Deep into a lost season, there would seem little left to gain for the Kansas City Chiefs and troubled running back Larry Johnson. It would seem that way because it’s true.
But a chance to beat the rival Oakland Raiders always is meaningful to the Chiefs, even if it’s a minor accomplishment.
The Raiders are 3-point home favorites over the Chiefs today, and handicapper Chuck Sippl of The Gold Sheet is siding with the underdog and looking over the total of 41. Sippl said his best bet is over the total.
Kansas City quarterback Tyler Thigpen, the butt of jokes early in the season, is showing some potential, and Johnson still is one of the NFL’s top runners when he’s in uniform.
Oakland is coming off a rare win — on the road, too — and has rookie running back Darren McFadden back from injury to help struggling second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
The teams combined for 62 points last week, but with vastly different results. The Raiders (3-8) upset Denver 31-10, while the Chiefs (1-10) were blasted 54-31 by Buffalo.
“Kansas City’s offense is greatly improved with Thigpen playing better and Johnson back in there,” Sippl said. “The Raiders had a nice offensive explosion last week, and it gave them confidence.
“The Chiefs are beat up on defense, and their defense is resembling a sieve. The way points are being scored in the NFL right now, the total is fairly low.”
The Chiefs, ambushed by the Raiders 23-8 in the season’s first meeting, have won five straight at Oakland.
McFadden ran for a career-high 164 yards at Kansas City in September. The Raiders rushed for 158 in their surprising victory at AFC West-leading Denver. Justin Fargas had 107 yards and McFadden added 38 and two touchdowns.
But Sippl said he favors the Chiefs getting points partly because Thigpen has two big-time targets in tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who has three touchdowns in his past two games. Johnson, with 565 yards rushing and three touchdowns in only seven games, also should be a bigger factor.
Sippl (goldsheet.com) analyzes The Gold Sheet’s plays for the rest of today’s Week 13 schedule:
• Denver at New York Jets (-71/2): I prefer the Jets because they’re hot, and they can take advantage of all the Broncos’ problems on defense. But this is one of those games where I don’t like the number. Jets quarterback Brett Favre has really blended in with the team, especially with rookie tight end Dustin Keller. The Broncos can’t run the ball to keep defenses honest. One turnover could tell the tale. The Jets have covered four in a row.
• San Francisco at Buffalo (-7): With the cross-country trip for the 49ers, we’ve got to take the Bills. The six West Coast teams are 1-16 straight up and 6-10-1 against the spread when going to the East Coast. Buffalo is fighting to be in the playoff race. This is a big game for quarterback Trent Edwards, who played at Stanford, and running back Marshawn Lynch, who’s from California. The 49ers have gone over the total in all four games with Mike Singletary as coach.
• New Orleans at Tampa Bay (-4): It’s payback time for the Buccaneers, who lost 24-20 at New Orleans in September, and it’s a huge game in the NFC South. Tampa Bay has got a much stronger defense and it knows how to play the Saints. New Orleans’ defense really overachieved in last week’s blowout over Green Bay. The Saints have not been able to put a string of wins together. We’re going to roll with the Bucs at less than a touchdown.
• Carolina at Green Bay (-3): This game is a tough call. The Panthers are coming off a bad loss at Atlanta. But they can run the ball and the Packers aren’t tough in their interior defense. Carolina has been one of the league’s top road underdogs, going 21-10-2 in the past 33. The 3-point line is enough to get us on the Panthers.
• New York Giants (-31/2) at Washington: It’s a revenge game and an important one for the Redskins, but the Giants are playing too well. They are covering so many games, and they are a machine on the road, 12-1 against the spread in their past 13. Plaxico Burress is out, but New York has good receiver depth. Brandon Jacobs (sprained knee) probably will play, but the Giants also have depth at running back.
Redskins running back Clinton Portis is taking a beating making all those carries. One of the determining factors is that Washington’s defense does not get a lot of sacks. The Redskins cover well and stop the run OK. But when Eli Manning has time to throw, he has made play after play when the Giants needed it. We’re laying the points with the Giants.
• Miami (-71/2) at St. Louis: It’s an easy pick because this is a go-with vs. a go-against situation. The spread is not an easy situation, but the Rams have been getting blasted in the first half, being outscored 123-13 before halftime in their past four. The Rams’ Marc Bulger will see Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter (141/2 sacks) in his face. The extra points given to the weakest home underdogs by oddsmakers have not been worth it this season.
• Baltimore (-7) at Cincinnati: Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has improved, but the running game is inconsistent. Cincinnati also is missing three starters on defense. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has done a terrific job with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and an offense that was really hindered last year. We’re going with the Ravens, who are a lot tougher on defense.
• Indianapolis (-5) at Cleveland: The Browns are without quarterback Brady Quinn (broken finger) and now drop to Derek Anderson, who has only 49 percent completions. That’s unacceptable in the NFL. The Colts are on a roll and they want to climb the wild-card ladder. We’re not enthusiastic about the future of Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel, and that could have a negative affect on the team. Peyton Manning is avoiding interceptions and running back Joseph Addai is contributing. Anderson against Manning is a big edge for Indianapolis, even as a road favorite.
• Atlanta at San Diego (-5): We’ll take the Falcons and the points. The Chargers are underachieving and finding ways to lose close games, so the points might be valuable. Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan has won enough on the road, and Michael Turner (1,088 yards rushing) is playing against his former team. San Diego’s defense is not putting on much pressure.
• Pittsburgh at New England (-1): Anticipating running back Willie Parker will return, we’ll go with the Steelers. Parker’s presence gives Pittsburgh the rushing edge in a tough game, and that’s important. Give credit to Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel for what he’s done, but he’s done it against weaker defenses. The Pittsburgh defense ranks No. 1 in the league. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has a good corps of receivers, and New England’s defense is vulnerable in the secondary.
• Chicago at Minnesota (-3): The winner will gain the sole NFC North lead, and we’re taking the underdog. The Bears are playing much better and have the equalizer in rookie running back Matt Forte. The Vikings’ Adrian Peterson has had some big rushing games against the Bears, but we give Chicago the coaching edge and we’ll take the points.
Compiled by Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Matt Youmans.