ALAMEDA – Go ahead. Say it, then dare to dream.
You won’t turn to stone. You won’t get laughed out of your local sports pub. Your friends won’t mock false logic.
Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs.
The Raiders have a real chance to make the postseason for the second time since 2002. There’s zero guarantee they’ll get there, but the landscape is favorable to a playoff push.
Head coach Jon Gruden isn’t dangling that carrot and would prefer the “P” word stay out of the Raiders vocabulary right now.
“I don’t even think they know that right now,” Gruden said after Thursday night’s victory over the LA Chargers. “We have a long season left to play.”
That’s a plus for the Silver and Black, considering the Raiders would not be a playoff team if the season ended tonight. They are ever so close.
The Chiefs lost Sunday, considerably tightening the AFC West race. The Raiders are just a half-game back of their longtime rivals, with a head-to-head matchup set for Dec. 1.
The Raiders don’t need help. They control their own path to the playoffs through the division. Assuming, of course, they win out. There’s no chance in holy heck that happens. The Raiders win too many tight games. One or two or three are bound to go against them as the schedule winds down.
They’re currently the AFC’s seventh seed, losing a tiebreaker Pittsburgh while sitting a game behind Buffalo in the wild-card standings.
There are several teams hovering around .500 who believe they can snag a postseason spot. The Raiders are one, with the resilience and fortitude required to weather stressful periods. They are 4-1 in games decided by one possession, with game-winning drives in the fourth quarter to beat Detroit and the Chargers in a five-day span.
That has kept the season going strong despite unfavorable scheduling. The Raiders embarked on a five-game road trip – there was a home game played in London during that run – against all legitimate playoff contenders. They came out of it 2-3, with a home split prior to that making them 3-4 to start a three-game home stretch.
“When you're playing games in November that mean something, and you get a home crowd that's like that, this is exactly what we talked about coming off of our 1,800-day road trip, right?” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That we're going to come home and play games that matter.”
The Raiders already have won two of them. Now they’re a 10.5-point favorite against the winless Bengals on Sunday, with the floundering Jets beyond that. The Raiders realistically could be 7-4 heading into that Chiefs showdown, which would not be a must-win. The Raiders have a few tough games on the schedule, including the Chiefs and home games against Tennessee and Jacksonville in the Oakland regular-season home finale.
A contrarian’s view could say two things: 1. Winning nail biters is no way to live, and 2. The Raiders defense has weathered too much attrition to remain competitive.
The Raiders have lost Johnathan Abram (injury), Vontaze Burfict (suspension), Gareon Conley (trade) and Karl Joseph (injury) from the original starting lineup. Backups Marquel Lee (injury) and Arden Key (injury) are also down for the count, though Lee’s coming back.
Can they survive such losses, or will it eventually catch up to them?
Time will tell on that front. We know for sure that the Raiders season will be intriguing, with the very real prospect that Gruden could lead this team to the playoffs.