Oakland Raiders: Chiefs Give Big Boost To Team’s AFC West Title Hopes

Dec 6, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) scores a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) scores a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders have done a lot to upgrade a roster poised to make some postseason noise – but division rival Kansas City may have just given them a huge boost in their quest for an AFC West title.

Lsat season, the Oakland Raiders came so very close to capturing that ever-elusive division title. Had quarterback Derek Carr not broken his leg in week sixteen, perhaps the Raiders would have finished the year AFC West champs, the second seed in the conference, secured a first round bye, and a home playoff game.

Had that happened – well – who knows what might have happened. The only thing we can be fairly certain about is that they likely wouldn’t have opened the playoffs on the road against Houston in the Wild Card round.

Before Carr’s injury, the Raiders were in the driver’s seat for their first division title since – and you might want to sit down for this one – Nickelback had the year’s best song, according to Billboard. (obviously, this was a long time ago and well before everybody decided that hating Nickelback was the better option)

As it was, the Raiders made their first postseason appearance since way back then and the 12-4 season, for the most part, can be widely considered a success. But they fell just short of HC Jack Del Rio‘s stated goal – a goal he’s had since day one of his tenure – of winning a division title.

The Raiders loaded up this offseason, bringing in some big time talent on both sides of the ball, primed at making a run at an AFC West crown. But, strangely enough, it’s the team widely considered their biggest competition for that crown that may have just handed the Raiders a big boost in obtaining it.

News came down today that the Kansas City Chiefs have released veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin – one of HC Andy Reid‘s favorites since their days together in Philadelphia.

While the release of Maclin may not seem like a big deal on the surface to most, the fact of the matter is that it most definitely is. By releasing Maclin, the Chiefs have weakened a receiving group that wasn’t exactly brimming with talent to begin with.

Oakland Raiders
Jan 3, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) runs in for a touchdown after a catch against Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) and strong safety T.J. Carrie (38) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

It also diminishes the talent level of their pass catching group in general. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill can’t do everything on their own. And Maclin provided another big time threat who had the potential to change the complexion of a game.

In his two seasons with the Chiefs, Maclin caught 131 balls for 1,624 yards, and 10 touchdowns. True, his production fell off a bit in 2016 (44 receptions, 536 yards, 2 touchdowns) as both Kelce and Hill took on larger roles in the offense, but Maclin has always been a home run threat.

With Maclin gone, Kelce and Hill are going to have even more pressure to perform. After all, who is there behind them to keep defenses honest? Chris Conley? De’Anthony Thomas? Albert Wilson?

It was a surprising release, to say the least. But given the reports out there, it seems more like a money saving move than anything. But it’s also stripping Alex Smith of a security blanket – and we know Smith loves his security blankets.

Next: Raiders Must Utilize Overlooked Playmakers

Without the home run threat posed by Maclin, teams like the Raiders will be able to zero more of their attention in on Kelce and Hill. Shut them down and who else does Smith have and trust? Judging by the stats – nobody, really.

In 2016, Smith attempted 489 passes. Of those 489 attempts, Kelce, Hill, and Maclin were targeted 276 times – or nearly 57 percent of Smith’s passing attempts. Kelce got the lion’s share with 117, Hill another 83, and Maclin had 76 passes thrown his way.

Obviously, those 76 targets will be distributed to other receivers on the roster, but aside from Kelce and Hill, the Chiefs don’t have another legitimate home run threat like Maclin.

So, instead of having a three-headed beast on the offensive side of the ball, the Chiefs have downgraded and have made themselves a little more reliant on the Kelce/Hill combo, thus making them a little more predictable and easier to defend.

The Raiders will still have to put in the work and actually prove that they can shut down Kelce and Hill. But in releasing Maclin, the Chiefs have made it a little bit easier for Oakland’s defense to focus in on doing just that. And if the Raiders can do that, can shut down that explosive duo, they can shut the Chiefs’ offense down entirely.

And if they can shut down Kansas City’s offense entirely – well – only good things can come from that.

The Raiders have done a lot of good things over the last few years and have upgraded their talent considerably. They were in a real good position to fight for an AFC West crown this year – and Kansas City may have just given them a solid boost in achieving that goal.