The Oakland Raiders have been a sight to behold on the football field in the three preseason contests in which they have played. Winning against the L.A. Rams, blowing away the Arizona Cardinals when it mattered, and completing a Canadian comeback against the Green Bay Packers.
Head coach Jon Gruden demands excellence from his football team. Last year was a rough season for Raider Nation, there is no denying it.
Gruden is tired of people not expecting anything from the Raiders. The roster has been systematically purged and replaced with veterans and rookies of Gruden and Mike Mayock’s choosing. Improvements in speed, size, and strength have been incredibly visible. Professional mindsets and levels of focus to detail have improved the quality of play considerably.
This season looks to be shaping up differently, those who know football are calling the Raiders a sleeper wild card team. Some of the media talking heads are even publicly reversing course after having seen the Raiders up close in person.
The stories about Antonio Brown have not distracted the team. Being on Hard Knocks and having a television camera crew following them around all camp long has not distracted the team. Completing a comeback during a home game in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada on the NFL’s first 80 yard field has not distracted the Raiders focus in 2019.
Lee Corso once said there was no such thing as luck in football. “Luck” is defined as where hard work meets opportunity.
The sudden retirement of Indianapolis Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. As if that weren’t enough, the Houston Texans lost starting running back Lamar Miller for the season with a torn ACL.
Let’s be honest as the NFL news cycle continuously besmirching the good name of the Raiders, some very interesting things have happened in the conference. The Chargers have been weakened by their yearly visits from the injury bug and running back committee or not, they will miss Melvin Gordon.
Highly thought of by most, Hot Take Alert!!! Their window is closed. The age of Rivers is cause for concern along with his lack of mobility. In conjunction with his number one tackle and number one running back being out, with his number #1 recovering from an ankle injury heading into the season opener. It is going to take the offense some time to get in rhythm and the defense is going to be without sensational safety Derwin James for at minimum eight games due to a stress fracture in his foot.
The aforementioned retirement of Luck has left the Colts going with Jacoby Brissett and a back up to be named later, along with uncertainty as to the availability of T.Y. Hilton.
The Texans will be without Jadeveon Clowney unless they pay him an amount of money he hasn’t yet earned. The offensive line is in shambles, Miller is out for the season leaving Duke Johnson to go the season as “the guy.” And they still need a number #2 wide receiver to compliment DeAndre Hopkins.
These are three playoff contenders who could possibly all be out of wild card contention unable to overcome various adversities.
Potential Playoff Breakdown
In the AFC West, Raiders should still have their sights set on defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are not unbeatable, their defense is still not very good and there is a full year of tape on Patrick Mahomes to study from. Chargers may not be dead in the water but they sure as hell as bleeding in it. Broncos not winning anything with a first time defensive minded head coach, a first time offensive coordinator, and led by Joe Flacco.
Its a good possibility the AFC North will be a three-horse race between the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens. One of these teams will win the division while another should earn a wild card.
The Patriots are expected to represent the AFC East again, the only other threat out of this division is the New York Jets. The Jets are still not quite there yet and need to see what the new head coach has in store in his first year.
The AFC South is a division eventually someone will have to win. So far, available talent wise, the Tennessee Titans are sitting in the best position. depending on what happens with the AFC West and the AFC South this should be the battle for one of the final wild card spots.
Is it a monumental shift in the AFC conference? no, but the door is open for the Raiders to make the playoffs in 2019. Much wider than initially thought.