Published January 13, 2015
(SportsNetwork.com) - A year after they won two games and spent the majority of the season looking for the exits, the Kansas City Chiefs have reached the other extreme.
Now 5-0 in 2013 after a nine-point defeat of host Tennessee last week, coach Andy Reid's Chiefs head into a home meeting with AFC West rival Oakland while not at all convinced that they're playing their best football.
"We're 5-0 and we're not ashamed of that," Reid said. "We also know that we got a ton of room to improve. It's important that we continue to do that."
The matchup with the Raiders provides the chance to snap a six-game home losing skid in the series.
Kansas City hasn't beaten Oakland at Arrowhead Stadium since Week 11 of 2006, when quarterback Trent Green completed 9-of-16 passes and Larry Johnson ran for 154 yards and two scores in a 17-13 win. The Chiefs have averaged 12.3 points in the subsequent six home losses.
Last week, they took their final lead over the Titans when Jamaal Charles scored with just more than six minutes to play. The defense held from there, intercepting Tennessee QB Ryan Fitzpatrick twice.
Charles caught five passes and ran for 108 yards to continue a dynamic season in which he's led the team with 28 catches and finds himself fifth in the entire league with 397 rush yards. He was stifled by the Raiders in two 2012 meetings, however, gaining just 14 yards on 14 carries.
A win Sunday would provide Kansas City its first six-win start to a season since 2003, when it went 9-0 en route to a 13-3 finish and an AFC West title. In nine seasons since, the Chiefs have returned to the playoffs just twice and finished above .500 just three times.
QB Alex Smith was 2-0 in his career against Oakland while he played with San Francisco and threw for five TDs against a single interception in those games. Against Tennessee last week, he threw for 245 yards and was picked off once.
His success this week may come down to who's healthy around him.
Both wide receiver Donnie Avery (shoulder) and tight end Anthony Fasano (leg) are questionable, as is another tight end, Travis Kelce (knee). Right tackle Eric Fisher is another questionable commodity with a concussion.
Among the able-bodied is wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who has 17 catches in five games.
Oakland may provide an opportunity to better those numbers after surrendering 391 passing yards last week in a 10-point home victory over San Diego.
But, instead of prolific aerial possibilities, Reid is more concerned with his team's anemic 1-for-4 performance in the red zone against the Titans. Not to mention a 1-for-12 conversion rate on third downs.
"You can't make a living doing that" he said. "You have to make sure you're more efficient on third down, and you have to shorten the third downs a little bit."
Kansas City's stout defense is tops in the league in keeping foes off the scoreboard. The Chiefs have allowed an average of 11.6 points through five games and are seventh in total defense while surrendering 312.8 yards per week.
Oakland's Terrelle Pryor has put up some numbers of his own, though.
The ex-Ohio State star was 18-for-23 and threw for two scores and 221 yards in Week 5 against the Chargers while turning in an elite-level passer rating of 135.7 -- the team's highest since Rich Gannon was calling signals in 2002.
Pryor was minted as the undisputed starting QB this week, when the Raiders released Matt Flynn. He's completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 502 yards, three TDs and no interceptions in his last two starts. Not to mention, he leads the team with 229 rushing yards.
"(Pryor is) probably leaps and bounds ahead of where we thought he would be at this point in time," Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. "The key for him is he continues to work and continues to strive to get better on the little things."
Alongside the QB in the running game, starter Darren McFadden is doubtful with a hamstring injury, and Rashad Jennings, who's questionable with a hamstring issue of his own, comes off a 10-carry, 41-yard effort against San Diego.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Raiders have been both opportunistic and stingy on defense, forcing eight takeaways in the last three games and standing seventh in the league in terms of per-carry average against the run, 3.7 yards.
Those qualities will serve them well against a Chiefs team that's normally good about protecting the ball and one that's been propelled by the legs of Charles.
Depending on which running backs Oakland has available for the weekend -- McFadden, Jennings, both or neither -- the running game may be a huge element of the approach, or nonexistent.
Assuming at least one of the backs is available to team with fleet QB Terrelle Pryor, expect the Raiders to try and test a Chiefs defense that's of lock-down quality against the pass.
This is a dangerous week for the Chiefs, facing an opponent against whom they've had little success and one that's seemed to reinvent itself with a dynamic young QB.
That said, we'll believe in the new Reid magic until given definitive reason not to.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chiefs 24, Raiders 16