Thursday Night Preview: Can the Raiders End Their Slide Against the Chiefs?

Kareem Hunt and his Chiefs dropped their first game last Sunday. Tonight, they face an Oakland squad trying to get back on track after losing four in a row.

The Kansas City Chiefs want to distance themselves from their divisional foes.

The Oakland Raiders want to jump back into the race.

Both teams will attempt to accomplish their respective goals tonight during a rivalry game in which all stats can be thrown out the window. Okay, maybe not all...

The Chiefs check in 2nd in our current power rankings, while the injury-plagued Raiders -- who, after opening the season with two wins, have lost four in a row -- sit at 28th.

So, who can come out on top in this tilt? Let's dive in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

Alex Smith has balled out to start the 2017 season, and he is a huge reason why the Chiefs have been so white-hot. Among the 32 quarterbacks with 125 or more drop backs, Smith ranks 2nd in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.27). (For more about NEP, visit our glossary.) In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- his 49.06% mark is 5th.

If there is a knock on Smith, it's his lack of keeping defenses honest with a deep ball passing attack. Looking at the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Smith ranks only 22nd in their average intended air yards (IAY) at 7.9 yards per attempt. (For some context, Jameis Winston leads the league with a mark of 11.5 IAY.)

On the other side of this matchup is Derek Carr, whose disappointing start could be attributed to a back injury. Carr ranks 16th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.10) and 10th in Passing Success Rate (47.97%).

Through five games, Carr's overall passing volume is down significantly -- the Raiders signal caller has attempted 139 passing attempts (27.8 attempts per game), whereas through his first five games of 2016, he recorded 193 passing attempts (38.6 attempts per game).

Similar to Smith, he too is struggling with the vertical passing game, posting an IAY mark of 6.9 and completing the ball in very short chunks.

While the Chiefs seem to have the edge behind center, how do the running games stack up?

Running Back Play

This one may seem to be a bit of a mismatch, as rookie sensation Kareem Hunt has been in beast mode all season.

Among the 33 runners with 50 carries or more, Hunt has led the league with a 0.14 Rushing NEP per play mark, with Derrick Henry and Devonta Freeman nipping at his heels. That efficiency mark is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Hunt ranks 5th in the NFL with 106 rushing attempts.

After a hiatus from the NFL, Marshawn Lynch has returned, and he has been pretty solid. In terms of Rushing NEP per play, Lynch ranks 16th with a mark of -0.06, while toting the rock 70 times.

With the Chiefs seemingly have an edge at the quarterback and running back positions, can the Raiders defense slow them down?

Defensive Matchup

The Chiefs have the better defensive unit -- they rank 19th overall, faring better against the pass at 14th, but sliding all the way back to 28th against the run. The Raiders, meanwhile are 28th overall -- they are brutal against the pass, ranking 30th, but are a few ticks better against the run at 21st.

Part of Oakland's problem is that they are struggling to get any kind of pressure on the quarterback. In looking at Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which displays sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent, the Raiders have only sacked the opposing quarterback 11 times on their way to an an Adjusted Sack Rate of 6.1%, ranking 22nd. With their 15 sacks, the Chiefs rank 16th in Adjusted Sack Rate (7.5%).

Historical Comparisons

According to our models, there are nine contests that correlate with this game greater than 90% of the time, but the one most like this matchup was a December 2004 contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams struggled in the 2004 campaign, but they improved to 7-8 with a 20-7 home victory over the previously 13-1 Eagles. A large reason why is that Donovan McNabb left early with an injury, and Steven Jackson shredded the Eagles run defense for 148 yards and a touchdown.

In tonight's matchup, the home Rams represent the Raiders, meaning that tonight, we might see an easy cover for the underdog.

Game Projection

Even in a hostile environment, we have Kansas City winning this one, taking the victory 66.90% of the time. We think it will be pretty close -- we expect the Chiefs, who are currently a 3.0-point favorite, to cover that spread only 53.68% of the time.

The over/under (currently set at 46.0 points) is a toss-up, as we have the under hitting 52.60% of the time.

One thing to keep in mind from our friends over at OddShark -- on the road this year, the Chiefs are 3-0 both ATS and straight up.