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How Myles Garrett suspension affects Raiders, AFC playoff race

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How Myles Garrett suspension affects Raiders, AFC playoff race

The Browns might be back in the AFC playoff race, but they'll have to march on without their best player.

On Friday, the NFL suspended Browns defensive end Myles Garrett indefinitely for his actions during the brawl at the end of Cleveland's 21-7 win over the Steelers on Thursday night.

You've probably seen the video by now. After sacking Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, Garrett and the young quarterback got into an altercation on the ground. Eventually, Garrett ripped Rudolph's helmet off, causing the quarterback to charge at him while two Steelers linemen worked to separate the two. As Rudolph charged, Garrett swung the helmet at Rudolph, connecting with the quarterback's head, leading to the full-on brawl.

After opening the season with a tough schedule that saw them go 2-6, the Browns have rebounded with wins over the Bills and Steelers to climb back to 4-6. They currently sit 1.5 games behind the Raiders for the No. 6 seed in the AFC but have the second easiest schedule remaining. 

The Steelers' loss allowed the Raiders to jump them, and Pittsburgh will be without center Maurkice Pouncey for the next three games, making their path to the playoffs even tougher. 

The Raiders sit at 5-4 with games against the Bengals and Jets over the next two weeks. The Silver and Black will be favored in both those games, and will be 7-4 heading into a Week 13 game against the Chiefs should they take care of business.

Cleveland has shown life over the past two weeks, and the Browns have the talent to make a run at the playoffs in the mediocre AFC. The Browns play the 2-7 Dolphins in Week 12 before facing the Steelers again in Week 13. After that rivalry game, the Browns close with two games against the winless Bengals, a battle with the Cardinals and a tough game against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

All of those games are winnable. The Browns already beat the Ravens earlier this season. The addition of Kareem Hunt has given the Browns an added offensive dimension and they could get on a roll if the confidence starts flowing.

It will be tough without Garrett anchoring the defense, though. The Browns' defense has played well over the last two weeks and Garrett surely would feast on the Dolphins and Bengals in the coming weeks.

To pass the Raiders, Colts, Steelers and/or Bills, the Browns likely will need to 5-1 the rest of the way and hope for a few of those teams to continue to falter. That's more than possible. The Raiders have won a ton of close games, the Bills reek of being fraudulent, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is banged up and the Steelers crawled back to .500 with smoke and mirrors.

Grit, toughness and resiliency have been the Raiders' calling card this season, one they are hoping can get them through what has been a trying season and back to the playoffs for the second time since 2002.

After surviving their long road trip, the Raiders won back-to-back games over the Lions and Chargers and are primed to be riding a four-game winning streak heading into Kansas City with the AFC West lead potentially on the line. Everything is in front of them.

[RELATED: What clicked for Raiders' Ferrell in signature game]

The Browns were a trendy Super Bowl pick before the season started, and some thought a late-season run to the playoffs was in the cards for Freddie Kitchens' crew.

The soft late-season schedule helps, but losing Garrett will be tough to overcome. If the Browns are to crash the playoff party Baker Mayfield will have to take his play up a notch and find the chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. so many thought they'd exhibit from Day 1.

The Raiders have bigger goals in front of them than a wild-card spot, but they might have one less team to contend with for one of the final two spots should the Chiefs pull away in the AFC West.

NFL rumors: Tom Brady 'identified' Raiders as team he could win with

NFL rumors: Tom Brady 'identified' Raiders as team he could win with

Tom Brady is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. That still feels weird to say.

The six-time Super Bowl champion elected to leave the New England Patriots after 20 years, and spend the twilight of his career in Florida. But was that his first choice? According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Brady initially had his eyes on a different team -- the Raiders

"Around the time of the Super Bowl, Brady wants the Raiders, but like they're probably not going to make a big run at him," Rapoport said on Complex's "Load Management" podcast. "And then, everybody was reporting Raiders, and I'm like, 'maybe I'm crazy.'

"Yes. Oh, yes," Rapoport said when asked if Brady wanted the Raiders. "Now, I'm not saying more than the Bucs, but that was a team that he definitely identified and was like, OK, l like this, I could win here."

Rumors of a potential Brady-Raiders pairing swirled for over two months, but the Raiders reportedly never made an offer to the 42-year-old, knowing the type of investment it would take to land him.

On Wednesday, Brady went on the "Howard Stern Show" and talked about the free agency process, appearing to note there wasn't much discussion between the two sides.

“I really believe I could help any organization, and that’s why I signed up to continue to play," Brady told Stern when asked if the Raiders were interested. "If I didn’t think I could do that, I wouldn’t have continued to play. … I don’t know how much interest, they could probably speak to that more than me, I just know the conversations I have with my agent at the time. There were probably a lot of different teams that were interested, I’d say. Some, I want to respect their privacy, too, because they still have organizations they’re running, and I don’t want to f--k with their program at all.”

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With Brady in Tampa, the Raiders will head into the 2020 season with Derek Carr back at the helm and Marcus Mariota serving as his backup.

The Raiders are in Year 2 of an extensive rebuild under coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. While improving, the Silver and Black aren't on the same timeline as Brady, so the fit always seemed curious unless the Raiders were willing to accelerate their rebuild.

[RELATED: Why speedy Ruggs could be exactly what Raiders are looking for]

Stern said he would have renamed the team "The Brady Boys" in order to land the quarterback if he were the Raiders. Instead, the Raiders wisely spent their cap space shoring up a defense that was atrocious for most of the second half of the season.

If Brady plays long enough, perhaps he and the Raiders can have one final playoff bout. You know, for old time's sake.

NFL Draft 2020: Why Raiders should be wary of first-round receivers

NFL Draft 2020: Why Raiders should be wary of first-round receivers

The Raiders needed a receiver heading into the 2014 season but didn’t even blink taking Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall. They nailed the pick, bringing in an elite edge rusher that gave them four excellent seasons and then two first-round picks in trade with the Chicago Bears.

They were also sky-high on Texas A&M’s Mike Evans back then, and that would’ve been a solid alternative option should that draft have gone differently. In fact, it was hard to miss on first-round receivers in 2014, a gold mine for the position that gleaned some truly elite talents.

Sammy Watkins was the first receiver gone at No. 4, and while his career in Buffalo never took off, he found his way in Kansas City. Evans was next at No. 7, with Odell Beckham at No. 12 and Brandin Cooks at No. 20. Kelvin Benjamin was the first round’s last receiver at No. 28, and while he has been so-so lately, he had nearly 2,000 in his first two seasons.

That group has proven excellent, with Evans, Beckham and Cooks currently ranking among the league’s best.

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Taking receivers early, however, hasn’t played out well since. Raiders general manager Mike Mayock was NFL Network’s preeminent draft analyst prior to taking his current gig and knows 2014 was an outlier compared to recent years.

“I would argue there are just as many misses up top at wide receiver as there are at quarterback,” Mayock said at the NFL Scouting Combine, “if you look at the numbers and look at the first-round picks.”

Outside the Raiders taking Amari Cooper fourth overall in 2015, the first-round receiver choices have mostly all been mistakes. It’s hard to find a true No. 1 receiver in the group (you can see the full list below). Cooper’s the only first-round receiver in the last five drafts to reach the Pro Bowl, though Carolina’s D.J. Moore (No. 28 overall in 2018) has been really good his first two professional seasons.

Top tier receivers have come later, with Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints) a second-round pick in 2016, JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers) a second-rounder in 2017 and Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams) a third-rounder that same year. Tyreek Hill was a 2016 fifth-round pick by Kansas City, through baggage dropped his stock.

Even last year’s most productive rookie receivers, Deebo Samuel (49ers), A.J. Brown (Tenessee Titans), D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks) and Terry McLaurin (Washington) came after the first round.

The point in saying all that is to say this: There’s a buyer beware element to taking a receiver in the first round. The Raiders understand that well. They’ve taken Cooper and Hall of Famer Tim Brown in the first round. That’s also where they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey.

There’s no telling exactly what Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden will do in this draft, but receiver is the Raiders' most glaring need and the position’s 2020 draft class has great talent and depth. It’s expected the Silver and Black will take at least one receiver in this draft, likely with one of two first-round picks.

We outlined the receiver prospects extensively on Tuesday, with prospect breakdowns and options for the Raiders picks at Nos. 12 and 19. We went over possibilities on the draft’s second and third days.

The recent past shouldn’t be held against this draft’s top tier, with CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy viewed as sure things and Henry Ruggs a truly explosive talent. Justin Jefferson has hands like glue and the tightly grouped first-/second-round tweeners have a lot to like about them.

[RELATED: Why Henry Ruggs could be what Raiders are looking for]

We won’t know for a while if this group turns out like 2014 or the five years since, though the potential for steady production’s certainly there.

“The average over the last five years for wide receivers going in the first three rounds is 12, between 12 and 13 a year,” Mayock said. “You can easily make an argument, from a grade perspective, that they’re 20-25 of those guys out there this year, and that’s from a grade perspective. I’m not saying 20-25 are going. So there’s depth throughout, and there’s quality up top.”

Ultimately, though, it’s about the individual selected and the scheme fit and chemistry with the quarterback that will determine if the Raiders make the right choice when taking a receiver.

Ruggs has great upside and unmatched physical gifts but might be the biggest risk-reward selection of the elite trio. Jefferson doesn’t seem to make sense for the Raiders, considering his best years were in the slot and Hunter Renfrow already mans that post for the Silver and Black. Recent injury history could also be troubling and easily avoided in a class this deep.

While we can look at tape and see who fared well in school, football smarts are also vital in Gruden’s offense and could help with an often-difficult transition to the pros from receivers often schemed open and told what to do pre-snap by college coaches.

If the Raiders go receiver in the first round as expected, can they buck recent trends and find a top-tier guy early? That will be key to shoring up a position that needs an instant impact player from this draft.

Here’s the complete list of first-round receivers from the last five years. It’s not an inspiring group:

2019
No. 25: Marquise Brown, Oklahoma (Ravens)
No. 32 N’Keal Harry, Arizona State (Patriots)

2018
No. 24: D.J. Moore, Maryland (Panthers)
No. 26: Calvin Ridley, Alabama (Falcons)

2017
No. 5: Corey Davis, Western Michigan (Titans)
No. 7: Mike Williams, Clemson (Chargers)
No. 9: John Ross, Washington (Bengals)

2016
No. 15: Corey Coleman, Baylor (Browns)
No. 21: Will Fuller, Notre Dame (Texans)
No. 22: Josh Doctson, TCU (Washington)
No. 23: Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi (Vikings)

2015
No. 4: Amari Cooper, Alabama (Raiders)
No. 7: Kevin White, West Virginia (Bears)
No. 14: DeVante Parker, Louisville (Dolphins)
No. 20: Nelson Agholor, USC (Eagles)
No. 26: Breshad Perriman, Central Florida (Ravens)
No. 29: Philip Dorsett, Miami (Colts)