KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders share a rich history and storied rivalry, but for more than two decades the feelings of hatred and distrust between the franchises comes only from old stories handed down by past generations – until now, that is.
“The rivalry’s back,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
The Chiefs and Raiders meet Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium, and for the first time in 22 years the rivalry carries meaning. The winner grabs hold of the AFC West lead and stands in position for a first-round bye in the playoffs. The loser faces a three-game race to climb past their bitter rival.
Add a national television audience in primetime along with frigidly cold temperatures, and a return to the good old-fashioned hate between two teams seems guaranteed.
“That’s the great thing about this time of the year,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “The stages get bigger and more meaningful. They save all these division games for the end so it’ll be fun.”
The Raiders lead the AFC West with a 10-2 record. But the Chiefs currently hold the tie-breaker edge by virtue of their 26-10 win in Oakland during week six.
The Chiefs put together one of the team’s strong and most balanced offensive performances of the season in that win. Smith passed for 224 yards while running back Spencer Ware added 131 yards on the ground.
The Raiders rank fifth in the NFL with 391.7 yards per game and third in scoring with 28.8 points. But historically the Chiefs have held quarterback Derek Carr in check. Carr owns a 1-4 mark against the Chiefs in his career, passing for 20 yards below his career average and posting the lowest passer rating against any opponent he’s faced more than once.
Johnson said the key to defeating Carr rests with limiting big plays.
“If we can eliminate the big plays and explosive plays from him, with the crowd we have at Arrowhead, it should be a good look for us,” Johnson said.
The Chiefs head into the game seemingly healthier than the squad has been in a while, despite the quick turnaround from Sunday’s 29-28 win at Atlanta. The team lists only two players questionable – defensive linemen Dontari Poe and Kendall Reyes.
The offense, meanwhile, expects to regain wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Maclin missed most or all of the last five games with a groin injury. Smith called Maclin’s return an “awesome addition.”
“Jeremy is a big-time player and to get him back on the field,” Smith said, “the more weapons you have, the better.”
How both teams respond to the frigid conditions, however, may be the game’s most critical factor. The forecast calls for temperatures near 20 degrees at kickoff and dropping throughout the game.
Smith said the cold effects every player differently.
“For us, obviously we’ve gotten a lot of practice in the weather here, so we’ll see what the weather conditions are like for Thursday night,” Smith said.
Carr’s NFL career includes just two games with temperatures below 40 degrees, much less below 20 degrees. But Carr spent his college years in the Mountain West conference, which included the occasional late season road trip to Wyoming or Nevada.
He said he likes the cold weather.
“I’ve had my fair share and you treat it like any other game whenever you talk about weather,” Carr said. “If you let it affect you it will, so you just go out there with the right mindset.”
The Chiefs and Raiders already clinched winning records this year, the first both teams accomplished that feat in the same season since 1994. That year the Chiefs knocked off the Raiders in the final game of the season to secure a playoff spot and deny Oakland a postseason bid.
The playing conditions and what’s at stake for both teams makes it easy to harken back to the old days when Chiefs-Raiders meant something. Times have changed, but Johnson said the rivalry still has value.
“This is a new era,” Johnson said. “It’s probably not as nasty as it was back in the day. But trust me, we know about the rivalry and we’re hoping we can stand firm in our own house.”