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Breaking Down The Bills

BREAKING DOWN THE BILLS

* The skinny: The Bills won three of their past four games to get back into the playoff picture, although they need to beat the Raiders and Patriots in their final two games to have a realistic shot at a wild-card berth. That can’t be ruled out after how thoroughly the Bills dominated the red-hot Green Bay Packers last Sunday. The Bills only loss past four games came against the 11-3 Broncos, by a respectable 24-17. The Bills last beat the Raiders in Oakland in 1966.

* Players to fear/Offense
QB Kyle Orton. In relief of ineffective regular E.J. Manuel, Orton has endeared himself to the Bills offensive players and played a key role in helping the Bills turn around their season. He has completed 63.7 percent of his passes, with 14 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
WR Sammy Watkins. He leads the Bills in receptions (59), receiving yards (850) and receiving touchdowns (five) this season. The precocious rookie has been targeted 116 times.
RB Fred Jackson. He has amassed 861 yards and three touchdowns rushing and receiving combined. He might not be flashy but he gets the job done in tidy fashion.

* Players to fear/Defense
DE Mario Williams. He leads the Bills with 13 sacks. Williams is the linchpin of a Bills defensive line considered among the best in the league.
CB Corey Graham. He has broken up a team-high 13 passes and recorded 74 tackles.
LB Nigel Bradham. The unheralded player certainly isn’t an unknown in Buffalo. He is second on the Bills with 98 sacks and leads the team with seven tackles for loss.

* Key numbers
0 – Number of touchdown passes the Bills defense allowed against Denver’s Peyton Manning and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers the past two games. Overall, the Bills intercepted four passes in those games.
49 – League-leading sack total through 14 games. The Bills are as good as any team in the league at putting pressure on the quarterback, and they are the best at taking down the quarterback.
18.1 – Average points allowed per game, tied for fourth fewest in the league. Also, the Bills defense is fifth in terms of average yards allowed per game.
14 – Consecutive seasons the Bills have missed the playoffs, the longest current streak in the NFL, two ahead of the Raiders.

* Injury report: TE Scott Chandler (illness), K Dan Carpenter (groin), DE Jarius Wynn (knee), TE Chris Gragg (knee), S Da’Norris Searcy (hamstring), CB Stephon Gilmore (shoulder), S Duke Williams (concussion) and RB Anthony Dixon (chest).

* Vegas says: Bills by 6

* What others are saying: Twelve of the 13 so-called ESPN experts that predict the outcome of games each week have the Bills beating the Raiders.

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Bills, Raiders both hit on first-round picks; Carr explains value of playing late vs. Chiefs

When the Bills were on the clock in the first round of the NFL draft in May, they had a tough decision to make: Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack or Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, among others.
The Bills were so enamored with Watkins that they had surrendered the No. 9 pick in the 2014 draft, as well as their first- and fourth-round picks in the 2015 draft so that they could trade with the Cleveland Browns and move up to No. 4.
Therefore, whichever player they coveted is someone that they were willing to pay a king’s ransom. That player turned out to be Watkins.
The Raiders wasted little time in taking Mack. As it turned out, both teams landed an impact player. At the time, Watkins said he wasn’t sure where he was going. The Raiders were even a possibility, he said.
“I thought it was possible, but you never know going through that whole process,” Watkins said. “I never really had an interview. I didn’t go out there and meet, so I really didn’t have a clue.”
The Raiders and their fans are thrilled with how well Mack has panned out. On Sunday, they get their first look at Watkins, a player the Raiders might have contemplated taking at No. 5 if the Bills hadn’t taken him off the board.
Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano said Wednesday that he and the Raiders were high on Watkins when they studied Watkins before the draft.
Watkins has started all 14 games, and he leads the Bills with 59 receptions for 850 yards and five touchdowns. There’s no mistaking that Watkins is the Bills’ go-to receiver.
Bills coach Doug Marrone said he likes what he sees from Mack on video and that the reality has matched the hype.
“I just think he’s someone that’s getting better and better,” Marrone said. “From our standpoint, we’ve got to know where he is on that field. He’s that type of player.”

– Time and again Sunday, it was pointed out that the Raiders were foolish for playing Carr the entire game, especially given the fact Carr had an injured ankle and the Raiders trailed 31-6 after three quarters.
Calling for Carr to be yanked had nothing to do with the Raiders needing to take a look at backup Matt Schaub — Matt McGolin was inactive. It had everything to do with being prudent with a player who has the look of a franchise quarterback.
Sure enough, Carr hurt his right (throwing hand) thumb on the final drive of the game, with the Raiders driving for a meaningless touchdown.
As promised, we asked Carr about whether he entertained the prospect of coming out of the game and the value of playing until the bitter end.
“There’s going to be a time, I know that there’s going to be a time, where it’s a playoff game, something is going to happen, a tweak or something, and we got to go finish a drive.
“These situations go on through my mind constantly. I’m sitting there thinking, this is going to happen someday, or maybe it’s going to be in this exact stadium again and we’re playing for a division title.
“These things go through my head, and I’m sitting there (thinking), hey, we got to go put this thing in. In no way, shape or form was I going to come out of that game. They could have wrapped up my ankle so more. I was going to stay in there.”

– The Raiders and Bills are the two teams that have gone the longest without a playoff appearance. The Bills are in a position to end their drought this season.
For now, the Bills haven’t been to the playoffs for 14 seasons, more than any other team. The Raiders are second at 12 straight non-playoff seasons – the Browns can tied the Raiders if they get eliminated this season.
“That’s the stigma with Buffalo,” Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins said in a conference call with Bay Area media Wednesday. “That’s all you hear. They never talk about the four Super Bowls that they went to. All you hear about is the 14 years that they didn’t go to the playoffs. It’s bad and we know that as a team and an organization. We’re going to fix it.”
The Bills are 8-6 and one game out of the chase for one of two wild-card berths in the AFC Playoffs. They likely need to beat the Raiders on Sunday and the New England Patriots on Dec. 28 just to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.
Watkins is a rookie. He was selected with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft in May, one spot ahead of Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. He leads the Bills in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
He also has a firm grasp of how starved Buffalo fans are to see their beloved Bills in the playoffs again. The ongoing quest to make that a reality continues Sunday at the Coliseum.
“It’s a lot at stake,” Watkins said. “We’ve got to come out and win every game and we know that. We have to win our last two weeks. It will be big for not only this team, but the fans and this organization because we haven’t won over eight games or went to the playoffs in 14 years. It needs to happen and it needs to happen now.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley don’t shy from the fact that there’s a sense of urgency to get back to the playoffs.
“A lot of us weren’t here for all of that time,” Marrone said in a conference call. “That’s what a lot of people will obviously print, that’s what a lot of people write
“Like I told the players, for us we’ve just got to make sure we do a good job and not get distracted by anything that’s going on around us. If we are distracted, the only people that can distract us is ourselves.”

– The positive that has resulted from the Raiders having so many players injured this season is that they have had ample time to take a look at just about every person on their roster not named Tony Bergstrom.
As a result, the Raiders are going to be better served next season, when young players such as Latavius Murray, TJ Carrie, Ray Ray Armstrong, Gabe Jackson and Khalil Mack, among many others, build upon this season.
“My experience is, when you get that kind of playing time, and there is significant playing time here – we’re talking about a lot of guys playing a lot of snaps right now that are young players – that’s very, very valuable.
“There’s huge carry-over. That that provides a real easy transition into Year 2 for them. The game doesn’t surprise them. The speed of the game doesn’t surprise them. The preparation that it takes to play the game doesn’t surprise them. More importantly, they kind of know these opponents.”
Sparano also shows that he is leap years ahead of other coaches in terms of understanding the value of getting something out of a losing season, when most coaches keep playing their regular starters once they have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
“One of the biggest mistakes is when you’re sitting here a year from now looking at your football team – or not a year from now, a month from now – and you think, ‘Man, I wish I knew something about that guy. I don’t know anything about him. I’ve never seen him play in a game.’
“That’s kind of like where we were with Latavius [Murray] last year. The end of the season last year when you’re going into this season, you’re saying, ‘Really, I don’t know about this guy.’ Well, we know clearly about Latavius now, so those are good things.”

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Breaking Down The Chiefs

BREAKING DOWN THE CHIEFS
* The skinny: The Chiefs haven’t won a game since they upset the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks on Nov. 16. At that time, the Chiefs improved to 7-3 and were tied for the AFC West lead. The Raiders started the Chiefs’ three-game losing streak with a 24-20 upset at the Coliseum, when the Raiders were 0-10 at the time. The Chiefs lost more than a game that night; they also lost starting free safety Eric Berry for the season – on Monday, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Lead back Jamaal Charles also is hobbled by knee and ankle injuries that he suffered last Sunday. Quarterback Alex Smith still hasn’t connected with a wide receiver for a touchdown this season.

* Players to fear/Offense
Smith. He has completed 65.3 percent of his passes and registered 16 touchdown passes against only six interceptions. He also has run for 223 yards and one touchdown.
Charles. He has rushed for 898 yards (5.2-yard average) and scored 14 touchdowns rushing and receiving combined. He is a legitimate threat to score every time he touches the ball.
TE Travis Kelce. He leads the Chiefs in receptions (51) and receiving yards (688), and he is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (4). Smith tends to look for Kelce whenever it’s a key situation.

* Players to fear/Defense
LB Justin Houston. He is tied for the league lead with 16 sacks. He also is third on the Chiefs with 56 tackles. He is such an every-down force that opposing teams scheme against Houston.
NT Dontari Poe. He is stout against the run and has a penchant for drawing two blockers on most downs, which frees up others for one-on-one matchups.
CB Sean Smith. He has developed into the Chiefs top cover cornerback and someone that teams shy away from whenever possible.

* Key numbers
38 — Number of times Smith has been sacked, among the most in the league.
2 — Number of rushing touchdowns allowed. Both those came against the Raiders Latavius Murray three games ago.
28.7 — Average yards per kick return, third-best in the league. This helps ensure that the Chiefs start with desirable field position more times than not after kick-offs.
1 — Number of 100-yard receiving games for Chiefs this season. Kelce accomplished the feat last Sunday. Smith has no 300-yard passing games all season.

* Injury report: TE Anthon Fasano (knee), LB Tamba Hali (knee), DE Allen Bailey (concussion), RB Jamaal Charles (knee, ankle), CB Phillip Gaines (concussion), LB Joe Mays (knee) and WR Donnie Avery (groin).

* Vegas says: Chiefs by 10

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3,427

Raiders 24, 49ers 13

Here is beat writer Jerry McDonald’s early version game story:

Derek Carr engineered back-to-back 80-yard scoring drives in the second half and threw three touchdown passes Sunday as the Raiders beat the 49ers 24-13 at O.co Coliseum.

Coming against their cross-bay rivals before a sold-out bi-partisan crowd and a week after a 52-0 road loss to the St. Louis Rams, it was the most satisfying win of a long and difficult season as the Raiders improved to 2-11.

It was a crippling loss for the 49ers, who fell to 7-6 and face a tough road to reach the playoffs after making it to the conference championship game three consecutive seasons.

Carr, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 254 yards, had touchdown passes of 3 yards to Donald Penn on a tackle eligible play, 9 yards to Marcel Reece and 5 yards to Mychal Rivera.

The Oakland Raiders’ Vincent Brown (19) makes a catch against the San Francisco 49ers’ Eric Reid (35) in the second quarter at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )

The Raiders also scored on season-long 57-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski on their first possession, set up by a Brandian Ross interception of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The 49ers scored on an 8-yard pass from Kaepernick to Bruce Miller and on field goals of 54 and 20 yards by Phil Dawson.

Rivera was open all day in the middle of the 49ers secondary, catching 7 passes for 109 yards, including 27-yard receptions on the two Raiders drives that helped decide the game.

Trailing 13-10 after Dawson’s 20-yard field goal, the Raiders drove 80 yards in eight plays, a drive that included Carr completions of 16 yards to Andre Holmes, 12 to Reece and 27 to Rivera.

The Raiders took the lead on a 9-yard slant from Carr to Reece against Donate Johnson on a third-and-1 play with an empty backfield.

Following a 49ers three-and-out, Carr did it again directing an other 80-yard drive that opened wit ha 22-yard pass to Holmes, had another 27-yard gain to Rivera on a third-and-8 and ended with Rivera outfighting Leon McFadden on a third-and-goal pass from the 5-yard line for the touchdown with 10:39 remaining.

The last time the Raiders had back to back touchdown drives was the 2013 season finale against Denver, a game in which they trailed 34-0 before scoring twice in the fourth quarter.

Kaepernick struggled throughout and threw his second interception with 2:36 to play to Charles Woodson, the 59th of his career.

It was the third time in the last four games the Raiders have played well on defense, with the only exception being the debacle the previous week in St. Louis.

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