Dramatic wins keep AFC West tight during Raiders bye

Dramatic wins keep AFC West tight during Raiders bye

The Raiders almost had an awesome Sunday. They were on the verge of improving their AFC West standing without lifting a finger, with Kansas City and Denver nearly flatlined in Sunday morning’s NFL action.

Both teams did what the 2016 Raiders have done so many times, and used one last breath to mount an epic comeback. The Chiefs erased a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit and beat Carolina on a field goal as time expired. The Broncos blocked New Orleans’ go-ahead extra point with 88 seconds left and returned it for a defensive two-point conversion to beat the Saints.

Dramatic moments kept the AFC West tightly packed heading down the home stretch.

The Chiefs and Raiders sit atop the division at 7-2 – Kansas City technically has priority with a tiebreaker – with the Broncos (7-3) in hot pursuit. San Diego lost a heartbreaker and dropped to 4-6, though the top three should compete for the catbird’s seat throughout the year.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was at home during the Raiders bye, undoubtedly watching the action unfold. Several players and coaches kept an eye on Sunday’s games, hoping rival losses provided breathing room atop the division.

Nope. This division’s going to stay close.

While scoreboard watching is easier during the bye week, focus remains internal.

“We’re worried about what we can control and … that’s why our team doesn’t get all caught up into that,” Carr said last week. “We have the same process that we go about and we’re seeing that it works. We’re seeing that it results in wins and so, if we start thinking about other things, we’re going to start going down the wrong path and we don’t want to do that.”

The AFC West is the most competitive division in the NFL – even the Chargers are tough to put down – and the Raiders have a hard road to win their first division title since 2002. They came close in 2011, but lost four of the last five to finish 8-8 to Denver in a down year for the division.

There’s an upswing in process, though the Raiders’ wild card standing remains strong. They have a two game lead on the last wild card spot with seven games left, which could help end a long playoff drought.

The Raiders want to win the division and keep stacking wins down the stretch, which features three divisional road games in the last four weeks. That should keep feet firmly on the gas.

“That’s what we do anyway,” head coach Jack Del Rio said last week. “We’re going to do what we do. We’re going to prepare hard. … The process is in place and there’s a good, healthy process here. … We’re going to continue that process and then go compete and give it everything we have.”

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.