Battle between Raiders, Chiefs for AFC West isn't over yet

Battle between Raiders, Chiefs for AFC West isn't over yet

The Raiders were clearly frustrated by Thursday night’s proceedings. A pivotal game against Kansas City didn’t go as planned, moving the Chiefs ahead in the AFC West with three games to play.

Few thought the Raiders would be able to win a game played two time zones away, in the bitter cold, on a short week. Players and coaches certainly did. They left Kansas City believing they could’ve and should’ve won.

Tackle Donald Penn wasn’t thrilled following this missed opportunity, and articulated how the entire team felt.

“My mindset is that I’m pissed right now,” Penn said. “I’m pissed. We had control and we gave it to somebody else.”

Records are now even at 10-3, but Kansas City has a tiebreaker in hand following a season sweep. The Raiders dropped into the wild-card pool and are currently the AFC’s No. 5 seed.

Those facts would only matter if the season ended today. It, you know, doesn’t. That makes the where-are-they-now exercise purely academic, with time for things to change.

“We will continue working,” running back Latavius Murray said. “Like Coach (Del Rio), ‘What we want in our goals and what we’re after, those things are still out there for us.’ We won’t let this determine who we are and what we want to accomplish."

Kansas City can win the division by winning out. They have home games against Tennessee and Denver before wrapping the season at San Diego, teams with a combined 19-17 record and two pushing for the playoffs.

The Raiders have a tough slate ahead, with a game at San Diego, home against Indianapolis and at Denver to end the year. That trio has an identical record to K.C.’s slate, with two common opponents.

So, with that in mind, the Raiders-Chiefs competition will continue through season’s end. How each team fares will determine the AFC West, although Denver shouldn’t be counted out quite yet.

That should make for a fantastic finish in a talented division that should qualify at least two teams for the postseason.

That also means the Raiders and Chiefs might meet again in the rivalry that will define the season for both teams.

“I feel pretty confident that both of our teams will end up in the playoffs,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “There are still three games to be played. We’ll see how it ends up. They have the leg up right now, and did enough to win both games this year. For now, that’s all there is to the story. They’ve earned that. We’ll just have to get back on the right track next week.”

The Raiders may be down, but they definitely aren’t out of the division race. Thursday’s game was heavily hyped and rightfully so, but losing wasn’t a death sentence. A strong response could claim the division title or, at the very least, provide positive momentum heading into the playoffs.

The Raiders and Chiefs could meet again in January, when it truly matters most.

“There is a potential to play again,” quarterback Derek Carr said, “which is awesome.”

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Raiders need help at right tackle, the lone vacancy along their offensive line. They signed a veteran presence on Thursday afternoon, adding 32-year old Breno Giacomini as the frontrunner to join the starting five.

He has 86 starts in 94 career games, and has been a full-time starter three of the last four years. Giacomini spent 2017 in Houston and the previous three seasons with the New York Jets.

He was a Seattle Seahawk before that, working with Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable for three of his four years there. Cable gave Giacomini his first chance to start in the second half of 2011, and held the post through 2012.

The bond between the two is clearly strong, considering what Giacomini tweeted shortly after Cable got fired in Seattle.

Coach and player will reunite, hoping to provide steadiness on the right side of the Raiders offensive line.

He’ll compete for a starting spot with Vadal Alexander, second-year pros David Sharpe and Jylan Ware and possibly a drafted player. Giacomini should be considered the favorite unless the Raiders use an early pick on an offensive lineman.

Giacomini has plenty of starts, but his Pro Football Focus numbers aren’t pretty. The analytics says he allowed nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 64 pressures with Houston last year. He had some decent years under Cable, and a return to that form might push him into the starting lineup for good. Time will tell on that front.