Two of the NFL’s most intense rivalries have turned sour.
When the Chiefs visit the Raiders in a series that dates to the AFL and has been as good as any in pro football, the oddsmakers see Oakland (2-9) getting routed — at home — by Kansas City. Most of America sees it that way, too.
“I know this, when it comes to Chiefs and Raiders, it doesn’t matter records,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team is 9-2. “It’s one of those deals and you better come ready to play against a Jon Gruden-coached football team. That’s the way I am approaching it with the guys right now. I just think that’s very important.”
Since the Raiders moved back from Los Angeles to Oakland in 1995, there’s been only one season when both clubs had winning records (2016). The rivalry has been less heated since Marty Schottenheimer left as Kansas City coach in 1998 and Raiders owner Al Davis died in 2011. But this gap is success is ridiculous.
A more recent rivalry to savour has been San Francisco vs. Seattle. With the Seahawks (6-5) retooling but still competitive, and the 49ers (2-9) perennially rebuilding, that magic seems gone. Indeed, the league flexed this game off prime time.
“We had some great battles over the years,” says Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, specifically referring to the matchups with Jim Harbaugh when he led the 49ers. “If that’s what you guys want to call a rivalry, I’m not trying to minimize that part, it’s just that isn’t the way I talk and act and think about it. The better the other team is, the more it brings out the best you have, and I love that.”
The weekend began Thursday night with Dallas’ 13-10 home victory over New Orleans. Ezekiel Elliott scored the only Dallas touchdown and the Cowboys (7-5) stifled Drew Brees and the Saints (10-2), ending New Orleans’ 10-game winning streak. New Orleans failed to score in the first half, with Brees throwing for 39 yards.
There are no more byes on the schedule.
Kansas City (10-1) at Oakland (2-9)
It’s a bit complicated, but a Chiefs win and losses by Miami, Tennessee, Houston, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Cincinnati in certain combinations hand KC a playoff berth. Not that anyone doubts one is coming.
The Chiefs have won six of seven in this series and Reid’s teams are 16-3 coming off a bye.
Here’s a weird stat: Oakland stands fifth in the NFL with 34 points on opening drives. It’s third worst with 1.32 points per drive after that.
San Francisco (2-9) at Seattle (6-5)
Most intriguing here is Richard Sherman now wearing a 49ers jersey. The star defensive back for seven seasons in Seattle hasn’t done much in San Francisco: Sherman had 32 picks for Seattle, most in the NFL during that span. He has zero interceptions and four passes defenced this season.
“It’s different. Just the dynamic of the NFC West has changed,” Sherman says. “It’s changed a few times throughout the years. Early on when I first came in the league, San Fran was at the top and winning the division and went to a few NFC championships. In the middle of that, Seattle came up and was battling with Frisco, and for one crazy year Arizona came out of nowhere and had a really good season and made it to the NFC championship.
“There was a lot more teeth to the rivalry during those middle years for a number of reasons because there were several story lines. Since then, coaching changes have happened here, personnel changes have happened elsewhere, and the Rams have become incredible in the division and are playing really good football. So a lot has changed.”
The Seahawks have won eight straight and 10 of the past 11 vs. the 49ers. Seattle, which plays four of its final five at home — the other game is at the Niners — are 26-13 in regular-season games in December/January under Carroll.
Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) at Pittsburgh (7-3-1)
The scoreboard might explode at Heinz Field as Class of 2004 QBs Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger light it up.
Rivers set an NFL record for highest completion rate (96.6 per cent) and tied the mark for consecutive completions (25) in last week’s rout of Arizona. He has multi-TD games in every outing this season, but will be without running back Melvin Gordon (knee).
Roethlisberger’s 97-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster last week gave him four 90-plus yard passes, most in NFL history. He threw for 462 yards in the loss at the Broncos, his sixth game of 450-plus yards. No other QB in NFL history has more than four.
Pittsburgh has won four of the past five meetings and is 15-3 at home against the Chargers.
Neither team can afford a stumble as it approaches likely post-season berths. LA can’t fall further behind KC in the AFC West, and the Steelers have hopes of a first-round bye.
Minnesota (6-4-1) at New England (8-3)
More records are within Tom Brady’s reach. With two touchdown passes against Minnesota, Brady would pass Peyton Manning’s 579 for the most passing touchdowns in NFL history, including the post-season. He also would beat Brett Favre’s 508 for the third-most regular-season touchdown passes.
With the Vikings’ best cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, leaving last Sunday night with a hamstring issue, stymieing Brady could be a major challenge for Minnesota as it chases NFC North leader Chicago.
“I remember when we were going in Cincinnati I’m watching him pregame and he was just throwing these darts,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says of Brady, “and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re in trouble today.’ But his accuracy, I think he sees so many things now, I think with the experience. I don’t know that he’s changed all that much.”
Washington (6-5) at Philadelphia (5-6), Monday night
Among the many so-so teams in playoff contention are the Redskins, operating without their No. 1 quarterback, Alex Smith, and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles, with a torn-up secondary.
Colt McCoy had 268 yards passing, two touchdowns and three interceptions last week. Something to look for: Adrian Peterson needs two TDs to pass Jim Brown (106) for fifth most in NFL history.
Philly’s secondary is ravaged by injuries, so a strong pass rush likely is needed.
Los Angeles Rams (10-1) at Detroit (4-7)
The Rams have their eyes on winning out to put the heat on New Orleans for overall home-field advantage in the NFC. First up, a pair of NFC Central opponents — at Chicago next week is the tougher test.
Los Angeles clinches the NFC West with a win or Seattle loss. Todd Gurley leads the league with 1,484 scrimmage yards and 17 scrimmage TDs, and DT Aaron Donald has been practically unblockable at times. He had two strip-sacks in the win over the Chiefs.
The Lions have lost four of five as Matthew Stafford has thrown for three TDs and four INTs in the past four games.
Chicago (8-3) at New York Giants (3-8)
NFC North-leading Chicago aims for a sixth straight win; the Bears won three times in 12 days, once without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Chase Daniel started against the Lions on Thanksgiving, going 27 for 37 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
But it’s defence that marks these Bears, hardly a surprise. They lead the NFL with fewest first-half points allowed (64), are tops with 20 interceptions and are tied for the league lead with 16 forced fumbles.
Giants RB Saquon Barkley is one of four rookies in NFL history with touchdowns rushing and receiving in consecutive games. He has 100-plus yards from scrimmage in 10 of 11 games and Barkley ranks third in the NFL with 1,410 yards from scrimmage. He probably will find it tough going Sunday.
Cleveland (4-6-1) at Houston (8-3)
Houston is on quite a roll with eight consecutive wins, has beaten Cleveland four straight times and six of the past seven meetings.
Still, the Browns are dangerous under interim coach Gregg Williams and with top overall draft pick Baker Mayfield playing well. Cleveland ended a 25-game road losing streak last week at Cincinnati as Mayfield threw a season-high four touchdown passes.
Mayfield must keep a watch for J.J. Watt, whose sensational comeback season peaked with nine tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble last Monday night. Watt, tied for second in the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks, had three tackles for losses, one sack, forced and recovered a fumble and had a TD reception in his last game against Cleveland in 2014.
Indianapolis (6-5) at Jacksonville (3-8)
Indy is up, Jacksonville is awful.
A victory would give the Colts their first six-game winning streak since opening their 2009 AFC championship season 14-0. Andrew Luck has a TD pass in an NFL-best 34 straight games and three or more TDs in eight consecutive games, tying Peyton Manning for No. 2 all time.
The Jaguars have dropped seven straight, fired offensive co-ordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched QB Blake Bortles. Cody Kessler was 0-8 as Cleveland’s starter in 2016.
Jacksonville is without RB Leonard Fournette, suspended one game for leaving the bench and instigating a fight in Buffalo.
Denver (5-6) at Cincinnati (5-6)
The Bengals have lost five of six and now are without Andy Dalton (thumb); third-year quarterback Jeff Driskel gets his first NFL start Sunday.
Ground games could be key here. Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay ranks second among NFL rookies with 780 yards rushing, and with Dalton out, Joe Mixon — 89 yards vs. the Browns — should be busy toting the ball for Cincinnati.
Broncos star linebacker Von Miller has sacks in six straight games.
Baltimore (6-5) at Atlanta (4-7)
Only the sixth meeting, with Baltimore’s 19-13 OT victory in Atlanta in 1999 the only win by a visiting team.
Baltimore owns the NFL’s top-ranked defence, allowing a league-low 18 points per game, and has found a winning formula on offence as undrafted rookie Gus Edwards has rushed for at least 100 yards in two straight games. Rookie QB Lamar Jackson has been dynamic on the ground while Joe Flacco heals a hip injury.
The highly disappointing Falcons have their second three-game losing streak this season, but Matt Ryan needs two completions to pass Carson Palmer for 11th on the career list, and has topped 300 yards passing and a 100 QB rating in five of the past six games.
Carolina (6-5) at Tampa Bay (4-7)
Carolina’s three straight losses endanger its playoff chase. Don’t blame RB Christian McCaffrey, who had 125 yards rushing, 112 receiving for a club-record 237 scrimmage yards and two TDs last week vs. Seattle. Top draftee D.J. Moore has 17 receptions for 248 yards in the past two games.
Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul has 10 1/2 sacks.
New York Jets (3-8) at Tennessee (5-6)
For Tennessee to have any thoughts about making the post-season, it must win games such as this. The Jets have lost five in a row and other than placekicker Jason Myers, offer little resistance. Myers has five field goals of 55 yards or longer this season, most by any kicker since 2000.
The Titans have won 13 of their past 16 home games and do a few things pretty well. They have 56 total penalties, fewest in the league, and have allowed 25 TDs, tied for fifth fewest in the NFL.
Arizona (2-9) at Green Bay (4-6-1)
Not much to watch with these also-rans. Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald needs four catches to pass Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (1,281 with 49ers) for most receptions in NFL history with one team. Fitzgerald has scored in all five of his previous games against the Packers.
Packers WR Davante Adams has a career-high 1,022 yards receiving, scoring at least 10 TDs for a third straight season.
Buffalo (4-7) at Miami (5-6)
Don’t look for a scoring spree here: Buffalo ranks 31st in offence, Miami is 28th.
Although the Bills have topped 300 yards in the past two games after failing to do so in the first six, their passer rating of 58.9 is worst in the NFL. They have been outscored by 111 points.
Miami does have regular QB Ryan Tannehill back from a shoulder injury. He has won his past seven home starts.