KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bunting and banners will reign tonight at Arrowhead Stadium, along with 77,872 fans. It's a Monday night affair between two longtime antagonists, the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, the kind of date NFL and ABC officials lust over.
The Raiders and Chiefs will be forgiven for ignoring everything but the obvious. It's a vital AFC West showdown, one that could go a long way in determining the title and playoff hopes of the two squads.
We say "could" only because the Raiders lost to the Chiefs twice last season and still won the West by a game. The difference came down to the Raiders' success elsewhere in the West, sweeping Seattle, San Diego and Denver. The Chiefs went 3-3 against the same trio.
"You must win your division games if you expect to be standing tall at the end," Raiders coach Art Shell said. "Each game is worth two."
The Raiders and Chiefs are both 5-3 and trailing 6-2 Denver, a 9-6 winner over New England yesterday. The loser tonight is going to be 1 1/2 games behind the Broncos with just one game left.
"Most of my staff has been through this before," Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "There was never any time to relax when we were in Cleveland. There was Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Houston, and every game was important. The situation is similar here."
"It's a crazy, fun division to be in," said Raiders quarterback Jay Schroeder. "I thought coming in that anyone in the division could be on top. The division matches up very well, and because of that every division game means more. We have to be prepared."
Preparing for the Chiefs means preparing for Christian Okoye, the former Azusa Pacific find who is having a renaissance season after a sour 1990. Six feet 1 and 260 pounds, Okoye has rushed for 699 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
In addition, rookie Harvey Williams has gained 224 yards in the last three games.
"When you've got a guy like Okoye slamming the ball in there as hard as he does, it creates a lot of problems," Shell said. "After he hammers you for a while, they bring in Williams, who causes problems with his quickness and speed. It's a double-edged sword."
Kansas City's defense remains its headliner. It leads the AFC in defense (293 yards per game), is third against the pass (188), and tops the entire NFL in turnover ratio (plus-11). Injuries in the secondary haven't kept the Chiefs from holding every opponent this season to two touchdowns or fewer.