When the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs got together for their twice yearly meetings over the last 57 years, there's always been a certain edge to the competition.
Generally what has been on the line is pride, reputation and honor. Every once in a while the payoff is even larger. The latter is the case Thursday night when the Raiders visit Arrowhead Stadium to play the Chiefs. Kickoff is set for 7:35 p.m. in what is predicted to be a frigid evening, with temperatures in the high-teens and a wind-chill factor that will make it feel like 10 degrees.
"Honestly I love the cold," said Oakland quarterback Derek Carr. "I played in the Mountain West Conference and you play in a lot of different places whether it's Wyoming or Reno or Air Force or Colorado State, obviously cold places. I've had my fair share of those games; you treat it like any other game whenever you talk about weather. If you let it affect you, it will, so you just go out there with the right mindset."
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The weather conditions just may help the 9-3 Chiefs cool off the hot 10-2 Raiders. The battle is for control of the AFC West, where Oakland is the leader and the Chiefs sit a game behind. But Kansas City won the first game between the teams 26-10 back in October in Oakland. Since that game the Raiders have not lost, racking up six consecutive victories by an average margin of nine points. Carr has become the first player in NFL history to throw five game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter or overtime in a season.
"Both teams know each other," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. "They've made changes defensively that have made them better on that side of the ball. They're playing very good all the way around in the different phases. They were a little down on the defensive side early on but they've picked up in that area. They're flying around and making plays."
Other than a two-point loss to Tampa Bay just over two weeks ago, the Chiefs have continued their winning ways, taking six of the last seven games. With their 11-1 record to close out the 2015 season, Kansas City is 20-4 in their last 24 regular-season and postseason games. Both teams won last Sunday, with the Chiefs beating the Falcons in Atlanta by one point and the Raiders coming from behind for a victory over Buffalo.
The short preparation time is the bane for all players and coaches, especially the Chiefs, who have had two straight road games, including the trip to Denver when they played a full 75 minutes. The Raiders will be sore, tired and cold.
"The number one thing is recovery," said Carr. "In a week like this, there's some tough things that come with it, but like Coach Del Rio says, 'Nobody cares.' Nobody cares, at the end of the day you have to go play."
The Raiders have a half-dozen victories this season that came with strong fourth-quarter comebacks. It's a mentality that's changed around Oakland with Del Rio in charge.
"We're learning how to win games at whatever cost it takes," said Carr. "Whether it's Khalil (Mack) stripping somebody or Tay (Latavius Murray) running the ball in or Seth (Roberts) catching another game-winner, we're just learning how to win games. I think that the more experience we have at doing that, the more situations we're in we're going to be able to look back and said, 'We've done this before'."
The first game between these teams was a 16-point victory for the Chiefs. That day the Raiders did not have Murray, who was out with an injury. He should be on the field Thursday evening. That K.C. victory was built on ball control and security.
They'll need more of the same to slow the Raiders locomotive.
"The positive is you get a few days off afterwards," said Reid. "Getting ready is a bit of a scramble drill, but you do it and you move on. It's hardest on the players, especially the later you get in the year."