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What to watch for in Chiefs-Raiders on 'TNF'

The Chiefs (5-1) will look to shake off their first loss of the season on Thursday night against the stumbling but talented Oakland Raiders (2-4).

Here's what we're watching for as the Chiefs face the Raiders at 8 p.m. ET Thursday on CBS, NFL Network and streaming on Amazon Prime Video:

  1. It took the league's fourth-best defense (according to Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings), a late, well-timed appearance from James Harrison, a herculean performance from Le'Veon Bell and a bit of dumb luck (a clear Ben Roethlisberger interception bouncing off a defender's hands and into the arms of a sprinting Antonio Brown) for the Chiefs to finally lose a game last week. Those who say that the blueprint is out must believe that every team possesses the ability to control the clock and unleash a rolodex of top-tier edge rushers into the backfield on every snap. But what makes the Raiders an interesting opponent is that, on paper, they do have those ingredients. Which leads us to ask the following questions.
  1. When is theMarshawn Lynch game happening? NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted last week that Lynch has been unhappy with his performances and consulted offensive line coach Mike Tice for extra assistance. The result was 13 carries for 63 yards (4.85 yards per attempt) in a narrow loss to the Chargers. It was Lynch's best yards per attempt total on the season. Oakland still possesses one of the league's five best offensive lines and should be more interested in gutting their opponents on the ground than they have been. Derek Carr is throwing the ball about 30 times a game while Lynch's attempts have dwindled from 18 in Week 1 to 12 and 13, respectively, over the past two weeks.
  1. When is theKhalil Mack game? Grading site Pro Football Focus still lists Mack as the second-best edge rusher in the league and, to be fair, sacks are a terrible indication of defensive performance. When I watched last weekend's game against the Chargers, I saw a good player flinging himself at the quarterback with little help elsewhere. Mack was weaving between the chip block, the core block and the running back block all on one play. Los Angeles was running or rolling away from him on a consistent basis. A nugget from NFL's Next Gen Stats sort of bears Mack's one-man act out quite well: The Raiders are the third-worst team in football when it comes to average separation from the quarterback. Essentially, they're providing one of the cleanest pockets in football, which is not good when facing a mobile quarterback like Alex Smith who expertly pilots a complex offense.
  1. This might be a good time for the Chiefs' defensive front to get back on track. Another two items from Next Gen Stats that, I think, might tell the story for Thursday: Derek Carr is throwing half as many deep passes as he did at this point last year. AND ... the Chiefs have had the worst blitz production in the league over the past two weeks, allowing four touchdowns, zero interceptions and just one sack on blitzing downs. If both teams want to remedy this issue through practice, my bet is on Justin Houston and the Chiefs' defenders against Carr in a five-step drop.
  1. I'll be interested to watch Oakland's demeanor. A 2-5 hole in the same division with the Broncos and Chiefs could be devastating for their Super Bowl aspirations. If Mack and Carr are the believed anchors who can take the Raiders to the postseason and beyond, Thursday would be a great time to show it.

Catch Thursday Night Football's tilt between the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders on CBS, NFL Network and streaming on Amazon Prime Video at 8 p.m. ET.

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