just winning

Focus on Chiefs: Just win, baby? Sounds like Kansas City’s new motto

Raiders will have their hands full Sunday with Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City Chiefs, who are riding a 10-game winning streak

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It may not be the Kansas City Chiefs’ slogan, but it might as well be. It’s all they really do.

It doesn’t matter if Patrick Mahomes outplays Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson while throwing for 385 yards and four touchdowns, or if he can’t help the Chiefs offense break the 200-yard mark until the fourth quarter.

It doesn’t matter if the Chiefs wait until the fourth quarter to score their first touchdown, or if they score TDs on four straight possessions in the first half.

It also doesn’t matter who they play, Titans, Texans, 49ers or Ravens. Nothing changes the bottom line for coach Andy Reid’s team. They. Just. Win.

The Chiefs haven’t lost a game in the last 10 months. The Raiders, who have proprietary rights to Al Davis’ old motto, have lost two games in the last 10 days. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) and head coach Andy Reid talk on the bench during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

No one’s beaten Kansas City since Week 11 of last season when Tennessee escaped with a 3-point win because of a touchdown with 23 seconds left. The Chiefs will try to extend their NFL-best 10-game winning streak — 13 if you count the postseason — when the Raiders visit Arrowhead Sunday morning.

Still, Mahomes realizes the 4-0 Chiefs are far from perfect, even after a workmanlike 16-point win over the Patriots Monday.

“Obviously, I didn’t do enough because we didn’t execute to a high enough level,” Mahomes said. “Whenever you’re trying to go throughout a season and win as many football games as possible to set you up for the playoffs, you’re going to have to win games like this.”

Fortunately for them, winning is what they do best.

The Chiefs set an NFL record by beating New England as they became the first team in history to start 4-0 for four straight seasons. Kansas City also became the first team in NFL history to win on a Monday on consecutive weeks, thanks to the game being pushed back a day due to a New England player testing positive for COVID.

Want more winning history? Under Reid, the Chiefs have had a winning streak of at least four games in each one of the former San Francisco State assistant coach’s eight years leading Kansas City.

Here’s a closer look at what to look for Sunday when the Raiders play in front of actual fans for the first time when they play at Arrowhead Stadium:

GAME ESSENTIALS: Raiders (2-2) vs. Chiefs (4-0) at Arrowhead Stadium, Sunday at 10 a.m. (PT) on CBS-TV. ODDS: Chiefs -13.


Maybe Chiefs take them lightly?

We know, this is the NFL and there are no gimmes. These guys are professionals whose job it is to bring it each week. But considering the Raiders game is in the middle of a brutal 11-day stretch when the Chiefs play three games, and the Patriots and Bills are their other two opponents, wouldn’t it be human nature for Kansas City to assume things will be easier this week? Doing so could open the door for the Raiders. It may be a rivalry game, but the Chiefs have won 10 of their last 11 against the Raiders, and are double-digit favorites for the fourth time in their last five games against the Raiders. Hey, you asked for an optimistic view.

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Chiefs’ most dangerous defender hurting

Derek Carr may welcome the news that Pro Bowl defensive lineman Chris Jones’ s status for the game is undecided. Jones, who leads the Chiefs with 3.5 sacks, sat out Sunday’s win over New England with a groin injury. Jones has 28 sacks in the last 2 1/4 seasons, including 15.5 in 2018. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Jones also has two forced fumbles. By comparison, the Raiders entire defense has four sacks and no forced fumbles through four games.

Trouble containing Jacobs

Josh Jacobs was the Raiders’ most impressive offensive player against the Chiefs last year when the rookie averaged more than 101 rushing yards per game. As a rookie, Jacobs was able to slash his way through Kansas City’s defense. He gained 99 yards in the first game on 12 carries (8.25 yards per carry), and then he backed that up with 104 yards rushing on 17 carries (6.12). Still, Jacobs’ chances of gashing K.C.’s defense would improve dramatically if right tackle Trent Brown (calf) could return this week. Jacobs is coming off a 48-yard effort in the loss to Buffalo, his third-lowest yardage total in his brief career.

THREE REASONS FOR RAIDERS’ PESSIMISM: Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) is tackled during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

They can’t stop Travis Kelce

Talk about matchup nightmares, the Raiders haven’t found a solution for Chiefs All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce the last few years. That doesn’t make them much different than other clubs, but Kelce has taken a lot of delight in ruining the Raiders’ secondary, particularly the last two years when he’s had 29 catches for 427 yards and three touchdowns. He has more than 100 receiving yards in four of his last seven games against the Raiders. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Kelce has somehow been able to get lost in coverage often against the Raiders.

They can’t stop Tyreek Hill

Facing speedy Chiefs All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill twice a year was somewhat of a factor of the Raiders selecting speedster Henry Ruggs III in the first round. The Raiders badly wanted their version of Hill, whose speed has frightened NFL defenses since he entered the league five years ago. Hill is currently on one of his biggest hot streaks as he’s scored a touchdown in all four games this season. He’s the first Chiefs player to catch a TD pass in each of the team’s first four games since 1972. Oh, the Raiders also have to worry about Hill’s speedy sidekicks at receiver, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins. Then again, why worry about what you can’t control? “Nobody in the NFL can guard any of us,” Hill said.

Tyreek Hill has his 4th straight game with a Rec TD, tied for the 2nd-longest streak since the Chiefs joined the NFL.

Dwayne Bowe had a 7-game streak in 2010.

Chiefs’ improved defense

Kansas City’s resurgent defense did something in its win Sunday no other team has done since 2012 — force the Patriots into four turnovers in a game. OK, it probably makes a difference when their quarterback is Brian Hoyer and not Tom Brady (or Cam Newton). The playmakers made plays when the Chiefs needed it most against New England. Safety Tyrann Mathieu had a pick-six (his 15th interception since 2015) and defensive linemen Frank Clark (sack at end of the half) and Taco Charlton (strip/sack/fumble recovery) each single-handedly made plays inside their own 15-yard line to render back-to-back Patriots’ drives scoreless. Kansas City’s fifth-ranked pass defense will get a huge boost with the return of starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who was suspended the first four games for marijuana possession in the off-season. Breeland was a big factor in last year’s pass defense playing so well — he had 48 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed.


Here’s another reminder Mahomes is something else: The Chiefs quarterback completed 66 percent of his passes while throwing for 236 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over New England and the immediate response was, “What’s wrong with Mahomes?” But that’s what happens when you’ve become the NFL’s most dynamic player. It only seems as thought the reigning Super Bowl MVP and former NFL MVP plays near-flawless ball each week — as he did last week when he went 31-of-42 for 385 passing yards and four touchdowns to beat the Ravens and Lamar Jackson. This week he’ll more than likely tie ex-49er Elvis Grbac for the Chiefs’ all-time record with TD passes in 15 consecutive games. The question is whether the Raiders can prevent him from inflicting much more damage? History surely isn’t on the Raiders’ side.

Raiders will have their hands full Sunday with Kansas City, which is riding a 10-game winning streak and has beaten them 10 of the last 11 times.

Institute of Modern Russia

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In Russia, Elections Are About More Than Just Winning

Despite fraud and significant administrative barriers to participation for most candidates, elections continue to be a crucial battleground in Russia between the regime and the opposition. Anti-Kremlin forces have achieved some successes in unseating United Russia candidates, but in the long term, elections may undermine authoritarianism by engaging voters, not by ousting regime incumbents.

September 13, 2020 marked Russia’s annual Single Voting Day. Although most elections held across the country at various levels were won by pro-Kremlin United Russia, in Tomsk and Novosibirsk, the ruling party lost its majority to opposition. Photo: AP.

Notwithstanding other markers of authoritarianism—subjugated courts, state propaganda, prohibitions on freedom of speech and assembly—elections continue to be held up by the Kremlin as an important democratic institution because they bestow legitimacy.

This past summer, Russian authorities conducted a largely pointless vote on amendments to the Constitution, which zeroed out existing presidential term limits. The vote was pointless for three reasons: 1) the Constitution does not require that these types of amendments be subjected to a popular vote; 2) the amendments had already been adopted by the Duma and a majority of regional parliaments before the vote took place, which was sufficient for them to take legal force; and 3) the amendments were approved via the novel mechanism of “nationwide voting” instead of a legally familiar, and binding, referendum. Nevertheless, a popular vote in support of the constitutional amendments provided the sought-after veneer of legitimacy.

Given their importance to the regime, elections are also a principal focus for opposition forces, and different opposition camps have devised a variety of electoral strategies. One strategy that has received a lot of attention recently is Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting initiative: an online platform that recommends candidates to opposition-minded voters in regional and municipal elections. Although novel in Russia, Smart Voting resembles the practice of strategic voting—coordinating around a second-best candidate so that the least-preferred candidate does not win—that is common in many democracies.

Results of Smart Voting at the 2019 municipal elections in St.Petersburg: in the Central District, United Russia deputies gained only 20 seats out of 90; 45 seats out of the remaining 70 were taken through Smart Voting. Photo:

The problem in Russia is that the field of candidates is so tightly controlled by the regime that no genuine democratic candidates can get on the ballot. Consequently, as Navalny was forced to admit in his recent interview with popular YouTuber Yuri Dud, Smart Voting routinely backs candidates who are highly objectionable to most opposition-minded voters. However, the aim of Smart Voting isn’t to elect oppositionists, it is to break up United Russia’s monopoly in parliaments and representative bodies around the country. Once United Russia loses its majorities, Navalny’s logic goes, political life and competition will return, even if the only remaining forces are political parties hitherto loyal to the Kremlin.

It is difficult to say with certainty, but Smart Voting seems to work. That is, based on evidence from last year’s municipal election in St. Petersburg, it had a negative impact on United Russia’s electoral performance. But it remains to be seen whether Smart Voting works in the broader way the Navalny and his allies hope for: fomenting political competition by reducing the influence of United Russia.

Experience has shown that simply defeating United Russia politicians is ineffective at achieving political change. In 2018, voters—largely without the influence of coordinated opposition campaigns—ousted United Russia governors in four regions in a wave of protest voting that was linked to the Kremlin’s unpopular pension reform. Yet when one of those governors, Sergei Furgal, was arrested and removed from power this summer, his Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR)—one of the three “systemic” opposition parties in Russia—failed to come to his aid. After making a few comments in support of Furgal initially, the LDPR’s leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, did not bring up the governor’s case with the Kremlin. This is despite the fact that massive protests in support of Furgal have been staged every Saturday in his region, Khabarovsk Krai, since his arrest in July.

So-called “systemic” opposition parties—which are allowed to compete in elections—depend on the Kremlin’s goodwill to maintain their positions within existing power structures and rarely act contrary to the Kremlin’s wishes. They take only as much political power as the Kremlin is willing to share. For example, in a recent video conference with Putin, the heads of the three “systemic” parties agreed to three-day voting for next year’s parliamentary election (something they had all previously strongly opposed) and failed to raise any critical questions with the president. Given their pliant behavior, their elevation at the expense of United Russia does not seem like a promising path to political reform.

A major problem for Navalny is that he, and any organized political force that he heads, are routinely disqualified from participating in elections. Smart Voting gets around this problem by recommending whichever candidates the system does allow, so long as they are not from United Russia. In regions where independent candidates manage to register, Navalny throws the support of Smart Voting behind them. This was the case this September in Novosibirsk, where Navalny’s team backed local activist Sergei Boyko and his team for election to the city council. Not only did United Russia lose its majority on that council, ten genuine oppositionists were elected. In Tomsk too, Navalny backed a couple of oppositionists who won their local election.

Unlike Navalny, other opposition forces focus exclusively on promoting specific pro-democracy candidates and not simply on diminishing the strength of United Russia. Maksim Katz and various partners—including the liberal Yabloko party—have worked on schemes to register and promote democratic candidates for the last five years.

Maxim Katz during the 2017 Moscow City Duma campaign. Photo: Karina Gradusova (via Wikimedia Commons).

Katz, a political strategist and one-time municipal deputy in Moscow, is the author of several campaigns geared toward funneling opposition-minded people into organized politics. In 2017, he and former Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov headed United Democrats, a project aimed at helping people opposed to the current regime get elected to Moscow’s municipal government. Though in previous electoral campaigns Katz had recruited local activists to run in elections against United Russia, in 2017 he purposefully looked for people willing to think more broadly and work to “change the country” and not just their neighborhood. United Democrats, which helped its candidates register and campaign, was very effective: opposition candidates managed to take one quarter of all the seats on Moscow’s 125 municipal councils. Working with Yabloko in 2019, Katz was able to help 99 deputies be elected to St. Petersburg’s municipal councils.

Having genuine, rather than “systemic” oppositionists occupy elected office is extremely important. Last summer’s massive protests in Moscow revolved around the authorities’ refusal to register 12 independent candidates for the City Duma election. Some of those candidates were sitting oppositional municipal deputies elected as part of Katz’s initiatives in 2012 or 2017. During their time in office, these deputies had gained the support of their constituents in part by demonstrating what responsive government looks like. Their popularity—which allowed them to collect over five thousand signatures from Moscow residents in support of their candidacy to the City Duma—forced authorities to use blatant manipulation tactics to try to exclude them from the election. These tactics included claiming that the signatures were fake, even the signature of one of the authors of the Constitution, and alleging that some belonged to people who did not exist, which prompted the latter to record videos of themselves confirming their existence and support for independent candidates.

These tactics were comical and drew thousands of people to the streets for months of protests. In the end, only a handful of opposition candidates, backed by Yabloko, were elected to the City Duma. Yet over the course of the last year, these new deputies have advocated for public transit, weighed in on the city’s budget, and opposed the adoption of the constitutional reforms. In other words, they have represented the interests of their constituents and made the City Duma less compliant.

Opposition forces have devised a number of electoral strategies meant to address the barriers inherent to Russia’s authoritarian system, which include coordinating voters around second-best candidates, recruiting independent candidates, and creating procedures for registering candidates that can stand up to disqualification attempts. However, the defeat of regime-backed candidates in elections is ultimately of secondary importance. Independent politicians, rather than members of the “systemic” opposition, can enliven political competition and change the way voters view politics. And in the long run, building democratic expectations among voters will transform Russian politics.

The Institute of Modern Russia is committed to strengthening respect for human rights, the rule of law, and civil society. ]]>