Under Jon Gruden, the Oakland Raiders have weathered the toughest part of their schedule and are now in firm control of their own postseason destiny. With a plethora of rookies contributing to the team, the needle is only going up by the week on this team’s potential. With a soft schedule and good coaching, this Raiders team isn’t settling for anything less than playoffs at this point in the season.
Oakland Raiders Young Core Thinking Playoffs or Bust
The Raiders were written off by many analysts and media members before the season started mostly due to their perceived lack of talent coming into the season. Last year, the team just couldn’t hang with their opponents. They looked outmatched in many games, struggling to move the ball on offense and stop teams on defense.
Aside from trading for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Oakland didn’t sign too many big names in the offseason. Tyrell Williams has probably been their top contributor, along with veteran Richie Incognito. But they have really been the only impact free-agent signings. Other names like Lamarcus Joyner and Vontaze Burfict were either inefficient, suspended, or injured.
Basically all of the new production from Oakland has come from its rookies. The most obvious is Josh Jacobs, who is a front runner for rookie of the year. Maxx Crosby has been a key cog in the Silver and Black’s much-improved pass attack. Foster Moreau and Hunter Renfrow are quietly becoming consistent contributors. Clelin Ferrell is finally starting to break out. And Trayvon Mullen is now starting since the Raiders traded Gareon Conley.
At 5-4, Jon Gruden’s team is firmly in control of their own destiny. With the Pittsburgh Steelers starting Week 11 off with a loss to the Cleveland Browns, a win this week against the Cincinnati Bengals will put Oakland in the number six seed at the very least. The Bengals are fighting for the title of the worst team in the league. After benching longtime quarterback Andy Dalton, the team is in full tank mode.
The week after, the team plays the New York Jets, another terrible team. From it is basically a bunch of middling teams, including the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Los Angeles Chargers. Week 17 against the Denver Broncos could be a very winnable game to get Gruden his first playoff game with the team since 2001.
The toughest matchup will obviously be at the Kansas City Chiefs, an environment where the Derek Carr-led Raiders have typically struggled. But if the Raiders can eek by with a win, a division title could be in sight, and one last playoff game at the Coliseum.
Their Rivals are Vulnerable
Aside from their head to head matchup, Oakland will be keeping a close eye on the Chiefs. The team has been much more vulnerable than expected this season, dropping our of their last six games behind a porous defense and a banged-up Patrick Mahomes. However, much like the Raiders, the Chiefs have a favorable schedule to finish the year.
They also still have a ton of divisional games left, with two meetings with the Chargers left, and one more against Oakland and the Broncos. Divisional games can go either way, but the Chiefs will be favored in all of the games. Their only two non-divisional games are against the floundering Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots. The latter will likely be the only game they aren’t picked by most to win.
But Oakland could match up well against the Chiefs in their second bout. Kansas City is the second-worst run defense in the NFL, giving up a whopping 148 yards per game on the ground. Oakland is the seventh-best rushing offense in the league, averaging almost 130 yards per game. The problem will be at least slowing Mahomes down enough to be able to stick with their run game.
However, part of the reason Oakland is shining is because of their ball-control offense. Josh Jacobs plays a huge role, but so do other young guys like Renfrow, Moreau, and Darren Waller. With Crosby and Ferrell making leaps and bounds in terms of development each week, Paul Guenther will look to dial up the pressure against the Chiefs suspect offensive line.
This strategy could be just what the doctor ordered to beat their division rivals and take the top spot. At the very least, it should be enough to secure a wild card spot and go out with a bang in Oakland.