The Raiders avoid a black hole


Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bang/TNS

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) is pushed out of bounds by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters (22) after making a catch in the first quarter at the Coliseum in Oakland on Thursday, Oct. 19.

Terrence Allen,

The Week 2 game against the New York Jets put an exclamation point on what should have been a breakout, exciting season for the Oakland Raiders. Hometown hero Marshawn Lynch danced on the sideline after a fourth quarter touchdown to extend a rout of the Jets to 35-13. The crowd danced with him and the stadium was electric. The Raiders were 2-0 and they looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The excitement quickly subsided and the Raiders were on a downhill avalanche to mediocrity. Fast forward to a Derek Carr injury, a struggling offense and four straight losses later and the Raiders didn’t even look like they would have a chance to make the playoffs. But after a gutsy 31-30 home win against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7, their playoff chances improved.

That win could not have come at a better time. Had the Raiders lost, they would have fallen to an overall record of 2-5 and a division record of 0-3. With only six division games during a season, three division losses before the halfway point of the season would have been deadly. It was an important win, but it came with a significant loss.

Lynch was ejected during the first half of the Oct. 19 game for making contact with an official. After Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters put a hit on Carr, a scuffle ensued between Raiders players and Peters. Lynch, a friend of Peters, then ran onto the field to move Peters to the sideline and out of the scuffle. An official attempted to intervene and Lynch made contact by grabbing the referee. Lynch was suspended for the team’s Week 8 game without pay.

This blow to the Raiders backfield was huge. The Raiders only gained 54 yards of rushing offense Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in a 34-14 loss. This loss was a step back after gaining ground in their previous game against the Chiefs. This hurt Oakland’s playoff chances but did not end them. The loss dropped the team’s overall record to 3-5. They still have matchups with other playoff contenders and will have to rely on a hot second half of the season to continue playing in January. Oakland has something that any team will need to be a successful one.

The Raiders have a franchise quarterback in Carr. He was awarded a brand new five-year $125 million contract this offseason. This season his salary will account for roughly 10 percent of the total team salary. He has not performed well this season, but there is no denying his talent. Look at his 417 yard, three touchdown performance against the division leading Chiefs. Despite his ups and downs, he will have a better second half of his season.

The Raiders control their own destiny. The AFC West is arguably the best division in the NFL, but lucky for the Raiders they don’t have to win the division to get in the playoffs. There are two wild card spots for teams who didn’t win their division. They are currently three games behind the Chiefs for the division lead with eight games left. The Raiders have head-to-head matchups with most of the teams that will be fighting for the same playoff spots. With the talent the Raiders have offensively, they will have a chance to win every game.

The Raiders defense will improve. They have shown signs of having a formidable defense this season. Khalil Mack, reigning defensive player of the year, is still wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lineman. Super Bowl champion Bruce Irvin is still an above average linebacker who seems to be everywhere on the field.

The Raiders also signed former 49ers star linebacker, NaVorro Bowman, to add to their linebacking core on Oct. 16. He wore the helmet that communicates directly with the coaches in his first game with team. That is rare for someone who is new to a defense but a veteran like Bowman is no surprise an exception to the rule. With time and reps, the chemistry and quality of the defense will improve.

The start of the season has been very tough for the Raiders, but with a win against division rival Chiefs, a star quarterback in Carr and a defense that will improve, the Raiders are in prime position to claim a playoff spot in January.