The AFC West currently is a log-jam of mediocrity as its teams fight for the divisional crown with only five weeks left.
This is an opportunity the Oakland Raiders have to welcome with enthusiasm after having suffered some horrendous one-sided defeats.
The Raiders somehow have a reasonable shot at saving their inconsistent season that’s been fluttered with drama. First, let’s be practical and see who the Raiders are at 5-6 and potentially who they can become if they were to take the AFC West or a wildcard spot.
The Worrisome Wins: Titans, Jets, Chiefs, Dolphins, Broncos
It’s hard to argue against the unimpressive victories the Raiders currently boast on their schedule. The Raiders aren’t the same 2-0 team from September that had the look of an AFC Championship contender. All the Raiders’ wins are against AFC opponents, which is important, but the Jets, Dolphins, and Broncos undoubtedly will draft in the top ten of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Chiefs might still be the Raiders best win, but they’ve dropped five of their last six games and have seen their season crumble to desperation. The Titans right now stand at 7-4 but that record doesn’t exactly promote a great team. Stylistically the Titans are a physical team with little shine and bad quarterback play, much like their divisional AFC South competitor, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Raiders have been blown out in four of their six losses by the Redskins, Ravens, Bills, and Patriots respectively. Essentially, the Raiders are hanging around in an ugly way with a handful of unremarkable wins while dealing with a long list of performance issues on both sides of the ball.
Who Must The Raiders Become?
The Raiders have the talent on offense, that’s where they hold their potential to emerge. Unfortunately, the offense has been inconsistent due to both Derek Carr’s performance coupled with the scheme changes from first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing. Even with the struggles on offense, Carr has shown he can vertically attack teams down the field with success, something other teams must account for.
To open up the passing game, the offense has also put more of an emphasis on getting Marshawn Lynch an increase in carries as his production has been promising the last three games. The offense should lean on Lynch’s tough running ability late in the season as opposing teams are dealing with the long NFL season fatigue and the winter weather changes.
The play action concepts need to come back so Carr can find big plays from reliable tight end Jared Cook. I also see the urgency to get the speedy duo of Johnny Holton and Cordarrelle Patterson more targets. The offense looks more explosive when they are called upon as they have accounted for the majority of the big plays this season on offense.
The Raiders must become a high-scoring offense again as they were during their 2016 campaign. The defense might find some improvements under new coordinator John Pagano, but the personnel doesn’t have the tools to dictate a game.
Carr needs to be efficient with the ball and play clean with minimal turnovers. If the offense can keep a consistent lead on the scoreboard, that makes the job of the defense much easier in-game as teams will have to become one dimensional to keep up. That’s when the Raiders can play with confidence and get Kahlil Mack going again.
It’s gut-check time for the Raiders.