Five most important factors in Raiders' playoff push
The second half begins...
It took a full season for the 2015 Raiders to get seven wins. This year’s incarnation equaled that total in nine tries. The next victory means the Raiders will finish at least .500 for the first time since 2011. A pair would secure the franchise’s first winning season since 2002. This team doesn’t care about either milestone. They’re thinking bigger. The Raiders want to win the AFC West and make a playoff run. For the first time in forever, those are realistic goals. There’s work to be done to reach them...
5. Playing well within tough division
The Raiders were 2-1 through one rotation through the AFC West. All those games were played at home, meaning they have three road dates against division rivals. They come in the season’s final four weeks, including a Thursday night showdown at Kansas City and a season finale at Denver that could be crucial to the division crown. The AFC West is considered the NFL’s best division, with three teams notching seven wins in 10 weeks. The battle should continue, and get sorted out when the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs go head to head.
The Raiders are far deeper than years past, but there are some pieces the Raiders would struggle without. Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper are obvious members of that club, but middle linebacker Perry Riley and safety Reggie Nelson are vital to the team’s success considering their talent and a lack of depth behind them. The Raiders have fared well in the injury department, save Mario Edwards Jr.’s slow recovery and Lee Smith’s busted ankle. The team hopes to stay relatively healthy heading down the home stretch.
3. Defensive progress
The Raiders defense has held two straight teams under 300 yards, a significant improvement after allowing big-time numbers early in the year. The Raiders got by then with solid third-down defense and timely takeaways. If those traits continue and the Raiders tighten up on early downs, this defense could round into the form coaches expected to start the season. Possible returns of Mario Edwards Jr. from injury and Aldon Smith from suspension could help if either player can contribute at some point this season, but the current group is starting to play better together.
2. Recent game tape
Derek Carr threw for 513 yards against Tampa. The Raiders ran for 218 the following week against Denver. That must drive opposing defensive coordinators nuts, because the Raiders can score in several different ways. Offensive success centers around excellent line play imposing it’s will in the ground game while protecting Derek Carr well. Diversity makes this team tough to scheme against and tough to stop even when things are going well. That should help account for lulls in production for players or units and keep the point totals high.
1. Continued cool under fire
The Raiders have come through in the clutch time and again this season, the main reason why they stand at 7-2 and among the NFL’s top teams. They’ve dealt with in-game pressure well, and showed moxie by soundly beating Denver on national television. The stakes will get higher from here, with several big games down the stretch that could decide division titles and wild card spots. This is uncharted territory for most young Raiders, and how they perform in those moments will determine fate more than any other factor.