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Thursday Night Football Preview: An AFC West Showdown

This matchup the Raiders and Chiefs will help decide who wins one of the NFL's deepest divisions.

There is a monster game slated for Week 14's edition of Thursday Night Football, as the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs square off in an AFC West showdown that will go a long way in determining which squad will take home the division title.

So, who will come out on top? Let's break down a few of the key matchups in this Thursday night tilt.

Quarterback Breakdown

Pundits have been waiting for Derek Carr and this young Oakland offense to begin taking some steps forward, and it looks like that time has finally come.

Carr has put together a strong campaign in his third professional year. Despite ranking 17th in Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP gain -- at 47.6%, he ranks sixth among 35 quarterbacks with 150-plus drop backs in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back with 0.25.

Chiefs signal-caller Alex Smith has been a bit less effective in terms of Passing NEP per drop back, checking in 16th at 0.14, but his Passing Success Rate of 48.0% (16th) is similar. As usual, he continues to rely on the short passing game, averaging only 6.92 yards per attempt (YPA), but that did jump to 10.8 in Week 13.

Running Back Play

Latavius Murray leads one of the league's more efficient ground attacks for the Raiders. Among runners with 100 or more rushes this season, Murray ranks fourth in Rushing NEP per play at 0.09. However, given the success of the passing game, he's only toted the rock 140 times.

Spencer Ware leads Kansas City's rushing game, and has been far less effective than Murray. He ranks 24th in Rushing NEP per play among the same group of runners with -0.06 per carry. However, Ware is a bit more effective in terms of Rushing Success Rate -- he's seventh with 43.6%, where Murray slips a bit to 10th at 42.1%.

Defensive Matchup

This is a tale of two very different defenses, and it'll play a huge role in who comes away with the win.

Per our schedule-adjusted per play rankings, the Chiefs' defense is the better unit. They rank ninth overall and are a top-10 squad with regard to defending the pass (fifth) and run (ninth).

The Raiders' defense, however, ranks a paltry 26th. It could be a big night for Ware, as Oakland ranks much worse against the run (31st) than the pass (22nd).

According to Adjusted Sack Rate from Pro Football Outsiders, the Chiefs rank only 15th at 6.1% thanks to studs like Justin Houston and Dee Ford combining for 14 sacks. The Raiders, meanwhile, feature Khalil Mack (10 sacks), but don't get much pressure from elsewhere on the quarterback, ranking 23rd at 5.4%.

Historical Comparisons

According to our models, there's one matchup that shows a strong correlation (91.29%), and this was an opening week tilt between the New York Jets and Washington Redskins in 2003.

In a tight, low-scoring affair, kicker John Hall, who had just left the Jets that offseason for the Redskins, kicked a game-winner in a 16-13 victory. Patrick Ramsey led Steve Spurrier's "Fun-N-Gun" offense with only 189 passing yards, but it was enough to give the Redskins a home victory to start the year.

In this matchup, the home Redskins correlate to the Chiefs and would lead to a push for the home team.

Game Projection

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