What seemed like a long shot a week ago feels slightly more realistic now. The Oakland Raiders took care of business Sunday, winning a *road* game over the Los Angeles Chargers 24-17 and swept the season series from the Chargers for the first time since 2016. Moreover, they manage to keep their slim wild-card hopes alive.
After a devastating loss in the Coliseum’s sendoff, Oakland’s playoff chances looked very slim:
In Week 16, the following had to happen for the team to remain in the playoff hunt:
Raiders win @ Chargers, Ravens win @ Browns, Jets win vs. Steelers, Saints win @ Titans, and Colts win vs. Panthers.
Remarkably, everything fell into place as Derek Carr scored a touchdown without fumbling, performances from reserve running back DeAndre Washington, rookie Hunter Renfrow, and a solid showing from the defense led the Raiders to a win. Also, quarterback Lamar Jackson played like his usual self to beat Cleveland. In Pittsburgh, the Steelers inability to find a capable starting signal-caller may have cost them a playoff berth, and at least, it caused them to lose to the Jets. The Titans put up a great fight, but the Saints were simply a better football team. To put the icing on cake, the Colts flat-out demolished the Panthers.
So, the Raiders find themselves at 7-8 heading into the final week, with the 8-7 Titans and Steelers standing in their way. What has to happen for the Silver and Black to steal the final playoff spot?
The Raiders have to win in Denver
First and foremost, the Raiders have to take care of their own business before they can worry about how the other games pan out. Oakland hasn’t won in Denver since Khalil Mack had five sacks in 2015, and the Broncos have won three of the four games Drew Lock has started at quarterback. Their offense has looked much better since the rookie took over, and with the Raiders likely losing cornerback Trayvon Mullen, this could be a recipe for disaster. The weather in Denver next Sunday looks 42 degrees and sunny, so it may be too cold for Carr, making this the least likely game to go the Raiders way next Sunday.
Baltimore has to beat Pittsburgh
This one might be tough. The Ravens have the first seed all to themselves, so we might see Jackson and most of their starters get rested next week. Luckily, even with the sophomore likely not playing, Baltimore may still have the better situation at quarterback. Robert Griffin III will probably get the start, and there’s definitely the argument that he’s better than the Steelers duo of Mason Rudolph and Delvin Hodges, who got benched against the Jets a week after throwing four interceptions, only to get thrown back into the fire when Rudolph got removed from the game via injury. The Ravens have a great defense, so whichever one of these two starts next week won’t have it easy. This is a very winnable game for Baltimore, even if they rest their starters.
The Texans have to beat the Titans, Again
The Texans took care of the Titans in Tennessee a week ago. Now, the Raiders need them to do it once again at home. Houston already has the division title locked up, but they’re still fighting for playoff seeding so it’s unlikely they’ll rest their starters. This one is really a toss-up. Last time these two teams matched up, it was a back and forth game, with the Texans scraping by 24-21. This game shouldn’t be any different as both of these teams have something to play for, and we can expect a back-and-forth game, one that will be fun to watch as long as it’s Houston the one coming out on top.
Finally, the Colts have to take care of the Jaguars
This is the last domino that must fall into place and it can go either way as none of these teams have been impressive this year. Knowing that, Indianapolis should be able to handle this one; in their first matchup, they won 33-13 and that Jacksonville offense was led by Nick Foles while this one will be led by Gardner Minshew, which isn’t much better. The Colts are fresh off a 38-6 whooping of Carolina, and hopefully they can carry that momentum into this game.
So, how does this all work out?
If all of the above happens, the Steelers, Titans, Indianapolis and Oakland all form a four-way tie at 8-8. The Colts beating the Jags gives them a better divisional record than Tennessee and the latter would be automatically disqualified from playoff contention. The Raiders end up with a better strength of victory percentage than Pittsburgh, eliminating them. Finally, the Raiders week four win in Indianapolis eliminates the Colts, via the head-to-head tiebreaker. When all is said and done, the Raiders are the last team remaining, and sneak into the playoffs at 8-8.
The chances of all this happening are very, very slim. Nobody expected the Raiders to be in this position 16 weeks ago though, and they have surpassed many expectations this year. The biggest one of them all would be a last second playoff berth.
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