KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs probably didn’t expect to be tied atop the AFC West and fighting for the playoffs a month and a half ago, when they were off to the hottest start in the NFL.
Then again, the Oakland Raiders probably didn’t either when they were off to a scuffling start.
But the two bitter rivals are in precisely that position as they prepare to face off Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
They are both 6-6 and tied with the Los Angeles Chargers for the division lead, ready for a four-game sprint to the finish line.
“It’s that time of the year you’ve got to come out, you’ve got to play well,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team has lost six of its past seven.
“This league is so competitive and every week is an important week. No different than this week here. Very, very important.”
Make no mistake: These are vastly different teams than the ones that met in October, when Derek Carr threw for 417 yards and three touchdowns and the Raiders rallied for a 31-30 victory.
The loss was the second straight for the Chiefs following a 5-0 start, and seemed to deflate the entire organization.
They rebounded to beat the Broncos before their current four-game skid, which has been lowlighted by losses to the lowly Giants and Jets.
The Chiefs also will be without star cornerback Marcus Peters this time. Reid suspended him for this week’s game against his hometown team after a series of embarrassing incidents, including a temper tantrum last weekend in which he chucked an official’s flag into the stands.
“This is it. We’re in the fourth quarter of the season. Three out of the four are division games,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. Right here, we have a team that beat us earlier this year and we have to find a way to rebound.”
The Raiders are a much different team this time, too.
Marshawn Lynch is coming off his first 100-yard performance of the season, and the star running back is starting to look like the Beast Mode of old.
On defense, linebacker NaVorro Bowman — who played his first game for Oakland against the Chiefs — has grown accustomed to the Raiders’ scheme.
Then there’s momentum, pure and simple. The Raiders have won two straight and three of four, their lone loss coming against the Patriots.
“There’s a better feel when you’re winning and doing things well. For us, it’s about the next game,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said.
“We went through it, we had our stretch. I talked about it the other day. The Chargers had theirs’ the first four games. We had ours’ four in a row after winning two. The Chiefs have had a little bit of a spell. Yet we all sit here at 6-6 with an opportunity.
“Which team takes the most advantage of that opportunity is sitting there?”
BEST BEAST: The Raiders have topped 100 yards rushing in three straight games to provide needed balance on offense. Lynch is averaging 93 yards from scrimmage the past four games with four TDs. “It’s starting to flow for us,” Raiders left tackle Donald Penn said. “The offense is opening things up for us. We’re just happy with the way things are flowing right now.”
BOWMAN’S BOOST: Bowman signed with Oakland three days before playing the Chiefs in October. Since then, he’s led the team in tackles and is second in snaps, and he has takeaways in each of the past two games. “He’s had a calming influence,” Del Rio said. “He loves to play. You feel him on game day. He’s very much in control. I think he’s been a calming influence for some of our younger players.”
UNDER PRESSURE: After ranking last in the league in sacks through the first 10 games, Oakland has eight in the past two games.
Bruce Irvin and Denico Autry have led the way with three each, and Khalil Mack has two, including a strip-sack of the Giants’ Geno Smith last week. “It’s definitely been what we’re looking for,” Del Rio said. “The guys are cutting it loose and playing a little more aggressively. Coverage has been tighter and I think they go hand in hand.”
ALEX’S REBOUND: After a hot start, Smith had cooled off during the Chiefs’ losing streak, averaging just 224 yards passing over a four-game span. But he broke out of the funk last week against the Jets, throwing for 366 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-31 loss.
REVIS PITCH COUNT: Reid sat recently signed Darrelle Revis for the second half against the Jets, ostensibly because he had played a lot of first-half snaps. But when asked whether the seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback would be on a pitch count again, Reid demurred. “Right now with him it’s just getting him back in the swing, day to day and communicating with him,” Reid said. “He’s a veteran player, and he’s a good communicator, so we’ll just talk with him as we go forward here.”
OAKLAND (6-6) at KANSAS CITY (6-6)
Sunday, noon, CBS
OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 3 1/2
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Oakland 6-6, Kansas City 6-6
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 62-53-2
LAST MEETING — Raiders beat Chiefs 31-30, Oct. 19
LAST WEEK — Raiders beat Giants 24-17; Chiefs lost to Jets 38-31
RAIDERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (16), RUSH (25), PASS (15)
RAIDERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (22), RUSH (11), PASS (23)
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (15), PASS (9)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (30), RUSH (30), PASS (28)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Chiefs have won 13 of last 14 vs. AFC West. Lone defeat was to Oakland. ... Raiders have not swept Chiefs since 2012, last time they won at Arrowhead Stadium. ... Chiefs are 7-2 against Raiders under Andy Reid. ... Oakland has won two straight and three of four. ... Raiders beginning stretch of three road games in final four. ... Oakland defense has not allowed more than 300 yards total offense in back-to-back weeks. ... Jack Del Rio is 1-4 against Chiefs as coach of Raiders and 6-6 against them overall. ... Raiders QB Derek Carr has thrown TD passes in 14 straight games. ... Oakland is 8-0 over past two years when rushing for two touchdowns. ... Raiders LB Bruce Irvin has forced three fumbles this season. ... Oakland WR Michael Crabtree returns from one-game suspension for fighting during game vs. Broncos. ... Kansas City has lost four straight and six of seven. ... Chiefs QB Alex Smith is 9-2 against Oakland with 22 to 4 TD to INT ratio. ... Kansas City TE Travis Kelce has receptions in 60 consecutive games. ... Chiefs rookie RB Kareem Hunt has 1,297 yards from scrimmage, third best in NFL. ... Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill each had two TD catches vs. Jets, first time since 2011 that two Chiefs players had two TD catches in same game. ... Chiefs have forced one turnover in last four games. They have 14 this season. ... Kansas City has seven sacks during 1-6 stretch, last in league over that span. ... Chiefs allowed Jets WR Jermaine Kearse to catch nine passes for 157 yards last week. WR Robby Anderson had eight catches for 107 yards. ... Fantasy Tip: Smith had monster performance against Jets last week, but he had been terrible in previous five games. So roll dice at your peril as he faces suspect Oakland secondary.