Who would have thought we'd be having this conversation in Week 7? The Raiders, yes those Raiders, are in the thick of the AFC West race.
After Antonio Brown ejected himself from the Bay Area and the Chiefs torched Oakland in Week 2, it looked like it could be another long season at the Coliseum. But after falling to 1-2, the Raiders bounced back with impressive wins over the Colts and Bears to enter the bye week at 3-2.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs sputtered after beating the Raiders, losing two of three before notching a Week 7 win over the Broncos on Thursday night to move to 5-2. That win, however, came at a cost as reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes left the game with a knee injury and did not return.
Mahomes had an MRI on Friday that revealed a dislocated knee cap, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
The MRI has confirmed the #Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes suffered a dislocated kneecap, but not significant additional damage, sources tell me and @JamesPalmerTV. He’ll seek additional opinions to be sure. The plan is for him to return this season after a brief absence.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 18, 2019
While the Chiefs have yet to release an official timetable for Mahomes' return, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the news was the "best-case scenario" for the Chiefs. Before the MRI was conducted, the Chiefs reportedly believed Mahomes would miss three games.
However, a person with knowledge of the situation, told the AP's Dave Skretta, that Mahomes will be out for four-to-six weeks.
As the Raiders get ready to head to Lambeau Field to face the Packers in Week 7, they sit in second place in the AFC West but now have a massive opportunity in front of them.
All signs point to Andy Reid rolling with backup quarterback Matt Moore and possibly Chad Henne, should he return from IR, while Mahomes heals. While Reid is a great offensive mind, the Chiefs' offensive attack won't be the same without the rocket-armed quarterback, and with their defense still leaving much to be desired, they could be take some body blows. Over the next six weeks, the Chiefs will face the Packers, Vikings, Titans, Chargers and Raiders, possibly all without Mahomes.
The Raiders, meanwhile, head to Green Bay and then Houston before returning home to battle the Lions, Chargers and Bengals. After that, the Silver and Black visit the Jets before heading to KC.
Jon Gruden's club has a golden opportunity to close the division gap on the heavily-favored Chiefs, and possibly even overtake them and get the inside track for the division crown while Mahomes is out.
The first order of business will be for the Raiders to split their final two games of this grueling five-game trip. Returning home at 4-3 after a 3-2 trip would be a win by any measure. Assuming the Packers can handle Moore, the Raiders would be at 4-3 hosting the Lions with the Chiefs sitting at 5-3 getting ready to welcome a Jekyl and Hyde Vikings team to Arrowhead Stadium.
Returning home to the Coliseum should give the road-weary Raiders a lift, enough to propel them past a ho-hum Lions squad and a Chargers team that has yet to discover its identity in the wake of massive injuries to the offensive line and defense.
If the four-to-six week timetable is accurate, the Raiders will have to make their move between Week 11-13 in order to pass the Chiefs.
While KC might be able to handle Minnesota and Tennessee without Mahomes, their next two games will be division games against the Chargers and, you guessed it, the Raiders on Dec. 1 at Arrowhead Stadium.
If the Silver and Black can hold serve against the Lions, Chargers, Bengals and Jets, and the Chiefs are tripped up by one of the Packers, Vikings, Titans or Chargers, then the Dec. 1 game could be an head-to-head opportunity for the Silver and Black to take over sole possession of the division against either Moore or Henne if Mahomes still is working his way back.
Of course, the Raiders defeating all four of those teams between the Texans game in Week 8 and the Chiefs in Week 13 is no gimme. The Bolts, while having a tough season, still are ridiculously talented and could have put it back together by then, and the Lions are as frisky as they come, just ask the Packers.
Still, the opportunity now is here for the Raiders to pass the Chiefs and win the division for the first time since 2002. It will be a tall task that asks the Raiders to play consistently good football against quality teams, beginning this Sunday in Green Bay.
Mahomes' timetable still is to be decided and he very well could come back on the short end of the time frame. If that's the case, the Raiders must keep pace and make sure they don't lose ground while the Chiefs trot out Moore or Henne to the wolves. If his absence stretches into the six-week mark or beyond, the Raiders will have a chance to grab the division and try to hold on during the final weeks of the season.
Great moments are born from great opportunity. That's what the Raiders have now.