The Raiders find themselves right in the middle of a divisional and wild card race despite only five wins.
The Oakland Raiders control their own destiny thanks to the ineptitude of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills deciding to start “walking turnover” Nathan Peterman in Week 11. The two paths at hand, win the AFC-West or claim a Wild Card spot, are both very achievable.
The Wild Card
The Raiders find themselves a game back of the 6-5 Bills and a game back of the Baltimore Ravens as they defeated the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football, pushing their record to 6-5.
Unfortunately, both the Bills and Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Raiders. With the other Wild Card slot being locked down by the second place team in AFC South (Jaguars and Titans are both 7-4), the Raiders must finish with at least one more win than the Bills and the Ravens. The Ravens’ schedule gets fairly weak down the stretch with a home game against the Lions and a trip to Pittsburgh being the only truly difficult contests.
The Bills’ remaining schedule is tougher. The Bills get to enjoy the pleasure of playing Tom Brady not once but twice in the final five games. They also take on the Dolphins twice and expect the ‘Phins to steal one of those two.
Theoretically, the Cincinnati Bengals are still in the hunt at 5-6 but their schedule gets brutal. It’s highly doubtful they win more than two games with their final five being made up of the Steelers, Bears, Vikings, Lions, and Ravens. So, the Wild Card is probably the more difficult and the least likely of the two paths to the playoffs for the Raiders. Thanks to the tiebreaker, Oakland may need to win out to claim a Wild Card slot. This seems like a tall task considering the Raiders remaining schedule.
The Giants game is the only “easy” game remaining on the schedule but then again there are no easy games in the NFL.
The AFC West
The Chiefs have and still are, falling apart. This same Kansas City team started the season 5-0 has since sputtered to 6-5, including a loss to the Raiders at the buzzer on Thursday Night Football.
However, their schedule is rather favorable down the stretch. After traveling to the Jets in week 13, the Chiefs face the Raiders and the Chargers at home. This two-game stretch will make or break the current division leaders. This is a must win for the Raiders. Assuming Kansas City beats New York (which isn’t a guarantee) and the Raiders beat the Giants (also not a guarantee), the Raiders could jump the Chiefs with a win at Arrowhead, even though the teams will have identical records because of the tiebreakers.
The Raiders aren’t only battling the Chiefs, though. The Chargers have somehow found themselves at 5-6. This same Charger team started out 0-4 and looked destined to possess a top-5 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Chargers’ schedule is also easier than the Raiders down the stretch. They have a bye week against the Browns in week 13. Then they play the Redskins, and Washington’s only favorable win came against the Raiders. Then an all-important road game against the Chiefs where the only guaranteed team to win is the Raiders. After a trip to see McCown’s Jets, the Chargers will battle the Raiders in the Week 17. Hopefully, this game is for the AFC-West Crown.
So, the AFC West is clearly the simpler route to the playoffs. Win out and the Raiders win the AFC West. Go 4-1, with the loss being to a non-divisional opponent, and the Raiders will almost certainly get in the playoffs unless the Chiefs go 4-1.
In the Wild Card, Oakland will need some help from the Bills and Ravens to even have a chance to claim the final slot. The AFC-West is shockingly mediocre and 9-7 should be able to win the division. And once you get in the tournament, anything can happen. Just ask Eli Manning and the 18-1 Patriots.