Early Moment of Truth: Buccaneers v. Cardinals

For every championship football team, there are signature wins where one must prove to themselves they are among the league’s elite by beating a quality opponent. Another psychological building block on the way to the playoffs or a championship season is to conquer a desperate quality team that knows you’re coming. Such will be the case Sunday when the 1-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to an 0-1 Arizona Cardinals team that has Super Bowl aspirations.

David is swallowing intermediate receivers and runners coming into his area.

David is swallowing intermediate receivers and runners coming into his area.

Last year Tampa finished with a top ten defense which figures to be one again this year. Leading the way is a linebacking corps where Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander might be the best set of linebackers in the NFL. These two combined for 251 total tackles, 6 sacks, 5 interceptions returning 1 for a touchdown. Alexander is off to a torrid start with a 17 tackle 1 sack performance in a week 1 win over Atlanta. This is going to be his breakout year where he will join David in the Pro Bowl and is an early favorite for Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

This is the breakout year for Kwon Alexander.The Cardinals live and die on the intermediate routes of Larry Fitzgerald, RB David Johnson as Carson Palmer works the crossing routes underneath 15 yards over the middle.  They have to establish the run to suck these athletic linebackers up and clear those areas.

Last week the Cardinals were able to establish the run early but when G Evan Mathis left the game with a foot injury they lost offensive continuity. He will be back this week and has to deal with Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy in Tampa’s defensive line rotation.

johnsonAfter a lackluster postseason Carson Palmer had a good game in the opener against the Patriots. They can’t get off to the slow start they did when they lost to New England. It took the ball out of David Johnson’s hands and half the Cardinal playbook was moot when they fell behind 10 Sunday Night. Inevitably Johnson wound up with 92 yards on 16 carries in the game but they need to get him running right at Tampa’s defense and keep Jameis Winston on the sideline. His bruising style can wear down the Bucs athletic defense and open up passing routes later in the game.

This could be the coming out party for Jameis Winston as he has the chance to pull off a second straight upset and establish the Bucs as a team to be reckoned with if they go 2-0. Last week he outplayed Matt Ryan throwing for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns while completing 71.9% of his throws. He had more TD passes (4) than incompletions (3). As long as he is supplemented by Taylor Blitz Times favorite Doug Martin, he will throw against a balanced defense that will resort to blitzing if they can’t get to him.

The strongest suit for the Cardinals is to lean on their passing game late. If they come out and fast break they allow the Bucs defense to clog the passing lanes and force turnovers and 3 and out series. The Cardinals need to have the “Red Sea” make noise and help make it uncomfortable for Winston.

Who will win this game?

Don’t forget these two teams were picked to be the NFC Wildcards in Taylor Blitz Times NFC preview. Arizona Head Coach Bruce Arians likes to show off his passing attack and will play right into the hands of this Buccaneer defense. The Cardinals won’t stay with the running game long enough to sustain offense early. Winston and his tall receivers will expose the surprising Achille’s Heel of the defense and that is their secondary.

Tampa wins this one in an upset and establish who they are in 2016 with a 34-24 win…

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2016 NFC West Previews & Predictions

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

If you go back to last year’s NFC Divisional Round, the Seattle Seahawks learned the hard way how valuable the homefield advantage was they had enjoyed the previous two seasons. After having traveled 8,931 miles in round trips to Phoenix, Minnesota in the Wildcard, then taking the field in Carolina, they were an exhausted team. Falling behind 31-0 by halftime to the eventual NFC Champion Panthers. Their season came to a close with a 31-24 defeat at the hands of Cam Newton and company.

In an attempt to make it to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, Seattle needs to draw teams up to the Pacific Northwest. Let them fatigue with the travel. Yet a question remains: So who are they?? The team that fell behind big in Carolina or the team that came roaring back outscoring them 24-0 in the 2nd half??

seahawksalt22016 NFC West Predictions

Seattle Seahawks 12-4**

Arizona Cardinals 10-6*

San Francisco 49ers 6-10

LA Rams 4-12

The first question that will arise from the desert will invariably be: “What about the Arizona Cardinals? They won the NFC West last year?”

Which is 100% true. Yet let’s take you back to week 17 of the 2016 campaign and offer the genesis why they aren’t favored.

In week 10 the Cardinals had knocked off the Seahawks in a rousing 39-32 road win to become the media darling of the NFC West. National sports shows and pundits flocked to the desert to interview this team. Some even waxed philosophical about Carson Palmer for league MVP, he was having that good of a season. Yet a date with an old bully loomed in the last week of the season.

There was an outside chance the Cardinals had a shot at homefield advantage, and more important could knock the Seahawks from the playoffs. Just as important to the Cardinals psyche was the chance to sweep their nemesis and prove to themselves the first win was no fluke. They had become the heavy in the NFC West and this would cement that notion to both teams…to everyone.

carsonpalmerWell the Seahawks punched the Cardinals right in the mouth as Palmer deteriorated (12 of 25 for 129 yards 1 TD / 1 int) into his worst performance of the year. He was pulled in the 2nd quarter in the middle of being routed 30-6 by intermission, finally falling 36-6. His spotty play continued against Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs, as the offense struggled for continuity in a 26-20 overtime win.

The only reason they won that game was Larry Fitzgerald early in overtime caught an intermediate route, cleared Clay Matthews, and in normal circumstances runs out of bounds with a 1st down. However Fitzgerald knew he had to take matters into his own hands and turned upfield instead of going out of bounds. He ran like the Cardinal’s playoff life depended on it going 75 yards to the Green Bay 3. Winning the game with a shovel pass 2 plays later.

Then comes the 4 interception and 2 fumble meltdown 49-15 loss to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. Palmer finished with 3 poor games when the stakes were the highest and has to prove he’s not a shot fighter. He hasn’t had a good postseason outing since the 2002 Orange Bowl in college. Only problem is Pete Carroll was his coach then and not the division rival as he is now. Much like a boxer after a vicious knockout loss, the Arizona Cardinals need to win the battle with themselves psychologically. Starting with Palmer. That is why they aren’t favored.

Bruce Arians and the window for the Arizona Cardinals is going to close after this season. Its now or never to make it to the Super Bowl with Palmer (37 yrs of age) and Larry Fitzgerald (33 yrs of age) leading the charge. David Johnson is coming into his own at RB and should rush for 1,300 yards this season.

The Cardinals had the 5th best defense in football and pulled off a coup of a trade picking up OLB Chandler Jones from New England. However his addition is offset by Tyrann Mathieu rehabbing another blown out knee. Can Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher get enough out of top pick DT Robert Nkimdiche and Jones in the rush to keep from his exotic blitz packages?? Mathieu had CB like coverage skills when 100% healthy. This season he could get exposed by those blitzes so they need the front seven to get after opposing QBs.

rams.takingfield.losangeles

The L.A. Rams taking the field for the 1st time in the 21st century.

In Los Angeles we had 90,000 come out to the LA Coliseum to witness the Rams returning to Southern California, and we are in the honeymoon stage. Lets not forget this was the 32nd or dead last offense in the NFL last season, and 1st pick Jared Goff needs a lot of work.  Despite RB Todd Gurley’s 1,106 yd 10 TD debut season, this is a team that had to take a QB#1 overall after tossing an anemic 11 TDs last season. It looks like journeyman Case Keenum will start as the prized rookie (Goff) learns the pro game from the sidelines. The question that arises… Can Coach Jeff Fisher and QB Coach Chris Weinke get Goff ready to be an NFL signal caller?? Maybe they will…but not this season.

The 49ers could be the surprise of the season with Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick leading a new charge under Chip Kelly. Carlos Hyde will have to become the every down back Frank Gore used to be and rush for 1,200 or better. Kaepernick and an improved Gabbert will win 6 games this year as the 49ers build back to respectability.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Which brings us to Seattle. The Seahawks had a dress rehearsal of the upcoming year without Marshawn Lynch in 2015.  Wilson became the focal point of the offense and developed as a total signal caller. In completing 329 of 483 for 4,024 yds 34 TDs to just 8 ints, Wilson graduated from being the resourceful scrambler to a bonafide elite QB add MVP candidate.

With so much attention on Wilson, Rawls (830 yds / 4 TDs) was able to settle into the RB position along with Christine Michael. The defense is still one of the NFL’s best although they lost LB Bruce Irvin to the Raiders. Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman are still patrolling the secondary with LBs Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright eating up the passing lanes underneath. The Seahawks have to get more from Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett up front this year. At times the pass rush wasn’t there last year and exposed the back 7 some.

Seattle is the class of this division and should challenge for homefield advantage.

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2015 NFC Divisional Round Predictions

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

cardinals_vs_packersIts time for the rubber to meet the road here in Glendale Arizona. The Packers just lost 3 weeks ago 38-8 to the Cardinals in this building so what has changed? They went on to lose to the Vikings who took the NFC North from them 20-13 in Lambeau. The saving grace is last week’s wildcard win over Washington.

Last week saw a rebirth of the running game as Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. This helped settle a schizophrenic Rodgers down who started the game being sacked for a safety and throwing off his back foot. He found his rhythm in the 2nd half. Can he repeat that against Arizona?

Carson-PalmerThe Packers come into this game with the NFL’s #6 passing defense. If you look at the stats, Palmer only threw for 265 yards 2 TDs and 1 interception. Pedestrian numbers until you remember Aaron Rodgers was bludgeoned for 8 sacks and 4 turnovers. Palmer, an MVP candidate, can do this without a short field. He threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns comes in this game hot. With Larry Fitzgerald (109 rec/ 1215 yds /9 Tds) John Brown ( 65 rec / 1003 yds /7 Tds) and Michael Floyd (52 rec / 849 yds / 6 Tds) they are averaging 28 points per game at home.

If the Cardinals rushing attack stays productive, the Cardinals should repeat their week 16 performance and wins today 40-17.

The 2015 MVP Candidates Not Named Brady

As the NFL season winds down, talk invariably turns to awarding the top players for peak performance. The national pundits have clamored all year how Tom Brady will be NFL MVP as though it’s been decreed on high. Completely overlooking deserving candidates turning in career seasons.

Carson-PalmerCarson Palmer: Do you realize Palmer is 19-3 as the Cardinals starting QB dating back to the beginning of 2014?? Of course the MVP is for this year’s performance, yet show The Chancellor who has outplayed him. The Cardinals have the NFL’s #1 offense and the #4 passing attack. With today’s performance, Palmer leads the NFL with 29 TDs to just 9 interceptions and 3,693 yards of real estate gobbled up this season.

The Chancellor has always said it isn’t just about the numbers.. it’s about leadership, performance vs expectations, and how would his team fare without him? For Palmer we saw last year when Arizona collapsed after a 9-1 start when he went down. Before he did, he spearheaded a win on the road in Seattle. The signature win of this season came in the 39-32 win in Seattle on Sunday night a few weeks back. They knocked down the NFC West bully when the world was watching. Then followed up with a 34-31 win over a Cincinnati team vying for home field advantage in the AFC.

With the Cardinals fighting tooth and nail with Carolina for home field in the NFC, you can start the MVP conversation with Palmer.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

Antonio Brown: Absolutely the best receiver in football. Unlike Julio Jones, he has had to perform with 3 different quarterbacks and has amassed 85 receptions for 1,192 yards and 5TDs. Keep in mind we’re talking about 5 complete games with Landry Jones and Michael Vick under center. Those stats and there are still 5 games for Brown to play!! He’s on pace to catch 123 receptions for 1,723 yards as the Steelers make a late season playoff push. He’s currently 2nd in receiving yards. Keep your eye on him making big plays down the stretch.

Adrian Peterson: Although he is leading the NFL in rushing, today’s 8 carries for 18 yards in a 38-7 home blowout loss to Seattle hurts his MVP cause. This was a big game against a good defense in a game with wild card playoff implications. These are the games an MVP has to show up in. Just two weeks ago in a battle for 1st place in the NFC North, he disappeared with a 13 carry 45 yard day. The defenses cascaded in and killed a young Teddy Bridgewater without a running threat. These two losses are the difference between leading the NFC North and being embroiled in a fight for a wildcard. Peterson is still leading the league with 1,182 yards rushing.

From?? Boise St!

From?? Boise St!

Doug Martin: With Peterson coming back to the pack, light has been shed on the league’s #2 rusher with 1,133 yards and has protected his young QB. Martin exploded back into a nation’s consciousness when he destroyed the Eagles with a 230 yard performance a few weeks ago. It was the best single game rushing performance since…well Doug Martin‘s 264 yard masterpiece in 2012.

Jameis Winston is growing during this rookie season and one of the players he has to thank is Martin. Doug is only one of two running backs averaging over 5 yards per carry at 5.0. The other isn’t Adrian Peterson by the way. As a team the Buccaneers rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing , just 39 yards behind Seattle. He’s on pace to have a career 1,500 yard season as the 6-6 Bucs make a wild card push. Five of their six wins are against NFC teams and their last 4 are all within conference.

Cam Newton: Now you would think the starting quarterback for a 12-0 football team would be an automatic. In Cam Newton’s rise many pundits have been reluctant to admit his candidacy on the level of other elite QBs, just as they don’t believe in the Carolina Panthers ability to keep winning. When the Panthers lost WR Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, no one thought the Panthers would even equal last 7-8-1 division championship last year. Newton has emerged as a true leader who now has 25 TDs passing to just 9 interceptions for 2,797 yards. By the time you add his 476 yards rushing and 7 more touchdowns this is the MVP of the league.

camThe fact that most of his touchdown passes have come in the 4th quarter can’t be underscored. It was his 4th qtr go ahead TD that slayed Seattle 27-23 on the road. This was a big game and the Seahawks 1st loss with Kam Chancellor back avenging their playoff loss in ’14. Cam killed them from the pocket. Today he out-dueled the NFC South’s preeminent quarterback in Drew Brees in a 41-38 shootout. He was almost knocked out of the game, yet stayed and threw for 5TDs where the lead changed hands 4 times in the 4th quarter alone. It felt like a changing of the guard as Brees couldn’t hold off the young lion.

When Taylor Blitz Times offers our first NFL MVP… we have to include Tom Brady in the mix but our front runner leads the Carolina Panthers.

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Arizona Cardinals – Ode To Professionalism

Over the last several weeks a lot of attention has been heaped on the Dallas Cowboys. Whether the conversation covered power rankings or flat X’s and O’s, they deserved all they received. However a closer look and the team that has more quality wins is the Arizona Cardinals.

Bruce Arians has to be NFL Coach of the Year for his team's performance.

Bruce Arians has to be NFL Coach of the Year for his team’s performance.

In their 6-1 start, they edged the 5-3 Chargers 18-17, pounded out a 23-14 win over the 4-3 49ers, and now a 24-20 victory over the 5-2 Philadelphia Eagles. The only blemish on their schedule was a 41-20 loss to the 6-1 Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning vs. Drew Stanton?? Those were the quarterbacks on the marquee in that defeat in Invesco Field with Carson Palmer nursing an injury.

How are the Cardinals doing this and more importantly can they sustain it? Did you know the Cardinals are ranked 24th in defense, 25th in total offense while being 22nd in gaining first downs?? They don’t have a top ten rusher, receiver, and Bruce Arians has used 3 different starting QBs thanks to injuries.

A closer look reveals Andre Ellington is 11th in rushing with 464 yards and 2 TDs. Yet that doesn’t explain anything. DeMarco Murray has that in his last 3 games alone.

Three keys to this team’s success are:

1. Their esprit de corps in executing Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles’ game plans.

2. Arizona is 2nd in the NFL with a +9 turnover ratio while keeping 6 opponents to 20 points or less.

3. Winning situational football week in and week out which can only be attributed to coaching.

“Situational football” is a phrase used by Bill Belichick in practicing specific moments that can arise in a game. What situation?? Take game 1 against the Chargers when they had a tentative lead with just a minute to go. Instead of lining up in a passive prevent zone and allowing Rivers to calmly lead his team in field goal range. They came after him on 3 successive plays with 0 coverage blitzes. Three incompletions and the Cardinals win.

John Brown is the Cardinal's version of the Steelers Antonio Brown. Diminutive and can flat out fly.

John Brown is the Cardinal’s version of the Steelers Antonio Brown. Diminutive and can flat out fly.

Another situation was this past Sunday with 1:39 to go in the game facing 3rd and 5. Rookie wideout John Brown sticks his foot in the ground 15 yards downfield then bursts pass S Nate Allen for the game winning 75 yard touchdown.

That is just it. The situation where all these cookie cutter coordinators are totally coaching their players what to expect, the Cardinals are going for broke. Carson Palmer pulled the trigger and led Brown perfectly on the game winning touchdown.

Arizona is keeping everyone close with this approach and finding ways to win it in the end.

Can they sustain the rate of committing just 5 turnovers in 7 games?? If they can they’d break the record of the 1990 New York Giants with fewest (13) in a season. Doubtful they can sustain it. Yet they have NFC tie breakers over San Francisco and Philadelphia. With a win this Sunday against Dallas, they will add another tie-breaker. Dallas better not overcoach this week.

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Week 10 AFC West: The Broken Record That Keeps on Playing

Is this the end for Norv??

In the most unpredictable NFL season ever, there have been a few teams who have repeated previous incarnations of themselves. Namely the San Diego Chargers. At some point you learn who you are as a team and as a coaching staff and ever since Norv Turner was called out by Rex Ryan before the Jets game, this team has been in disarray. They already played up and down to the level of their competition, yet at the time stood at 4-1. After blowing a 21-6 halftime lead, they promptly had the Jets take their lunch money and rip the heart out of the team. Oh no?? They haven’t won a game since and as of last night, they dropped their 4th in a row to the revitalized Oakland Raiders falling 24-17. Now this team is in 3rd place with a 4-5 record with 4 conference losses. You can say goodbye to a wildcard and the same to Norv Turner as their Head Coach.

Face it Rex Ryan was right. A good coach in San Diego, with the talent that is in place, should have taken this team to the Super Bowl. They had the #1 offense AND #1 defense a year ago and didn’t make the playoffs. First time that has ever happened. The last two times someone was #1 in offense and defense were the ’87 San Francisco 49ers, who went 13-2 before back to back Super Bowl championships, and the Dallas Cowboys in 1977 who went on to win Super Bowl XII. Norv couldn’t even get them to the playoffs?? This team will play better for another head coach, they just wouldn’t play for him. When his job was on the line they have come up snake eyes each time.

Carson Palmer leads the Raiders to first place with a fine performance v. San Diego

Which brings us to the Oakland Raiders who were down in the dumps, wondering how they were going to right the ship, then they traded for Carson Palmer. Lets see… a former Pac 10 Heisman Trophy winner coming off the bench to resurrect the Oakland Raiders season. Hmmmm now where have we seen this before?? Somewhere Al Davis is smiling. At one point in last night’s game, Carson Palmer hit on 10 of 10 passes for 126 yards 2TDs. He was on pace to become the first quarterback in NFL history to finish with a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 with less than 15 passes. He didn’t make it but finished with 14 of 20  for 299 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception. Oakland now has a quarterback! That pounding sound you’re hearing is Jason Campbell’s sign going into the ground as his house is going up for sale. Rookie Denarius Moore was in sync with Palmer all night. His 5 catches for 123 yards for 2 touchdowns showcased the speed Al Davis always coveted. Once Darren McFadden can come back 100%, look out this team is going to be dangerous. Take a look at the standings

AFC WEST W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Oakland 5 4 0 .556 2-3-0 3-1-0 2-2-0 5-4-0 208 233 -25 Won 1
Kansas City 4 4 0 .500 2-2-0 2-2-0 2-1-0 3-3-0 131 201 -70 Lost 1
San Diego 4 5 0 .444 3-2-0 1-3-0 2-2-0 3-4-0 216 228 -12 Lost 4
Denver 3 5 0 .375 1-3-0 2-2-0 1-2-0 3-3-0 171 224 -53 Won 1

Tebow's harsh critics dog him with every incompletion or misread

Again the situation is tenuous out in Denver. Book ending the come from behind miracle in Miami and the signature win vs. their hated Raider rivals was a forgettable 45-10 loss to the Detroit Lions. With one forgettable game, Tebow doubts krept back into the picture. The Broncos need to realize they have a running quarterback the size of a linebacker. They need to call plays that exploit his ability to turn football back into 11 on 11 on some running plays. He and Willis McGahee bludgeoned Oakland with over 100 yards each and the better he runs, the more defenses are going to remain honest in nickel and especially dime defense situations. Instead of 6th and 7th pass defenders back to cover receivers they have to keep them within 10 yards of the scrimmage line to deter him from running. Right now the Broncos have to come up with a hybrid version of the wildcat where the quarterback is as much a runner as a thrower. That simple. They have to go to the collegiate ranks and nab a quarterback friendly offensive co-ordinator to make this work.

Critics are just going to bash Tebow for backlash from the super favorable treatment he received in college. We legitimately thought of him as a tight end going into the draft. Yet when you see a pass play breakdown, he can bull his way to positive yards instead of throwing a pass that could be intercepted. Sure critics point to Kyle Orton’s superior passing percentage (58.7% -46.4%) yet this is the only showcase to Orton’s upside. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/den/2011.htm Yet when it comes to touchdown to interception ratio Tebow is killing Orton (6TDs /1 INT- 8TDs /7INTS) and Orton has thrown 58 more passes. Orton’s having thrown 6 more interceptions directly relate to Denver’s losing 23-20 to Oakland, the Titans 17-14, and the 29-24 loss to San Diego. Think about it, had they had the ball and possibly have scored 1 more time in each game, this team could be 6-2. The Tebow trade-off for rushing yards (277-17 for Orton) is well worth getting rid of the 6 extra turnovers. The difference is Tebow SHOULD improve passing the football vs this is it for Orton’s upside. Coach Fox, you’re just going to have to live with some offensive breakdowns from time to time, hell the Giants did that with Lawrence Taylor when he’d rush the passer instead of dropping like he should when he was young. This is where you have to close ranks as a team and move on. Yet you’re 2-1 with Tebow v. 1-4 with Orton. Alright make a case for why Orton should be elevated to starter again?? Sorry we can’t hear you….

Can we ask a question: Was Charlie Weiss that important to the Chiefs passing game?? Apparently so. Matt Cassel’s regression from 27TDs to 7 INTs last year has been replaced with a less than modest 61% completion percentage, and 9TDs to 9 INTs is an epic drop. The Chiefs still have the 10th best rushing attack despite losing Jamaal Charles. Completely unacceptable. They drafted a big receiver in Jonathon Baldwin and brought in a Steve Breaston he should be slightly off last year’s pace at worst. With all his arsenal at his behest he threw for a modest 239 yards against the Dolphin’s 27th best defense against the pass last week. At home he should have been more successful than that. Hell, Tom Brady nearly set an NFL record against this bunch back in week 1 with his 517 yard performance. They should be gaining momentum with taking over 1st place in the AFC West instead of falling back to the pack losing to a win-less, hapless Dolphins team.

For the Chiefs to hit their stride their defense has to be better against the run (18th and gave up 90 yards rushing to Reggie Bush) and find a pass rusher to assist Tamba Hali (6 sacks). Which brings up another question..Where is Glenn Dorsey?? No sacks and only 10 unassisted tackles? Pathetic for such a high draft pick. They somehow have to light a fire under his ass and possibly get raw Aaron Bailey (from [[_]]) on the field. Maybe more hussle and less thinking is what the Chiefs need. They clawed their way back into the race, but will they stay there?? The hated Raiders need a running mate.

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