The Oakland Raiders couldn’t have asked for a better bye week. Not only did it come in a much-needed moment, when the team dealt with performance and injury issues, but it also ended with the Silver & Black improving their situation in the AFC West by half a game. That’s because all of the other 3 teams in the division lost on Sunday: the Broncos fell to the Patriots, the Chiefs were beat by the Ravens and the Chargers could not overcome the Saints. The 1-3 Raiders are now ranked 3rd on the division, trying to get closer to the 3-2 Chargers who currently lead the pack. After facing opponents that combine for a 9-10 record, Oakland is looking to come out of the bye week ready for a new beginning in the season, so here’s what’s still in store for the Raiders in 2012.
Rebound October: @ Falcons (5-0), vs Jaguars (1-4), @ Chiefs (1-4)
The Raiders might have their most difficult game of the season next Sunday. The Falcons are rolling and they could be considered the best franchise in the NFL right now. Matt Ryan is already knocking on the “Elite’s Room” door and will have his place in it if he keeps playing like he is right now. Ryan also has 3 excellent targets to look for in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Michael Turner looks like he’s starting to run out of gas but he can still get the job done in the goal line. Their defense looks young and fast and the 14 takeaways are good for 2nd in the league. On top of that, it’s a road game at 10 A.M. (PDT), which always cause trouble for west coast teams. After that, the Raiders will have to deal with less imposing challenges, as they face two teams who are currently combined for 8 losses and only 2 wins, but by no means should be taken lightly. The Jaguars‘ game is an absolute must-win, since it’s a home game against a franchise in complete rebuilding mode. Against the Chiefs, the Raiders look for their first victory inside the AFC West in which they are currently ranked as 0-2, so there’s no room for error. Kansas City and Oakland have produced exciting games between each other for the past few years, and the Raiders are used to coming out of them on top. This must continue, in thrilling fashion or not.
Tough November: vs Buccaneers (1-3), @ Ravens (4-1), vs Saints (1-4), @ Bengals (3-2)
If the Raiders are able to leave October with at least 2 wins, they will be very much alive in the AFC West race. If not, they will have to be at their absolute best for every game in November to reach December with good chances of making to the playoffs. That’s because the second to last month of the year brings two dangerous opponents to the Black Hole and also 2 road games against the always tough AFC North. The Buccs and the Saints are better than their record would lead us to believe, specially the Saints. The Buccaneers are conceivably the more winnable game of the month but they could easily have a better record since their 3 losses were close ones: a 7-point one to the Giants, a 6-point one to the Cowboys, these on the road, and a 2-point one to the Redskins, at home. The Saints were off to a very slow start to their season, but their victory against the Chargers on Monday Night proved that they still have the talent to win games, specially through the passes of future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees. The Ravens game looks nearly as big of a challenge as the contest versus Falcons, not only because their ever-strong defense, but also due to their solid offense led by Ray Rice. The new-look Bengals are young and talented, but still inconsistent. At home and at 10 A.M. (PDT), the Raiders should be going to Cincinnati as underdogs. A 2-2 record out of November would mean success for Oakland, as this month will define if the 2012 Raiders are for real or not.
Undefeated December?: vs Browns (0-5), vs Broncos (2-3), vs Chiefs (1-4), @ Panthers (1-4), @ Chargers (3-2)
Can the Raiders go undefeated throughout five games of December football? Well, it’s certainly a bold prediction if you look at what they showcased so far in the season. A lethargic running game and a flawed defense surely won’t do it, but the Silver&Black have underachieved and an improvement is possible and expected by the Raider Nation. It might not be enough, but it’s worth the hope. If we look at those December matchups individually, they are all winnable games, so that’s why an undefeated prediction might not be farfetched. But do the Raiders have the consistency, mentality and poise required to make that kind of a run in the NFL? That’s what’s hard to say. The Browns might be the worst team in the NFL right now and, at home, that’s a beyond must-win. That will lead to 2 crucial divisional games, one of them against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, the other versus Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs, but both of them are in the Black Hole. Then, the Raiders will play the not-so-hot-anymore Panthers, who are still trying to get back to their 2011 form where Cam Newton made an immediate impact not only in the NFL, but also to the team. Newton has struggled a bit in his second year, so the jury is still out on the former #1 overall pick. It’s worth mentioning that it will be another 10 A.M. (PDT) contest and the Raiders must be able to overcome that if they want to seriously compete for a spot in the playoffs. The season finale is once again against the Chargers, this time in San Diego, in what could be a kill or be killed game for the second year in a row.
To put themselves in that situation, though, the Raiders, from now on, will need to play a whole lot better than they have in the season so far. “Consistency” is still the word, as the Silver&Black must not only show signs of improvement, but also use them in winning efforts often. The remaining schedule reveals that there’s still hope, but there’s also little room for mistakes.
The first step is next Sunday, as the Raiders will face the Falcons in Atlanta at 10 A.M. (PDT).