Johnson was less than 100 yards short of the franchise rushing record.
"Over the last couple of weeks, (GM) Scott (Pioli) and I have been spending a lot of time and energy, along with (owner) Clark Hunt, in talking about this and trying to figure out the direction that we wanted to go," Haley said. "We decided that it is the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs organization to move forward at this time."
Mean time, the Raiders' fall has been even more precipitous since appearing in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Winners of 12, 10 and 11 games in the decade�s initial three years, the Silver & Black haven't done better than five wins in six full seasons since - that�s 24-72 overall - and seem unlikely to do so this year with a back-half schedule featuring five teams now at .500 or better.
That's not to mention a steady current of off-field fiascos that prompted Jon Gruden to head for Tampa Bay and subsequently made ex-coaches of Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and Lane Kiffin.
Incumbent coach Tom Cable, who took over when Kiffin was fired during 2008's bye week, is awash in domestic violence controversy, prompting the team to begin a "serious evaluation" of his employment status and the National Organization for Women to call for his immediate suspension.
"The Oakland Raiders, properly, say they are undergoing a 'serious evaluation' of these recent allegations. At the very least Mr. Cable should be suspended during this process," said NOW President Terry O'Neill.
"But I don't understand why he doesn't simply step down, admit he has a problem, and get some help. A man who had admitted battering his wife has no business being a role model for all of us who would like to be able to look up to the head coach of an NFL football team."
Elsewhere, on Oct. 22, the Napa County district attorney's office announced it would not file criminal charges against Cable for allegedly assaulting an assistant coach during training camp.
Kansas City holds a 51-45-2 edge in its all-time regular season series with Oakland, but was a 13-10 home loser when the teams met in Week 2. The clubs embarked on an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home. The Chiefs suffered a 23-8 home loss when the teams met in Week 2, but went to Oakland and emerged with a 20-13 victory in Week 13. That win was one of just two triumphs for the Chiefs in all of 2008. The Chiefs have prevailed in each of their past six trips to the Coliseum, with Oakland last defending its home field against Kansas City in 2002.
The road team has won the last six installments of the Raiders/Chiefs series.
In addition to the regular season history, the teams have met three times in the playoffs, with Kansas City holding a 2-1 edge. The Raiders won a 1968 AFL Division Playoff, the Chiefs returned the favor with a 17-7 victory in the 1969 AFL Championship, and Kansas City also triumphed in a 1991 AFC First- Round Playoff.
Cable is 1-1 in his career against the Chiefs, while Kansas City's Haley is 0-1 against both Cable and the Raiders as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Clearly, the look will be different without Johnson, who surpassed 1,700 yards rushing in both 2005 and 2006 while scoring a combined 37 touchdowns, and had amassed 358 yards and caught 12 passes so far this season. Into the void will step the trio of Jamaal Charles, Kolby Smith and Dantrell Savage, each of whom carried the ball in last week's loss at Jacksonville en route to a combined total of 57 yards on 12 attempts. Throwing more was at least a first option against the Jaguars, who saw Matt Cassel attempt 39 passes and register 241 net yards. He struck an immediate chord with recently-acquired veteran Chris Chambers, who caught a pair of touchdown throws amid his three catches for 70 yards in his first game with Kansas City. Also, leading receiver Dwayne Bowe (27 catches, 375 yards) has averaged 16 yards per catch against the Raiders in his career (20 catches, 320 yards).
If throwing is on his mind, Cassel will be faced by Oakland's respectable pass defense, which is led by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and rated 13th in the league - allowing 212.2 yards a game. Asomugha has zero interceptions in eight games, largely because opposing teams tend to avoid throwing his way. As a result, safety Michael Huff has a team-best three interceptions, while cornerback Chris Johnson has the other two. The Raiders' run defense is another story, ranking only 29th in the league with an average weekly clip of 161 on the ground. Overall, the team is 25th in points allowed. Linebacker Kirk Morrison leads with 70 tackles and veteran lineman Greg Ellis and Richard Seymour have a combined career total of 124 sacks. Toward that end as a unit, Oakland has 12 sacks in its last five games.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
JaMarcus Russell has done little as a pro to warrant his selection and salary. The Oakland offense is 26th in the league in rushing, 30th in points scored, 31st in passing and last in total yards. They've scored just six touchdowns in eight games and Russell has produced only 125 passing yards per game, completing 48.4 percent of his passes with two touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 48.3 quarterback rating. He's been sacked 23 times, but could get a break in that department with the return of guard Robert Gallery, sidelined since breaking his right leg in Week 2. Tight end Zach Miller leads the Raiders with 28 receptions for 421 yards, while rookie Louis Murphy leads the wide receivers with 16 catches for 232 yards. Running back Darren McFadden could again be available after returning from a knee injury, and wideout Chaz Schilens is expected to make his 2009 debut.
The dissension with Johnson has helped mask issues with the defense, which has allowed 388.5 yards per week and has been particularly vulnerable at the start of games - being outscored 52-9 in the first quarter over eight outings. Linebacker Tamba Hali and defensive end Wallace Gilberry, an Alabama product, share the team lead with three sacks. For Gilberry, it's a career high. Overall, the unit has accounted for 10 in eight games. Linebacker Demorrio Williams leads the team with 63 tackles, including three against Jacksonville. In the backfield, cornerback Brandon Flowers has two of the unit's three interceptions and needs one more to surpass the career-high he set in 2008.
Relying heavily on either of these offenses is a dice-roll at best, but now that they're matched up against each other's porous defenses, who knows? Charles and Co. in the ground game aren't defined enough to make a play worthwhile there, but adventurous owners could ride with either Chambers or Bowe through the air. For the Raiders, success should be available against a similarly inept KC aerial defense, but outside of getting the ball to tight end Zach Miller, he's a guarantee of little else. His woes could make McFadden and Justin Fargas more attractive than usual on the ground.
Well, someone has to win, right? The Raiders were that someone in September when McFadden scored a decisive touchdown at Arrowhead Stadium in the final two minutes. However, it's been the Chiefs who've shown more consistent life - if not actual results - in the last few weeks. The addition of Chambers makes the passing game nearly NFL-worthy, and one of the running trio ought to take the reins as leader soon enough. The Raiders, meanwhile, simply seem too discombobulated with all that's going on. Score one for the lesser of two evils.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 20, Raiders 17
11/12 14:38:13 ET