Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson said he's excited with how well his football team is playing this season. It will be interesting to see if those emotions will be swayed now that quarterback Jason Campbell is expected to miss significant time with a broken collarbone.
"I'm not going to let this team blink," said Jackson. "We're going to miss Jason for a while. We'll continue to press forward and get better."
Jackson wasn't lying either, as the Raiders made a big move before Tuesday's trade deadline by acquiring disgruntled former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. The Bengals finally granted Palmer's wish to be traded by sending him to the West Coast in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2012 draft and a conditional second-round pick in 2013. The 2013 pick would become a first-round selection if Oakland wins a divisional playoff game, something it hasn't accomplished since 2002.
The Raiders haven't officially announced if Palmer will start Sunday's matchup versus the AFC West-rival Kansas City Chiefs at the Oakland Coliseum, where the Silver and Black won for the second straight time with this past weekend's 24-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Kyle Boller had seemed to be the best candidate to get the start prior to the trade and was thrust into action when Campbell went down late in the first half against the Browns.
Campbell will undergo surgery and could miss up to six weeks, initiating the move for Palmer.
It's been almost a year since Palmer last took a snap, as he exiled himself from the Bengals during the offseason due to a lingering dispute with owner Mike Brown, who refused to grant his quarterback a trade. The former Heisman Trophy winner in turn decided to sit out the season despite having four years remaining on his contract.
Palmer has had issues with his knee and elbow in the past, but said he is confident in his arm and will be able to prove his health on the field. With Oakland's bye week coming up in Week 8, it's possible he could sit on Sunday to get the extra time to study the playbook before the Raiders get back into gear versus Denver on Nov. 6.
The USC product has been splitting first-team reps with Boller, however, and the Raiders have been mum on who will get the nod.
"I'm not in a rush. I don't have to rush that decision," Jackson said on Wednesday. "I'm going to take my time and see where we are and see how fast [Palmer] picks up the system. We'll make the right decision for this football team."
Jackson and Palmer have worked together before at both USC and with the Bengals. Jackson was the Trojans' offensive coordinator for part of Palmer's time there and later coached Cincinnati's wide receivers, including Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. In his first year as a head coach, he has the Raiders at 4-2 after last week's victory over Cleveland.
Oakland, which hasn't reached the playoffs since losing to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII to wrap up the 2002 season, is off to its best start since winning its first four games of that campaign. It then lost four in a row before winning seven of eight contests to qualify for the postseason. The Raiders also began the 2001 season with a 6-2 mark.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are coming off their bye week and enter Sunday's matchup riding a two-game winning streak after starting the season 0-3. Unfortunately, the extra rest wasn't long enough to get running back Jamaal Charles back from a torn ACL, while general manager Scott Pioli had to douse rumors that head coach Todd Haley was on the chopping block.
Haley's job is secure for now, with Kansas City gunning for its first three- game winning streak since Nov. 21-Dec. 5 of last season. Perhaps Haley's latest scheme for building team chemistry will keep the defending AFC West-champion Chiefs in the win column and more loose. A bean-bag game involving two pieces of lumber with holes in each positioned exactly 33 feet apart has become a recent form of bonding, and so far the team is 2-0 since Haley instituted the drill.
"We've been trying to figure out ways to create some togetherness," Haley said. "It's been great, another way to keep guys hanging around and interacting with each other."
There wasn't much to discuss after the Chiefs were outscored by an 89-10 margin by Buffalo and Detroit in the first two weeks of the season. A 20-17 loss at San Diego in Week 3 later got Haley thinking about new ways to break tension and get things loose.
Granted that wins over Minnesota and Indianapolis aren't much to brag about these days, but it's better than starting out 0-5.
The second half of the season is going to be a rough one for Kansas City, as it plays games against the rest of the AFC West as well as such heavyweights as New England, Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and Green Bay.
The Chiefs trail both San Diego (4-1) and Oakland (4-2) by more than a game in the AFC West standings, but can gain some ground on at least one of those foes and get back to .500 with a big win in a hostile environment on Sunday.
Kansas City holds a 52-47-2 edge in its all-time regular-season series with Oakland and has had great success at the Coliseum in recent years, having won in seven of its last eight trips there. The Chiefs' lone loss during that stretch occurred last year, however, when the team dropped a 23-20 decision to the Raiders in Week 9, and Oakland also bested Kansas City by a 31-10 score at Arrowhead Stadium in the 2010 regular-season finale. The visitor has had the upper hand in this set as of late, prevailing in eight of the past nine matchups between the clubs.
These longtime rivals have also squared off three times during the postseason, with the Chiefs winning two of those tests. Oakland posted a 41-6 home rout of Kansas City in a 1968 AFL Division Playoff, but the Chiefs returned the favor with a 17-7 road triumph in the 1969 AFL Championship. Kansas City also bested the visiting Raiders in a 1991 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Haley is 1-3 against the Raiders during his tenure with the Chiefs, while Jackson will be facing both Kansas City and Haley for the first time in his present position.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Kansas City's Matt Cassel (945 passing yards, 8 TD, 5 INT) has posted a quarterback rating of 100 or better in each of his previous three games and has thrown seven touchdown passes to just one interception over that time. He threw four scoring strikes in a 28-24 win at Indianapolis before breaking for the bye week. Cassel has established one of the best quarterback/receiver tandems in the league with wideout Dwayne Bowe (23 receptions, 420 yards, 4 TD), who leads the team in catches, receiving yards and scores and offers an easy target for Cassel and a hard matchup for defenders with his big frame. Despite having such a talent receiver, Kansas City is still only 29th in passing offense, however. Even without Charles in the backfield, the Chiefs are sixth in rushing with an average of 127.4 yards per game, though. Jackie Battle (156 rushing yards) made a name for himself against Indianapolis with a career-best 119 yards on 19 carries. Haley remembered how the reserve running back worked hard in the offseason and said he came in almost 20 pounds lighter than last year. Battle noted that he feels quicker and has more shift to his running style, and his play helped Kansas City amass a season-high 194 yards rushing against the Colts. The Chiefs are still searching for a rushing touchdown from one of their backs, however. Dexter McCluster (172 rushing yards) has been a nice weapon in and out of the backfield, as he is second on the team with 18 receptions, while veteran Thomas Jones (166 rushing yards) has also filled in for Charles.
The Raiders' defense has seen better days, but the addition of linebacker Aaron Curry could help in the long run. Curry was traded from Seattle to the Raiders for a pair of draft picks last week and finished with three tackles last Sunday in his Oakland debut. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain (41 tackles, 1 sack) and safety Tyvon Branch (47 tackles, 1 INT) led the team in tackles with seven each against the Browns. Oakland is 16th against the rush, allowing 113.2 yards per game, but held the Browns to 65 yards on the ground. Kansas City will try to establish the run early on Sunday against the Raiders' 4-3 defense led by tackle Richard Seymour (19 tackles), who owns a team-best five sacks this season. Fellow interior lineman Tommy Kelly (17 tackles) is second on the team with three sacks, while end Lamarr Houston (17 tackles) and safety Matt Giordano (26 tackles) each had a sack versus the Browns. Oakland hasn't had much success defending the pass this season, as it is 28th in the NFL (285.3 ypg). It is also just 27th in total yards allowed, permitting 396.7 yards per game.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Campbell (1,170 passing yards, 6 TD, 4 INT) is slated to have surgery on his collarbone and said he could be back in six weeks, though it's now likely he'll be placed on injured reserve after Palmer's acquisition. The team had planned on Boller being the new man following the injury, but now it seems comfortable that Palmer can quickly adjust to the scheme and the ex-Bengals looks like the favorite to start. Boller saw his first action of the season last week and completed 8-of-14 passes for 100 yards and most importantly, protected the football. Boller said he started off quick and was able to let the game come to him instead of trying to make all the plays. He admitted he hasn't worked much with the first-team offense, but understands the system. Boller said he feels his relationship with the receivers and backs is strong, though it's unclear whether he'll have a chance to prove that against the Chiefs. Punter Shane Lechler also got into the quarterback mix with a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Boss (7 receptions, 1 TD) on a fake field goal against Cleveland. It was Lechler's first pass of his NFL career and Boss's first touchdown grab for the Raiders. Oakland also controlled the clock for 34:41 of the game during last Sunday's win. Running back Darren McFadden (610 rushing yards, 4 TD) leads the NFL in rushing for the Raiders' second-ranked ground attack, which is averaging 160.0 yards per game. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward- Bey (345 yards, TD) had another good outing last Sunday, making 82 yards on six catches. He is averaging 98.6 yards per game over the previous three weeks.
The Chiefs rallied for 21 straight points to upend Indianapolis, and their defense was key in the come-from-behind triumph. Even though Kansas City failed to record a sack or an interception, it relied on its usual suspects to pull through, as linebacker and leading tackler Derrick Johnson (31 tackles) sparked the unit with a team-best eight stops. The Colts still managed to pound out 355 total yards on the Chiefs, who have been one of the worst defenses in the league statistically so far. They are 17th in pass defense, 19th in yards allowed and 21st against the rush. Oakland likes to run the ball, so look forward to Kansas City loading the box. The Raiders also have a new quarterback under center, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will be sure to dial up some blitzes. Tyson Jackson (14 tackles), Kelly Gregg (13 tackles) and Glenn Dorsey (19 tackles) are the front three in Crennel's 3-4 defense, and all will be counted on to slow down McFadden. Linebacker Tamba Hali (29 tackles) is tops on the team with four sacks and is the only Chief with at least two or more. Without linebacker Brandon Siler and Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, both of whom are out with season-ending injuries, the Chiefs are starting to find ways to win again, and Johnson said after the Colts game that winning cures everything. Cornerback Brandon Flowers (23 tackles) looks to add to his team-leading total of two interceptions this weekend.
KEYS TO THE GAME
How much of a workload will McFadden take on with Campbell out? The Raiders have been doing quite fine relying on their running attack, and should still be in good hands as long as McFadden stays healthy.
The Chiefs are coming off their bye week and could be a bit sluggish in this one, though they are aware that Sunday's AFC West showdown is an important one in getting their season back on track. Expect to see Cassel airing it out against the Raiders' struggling pass defense.
Though they have plenty of time to prepare for this matchup, the Chiefs are 0-2 thus far after the bye week under Haley. Last year he allowed select veterans to run meetings, practices and even a scrimmage, though that didn't translate into success for Kansas City, which had two outdoor practices during the bye this time around before breaking for four days as per the new CBA rules. The Chiefs haven't won on the road after a bye since 1999.
The Raiders apparently got the quarterback they wanted in Palmer, and it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that he'll be ready to run the offense and win the crowd over on Sunday. But even if Boller draws the start, Oakland still should have enough to get past a Kansas City team hasn't won the week following a bye since 2006. The results likely won't differ five years later.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 23, Chiefs 16