Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire: Part X

Kansas City Chiefs 48, Las Vegas Raiders 9

Photo courtesy of The Kansas City Star

Real shit: I don’t blame the Raiders for the blatant disrespect they showed rallying at midfield, on the Chiefs trademark arrowhead logo, during pregame warmups. It was the topic of the afternoon — in what will forever be known as The Logo Game — but it wasn’t the worst strategy in the world. They got blown out by the Chiefs, 41-14, when they played a month ago in Las Vegas. And they came into this matchup as huge underdogs. Might as well give something a try.

The problem is that these gestures come across as really, really fucking phony in the NFL. In college I get it, because when you have a genuine rivalry a lot of guys have been playing each other for three or four years. There can be legitimate disdain for one another, given the familiarity. In the NFL, three or four years is an eternity. You would be hard pressed to find a dozen guys who play for the Raiders in 2021 that were there in 2017 or 2018; there is just so much turnover in the league.

This is made more stupid by the fact that the guy who led the charge for such an empty spectacle, veteran edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, joined the Raiders this season. He has only been part of the Radiers-Chiefs “rivalry” for two games. And after Sunday’s result, the composite score of those two games was Chiefs 89, Raiders 23 — an average of 44.5 to 11.5.

The truth is, I feel sort of bad for the Raiders. They won their first two games following Jon Gruden’s infamous resignation, but after second-year wide receiver Henry Ruggs got arrested for killing someone while driving drunk at like 160 mph the team was hanging by a thread. Since then, the Raiders have lost 5 of 6 games and have been outscored 194 to 93.

So again, might as well give something a try. In retrospect it feels a little bit sad, coming together for one last gasp on the Chiefs logo before getting utterly destroyed 48-9. I imagine there were a handful of Raiders who actually got fired up and started to believe that it would galvanize everyone. I also imagine there were a solid collection who were rolling their eyes and bracing for the impact of what was to come.

I watched the game with my two brothers, and I think all of us were fairly confident that the Chiefs were going to fuck up the Raiders either way. Once we saw on Twitter what Las Vegas did at midfield during warmups, most (if not all) doubt was removed. The Chiefs scored a defensive touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, and the Raiders were in the blender for the rest of the day. They turned the ball over five times and Patrick Mahomes needed only 24 pass attempts to score 41 points.

Attention now turns — and quite quickly — to the Thursday Night Football matchup between the Chiefs (9-4) and Chargers (8-5). Since Los Angeles won the first matchup, it’s effectively the game that is going to decide the AFC West race. A Chiefs win puts them two games ahead of the rest of the division, and a Chiefs loss puts the Chargers on top because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Below are the remaining schedules for the two teams:

Chiefs: PIT (6-6-1), @ CIN (7-6), @ DEN (7-6)

Chargers: @ HOU (2-11), DEN (7-6), @ LV (6-7)

Both teams are going to be favored in their final three games. The difference is that Kansas City will have to play three teams vying for a playoff spot, while Los Angeles is likely playing only one (given the Raiders decline). I’ve been beating the drum over the last handful of weeks saying that there isn’t a team in the AFC who I think can beat the Chiefs in a must-win situation. Thursday will go a long way in proving that hypothesis.

The national media hasn’t really picked up on it yet, but if Kansas City does in fact pull off their seventh consecutive win on Thursday then they have to be considered the frontrunner to get the number one seed in the AFC. Despite losing the tiebreaker to all of Tennessee (9-4), Baltimore (8-5) and Buffalo (7-6), none of those teams are anywhere close to being in the power position they were in when they beat the Chiefs earlier in the year.

As crazy as it sounds, there is some percentage chance — maybe it’s only around 20%, maybe it’s as high as 40% or 50% — that the Chiefs don’t lose another regular season game. They started 3-4, won their next six games, and are faced with the toughest test remaining on their schedule against the Chargers. If they can manage a win, 13-4 and the top seed in the conference is absolutely a realistic outcome.

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