The Raiders suffered a massive setback Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
There’s no sugarcoating the impact that 40-9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs had on AFC West title hopes. A win would’ve pulled the Raiders even atop the division. A loss put the Raiders two games back with four to play.
Not ideal, but all is not lost. Not in a so-so AFC with several teams still battling for the final wild-card spot.
The Raiders are one of them, even at 6-6 coming off of two straight blowout losses. The Raiders currently are a game back of the last wild card spot, with Pittsburgh and Tennessee sitting at 7-5.
The Raiders can pull ahead of the Titans by beating them Sunday at Oakland Coliseum, where the Silver and Black are 4-1 this season.
They would have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans with winnable games against Jaguars, Chargers and Broncos, a series of 4-8 teams without a realistic shot at the postseason. Apathy or disappointment may kick in for those teams down the stretch, and the Raiders could capitalize with a solid run to finish the season.
They do need help from the Steelers, who currently own a tiebreaker over the Raiders with a better conference record. There are two potential losses on the Steelers schedule, with the Bills coming up in two weeks and the Ravens to wrap the regular season.
The Raiders have to go on a winning streak for any of that to matter. It needs to happen now starting with the Titans on Sunday. A loss there would be a staggering blow and certainly call for a standing eight-count.
That means the Raiders have to rebound quickly.
“I don’t think that’s our issue,” center Rodney Hudson said after the Chiefs loss. “We work hard. We practice the right way. We just didn’t make the plays today.”
The Raiders have scuffled offensively in recent games, going nine quarters between touchdowns. That’s a significant drought for a team that scored at least 24 points in six straight games earlier this season.
The Raiders defense played pretty well against Kansas City, keeping Patrick Mahomes under 200 yards passing while limiting him to just one explosive play.
Better is required in every phase because the Raiders can’t beat anybody while incurring the penalties and turnovers they’ve sustained over the past two games.
Players clearly know where they stand in the division and the wild-card race. They know hope is not lost, with their postseason goals still before them even after that Chiefs defeat.
Head coach Jon Gruden doesn’t dangle that carrot to motivate his team, especially with the Raiders needing help from the Steelers or an unexpected Chiefs collapse to earn their way in.
“We’re going to focus on the Titans,” Gruden said. “We can’t control who’s playing who and what the scores are in other places. We have to control the things we can control. That’s minimizing pre-snap penalties and eliminating after-the-whistle penalties and winning the turnover battle. We can control how we prepare and how we compete.
“We would love to make the playoffs. We would love to win a championship. That’s out of our control right now.”