It won’t be easy, but there is a possible path that will lead the Oakland Raiders to the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Coming off of a 12-4 season that led to their first playoff berth since 2002, expectations were quite high for the 2017 Oakland Raiders. With a few new pieces added to the mix via free agency, another Reggie McKenzie draft class and the continued development of the existing cornerstone players, the Silver and Black — and their fans — had their eyes set on a February trip to Minneapolis.
Oakland got off to a 2-0 start that included a 45-20 dismantling of the New York Jets, and it seemed like the road to the Super Bowl was officially underway. But the Raiders crashed and burned right after the big win, losing four straight games to fall to 2-4 on the season. This rough patch including getting dominated in primetime by Washington and two one-possession losses to the Broncos and Chargers.
Derek Carr broke his back but fortunately only missed one game, Gareon Conley played two games before not being seen again, the offensive line was underwhelming, Khalil Mack’s production dipped, the offense completely disappeared, the defense was not forcing turnovers, and basically anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
A few weeks later, the Raiders stumbled their way to a 4-5 record at the bye week. They looked like the 2016 version of themselves in a huge win against the Chiefs but then got embarrassed on the road in Buffalo and then squeaked by a bad Dolphins team after that. So it’s anyone’s guess which version of this team will show up in any given week.
Fresh off of some time to rest, recover and prepare for the Patriots in Mexico City, the Raiders now face a pivotal point in their season. They made up some ground in their week off thanks to losses to the Bills, Dolphins and Ravens, but plenty of work lies ahead if they hope to earn a second consecutive playoff berth. It won’t be easy, but there is a path that puts Oakland in the postseason.
Obviously, the Raiders have to handle their own business or none of this matters. But let’s start with Buffalo and Baltimore, the two main teams that stand in the way of an Oakland playoff appearance.
The Bills are 5-4 and own a tiebreaker over the Raiders, so if it comes down to these two teams for the final spot, Oakland has to have a better record to get the nod. The Bills have road games against the Chargers and Chiefs, home vs. New England, at home against the Colts and Dolphins, and are on the road against the Patriots and the Dolphins. Let’s say they beat the Chargers, Colts and they split against the Dolphins…they lose to the Chiefs, Patriots twice and then one of the Dolphins games — that’s a 3-4 record that would lead to an 8-8 finish. With Nathan Peterman as the newly-minted starting quarterback, that seems like a reasonable guesstimate.
Now, let’s talk about the Ravens. At 4-5, they currently have the same record as the Raiders but they too own the tiebreaker. They hit the road to play the Packers, are at home vs. Houston and Detroit, at Steelers and Browns, then home against the Colts and Bengals. Let’s give Baltimore wins against the Texans, Browns and Colts for sure. Then the Packers and Bengals games could be a coin flip, so let’s say they split those one way or another. And then losses against the Lions, Steelers and one of the Packers/Bengals — that’s a 4-3 finish that would lead to an 8-8 record.
Lastly, let’s talk about the Raiders.
If both Baltimore and Buffalo finish 8-8, the Raiders will have to finish 9-7 to get in over either team. Assuming no one behind Oakland in the standings gets hot, they would have to go 5-2 the rest of the way to get in. But that will be much easier said than done looking at the remaining schedule:
“Home” vs. Patriots in Mexico City, at home against the Broncos and Giants, on the road against the Chiefs, home against the Cowboys, on the road against the Eagles and Chargers.
The three teams Oakland is most likely to beat are the Giants, Broncos and Chargers. The problem is the Raiders have already lost once each to the Broncos and Chargers, so neither can be overlooked. But even if the Raiders beat all three, they still have to come up with two more wins against any four of the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys or Eagles.
Dallas stands out as the next easiest opponent on the schedule, seeing as it seems they’ll be without Ezekiel Elliott in the matchup. So for a hypothetical, we’ll say the Raiders do beat Denver, the Chargers, New York and they steal one against Dallas, they still have to get one more win against either the Chiefs, Pats or Eagles.
The Raiders already beat the Chiefs once, so maybe that could happen again. But being in Arrowhead is going to make that an even tougher task than it already would have been. Maybe with an extra week to prepare for the playoffs, this team will be ready to play and execute, and they’ll shock New England. But Jack Del Rio getting the best of Bill Belichick is a Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson kind of proposition. Perhaps the best hope is the Christmas Day game against the Eagles, who could already have their playoff seed locked up and may rest some players if so.
However you want to slice it, or whichever way you want to feel optimistic about this happening is up to you, but no matter what, a daunting task lies ahead. So it won’t be easy, but the path is there — the Raiders just have to worry about their own business and hope the rest takes care of itself.
Based on what we’ve seen through in nine games, this team is far too unpredictable on a weekly basis to offer up a sound prediction. But a 4-3 record down the final seven games is probably as optimistic as I can get with the remaining schedule, which would be an 8-8 finish for the Silver and Black — a disaster when considering the expectations.
But Derek Carr has channeled some magic in the past — magic we have rarely seen in 2017. It’s a team sport, but we’ve learned that the Raiders go as Derek Carr goes, so it’ll ultimately be up to how he performs down the stretch to determine whether or not Oakland will be playing meaningful football in January.