The AFC West showdown of the season is coming up fast.
The Raiders travel to Kansas City for a Dec. 1 battle for pole position in the division race, as important a division game as the Silver and Black have played since 2016.
The NFL recognized that and dropped this game from a cluttered morning window to the late afternoon. The league knows that it should be a featured game.
The longtime rivals could be tied atop the division at kickoff, setting high stakes for that one. The Chiefs will enter that game at 7-4 fresh off a bye following Monday night’s victory over the L.A. Chargers.
The Raiders have to work for that record. A victory Sunday over the host New York Jets is required. The Raiders are road favorites for the first time this season but understand their next contest will be a tough one.
The Raiders can’t and won’t overlook anyone, especially after their previous game, against the winless Bengals, was too close for comfort.
“We are going to fight, scratch to win every single game that we can possibly win,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I know the Bengals were 0-9 and it’s an easy story to write, but you don’t look ahead in this league. You just don’t do it. There’s a lot of upsets every week.”
Take another look at Gruden’s first sentence. That’s an accurate description of the team’s approach to this season. The battle and fight like crazy, which is why their 6-1 in games decided by one score or less. They also know they don’t have enough talent or clout to win while on cruise control. A maximum effort is required against most everybody. That includes a three-win team with two victories in a row.
“I can't speak for the team, but I know personally, I don't look ahead,” running back Josh Jacobs said. “Even coming into this week, I didn't even know Cincinnati's record. I didn't know any of the stats. I just looked at film and take it day-by-day and opponent-by-opponent."
The Chiefs can look forward to the Raiders during a bye. Andy Reid will certainly be in the lab concocting new and innovative ways to best old friend in Gruden, who could bring the Raiders to Kansas City on a four-game winning streak with control of the AFC West on the line.
A loss in the Meadowlands would ruin that scenario, but it doesn’t take the Raiders out of contention for the division or a wild card spot. The Silver and Black are in the thick of this thing, currently the AFC’s No. 7 seed -- that could change after a Thursday night clash between the Texans and Colts, both 6-4, and a half-game back in the division.
Gruden has done a good job preventing his team from dreaming too far ahead. They were focused on the Bengals and expect to get the best of Sam Darnold and a stout Jets defensive front in Week 12.
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The Silver and Black have impressed thus far this season despite a tough schedule but know they haven’t earned anything yet.
“It just says that we’re getting better. We’re able to find ways to win,” Gruden said. “There’s an old saying around here, ‘Just win baby.’ We’ve fought our hearts out to put ourselves in a 6-4 position. That doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got a lot of respect for the Jets and a lot of work to do.”