Why Texans-Colts could have major impact on Raiders' playoff hopes

Why Texans-Colts could have major impact on Raiders' playoff hopes

Week 12 of the NFL season kicks off Thursday night with a marquee AFC South matchup that has massive playoff implications for Jon Gruden and the Raiders.

And they won't even be on the field.

Winners of three straight, the Raiders will be hard at work preparing to face the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium while the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts face off at NRG Stadium.

Thanks to the Ravens' Week 11 demolition of Deshaun Watson and the Texans, the Colts slid into first place in the AFC South via the tiebreaker from an earlier win over Houston. That bumped Houston down to the No. 6 seed in the AFC and moved the Raiders down to the seven seed. 

The AFC South race is of paramount importance to the Raiders' playoff hopes. Assuming the Silver and Black don't catch the Chiefs in the AFC West -- which of course still is on the table -- the Raiders will be fighting with the Bills, Steelers, Browns and the second-place AFC South team for a wild-card spot.

Let's rewind to Week 4. The Raiders, fresh off being pantsed by the Vikings, rebounded to stun the Colts 31-24 at Lucas Oil Stadium thanks to the grit and resiliency that has become their trademark. 

Four weeks later, the Raiders had the Texans on the ropes at NRG Stadium, hoping to end their five-game road odyssey with another win over a playoff-caliber opponent. The Raiders held the lead for almost the entire second half, but Watson worked his magic late, throwing a touchdown pass after being kicked in the eye to give Houston the late edge.

When Derek Carr's pass down the sideline to Tyrell Williams fell incomplete to seal the 27-24 loss, Oakland's horse in the AFC South race became clear.

The Raiders need Watson and the Texans to win the division, knocking the Colts down the wild-card rung behind the Silver and Black thanks to that Week 4 win and removing a potential obstacle from Oakland's playoff path. If the Texans end up losing out in the division, the Raiders will have to finish with a better record in order to squeak past them, a feat that might prove difficult.

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The Raiders still control their own destiny. Win Sunday against the Jets and set up a massive AFC West battle at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 13 with the winner taking over first place with four weeks to go.

But if the Chiefs begin to pull away and the Raiders are fighting for a wild-card spot, having the Texans not in the wild-card picture becomes very important.

No matter who wins Thursday night, the Raiders will slide back into the playoff picture with the loser falling out.

But what matters more, in the long run, is the Texans winning and going on to take the AFC South. That'll make the Raiders' playoff path much clearer.

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Josh Jacobs is a feature back in every sense. The Raiders star rusher can do most everything well and is capable of playing all three downs. He can carry a significant workload, as he did during an exemplary 2019 campaign where he finished second in AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, and frankly should have won.

He had 242 carries for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games, proving to be a tough and elusive runner who gains significant yards after contact.

Jalen Richard’s an excellent complement as a third-down back who can pass protect well and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

While those two can cover every offensive scenario, the Raiders should still work to add another running back.

That was clear at the end of last year when Jacobs was shut down with a shoulder injury he played through for weeks. DeAndre Washington filled in as the primary ball carrier and fared well but was allowed to hit the open market, where he remains today.

The Raiders could and should look to upgrade that position and not just by finding a backup. They need someone with a different style, maybe a big and bruising back to accent what the Raiders do offensively.

They tried to do that last season, when they worked out every veteran running back under the sun but didn’t sign anyone until Rod Smith came aboard late.

The sixth-year journeyman re-signed with the Raiders on a low-cost contract.

The NFL draft will have quality options available later in the draft, where the Raiders have three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth.

It might take a third-round pick to land Boston College’s A.J. Dillion, a 247-pound bruiser who can run downhill and pick up short yardage by moving the pile. Draft analysts say he’s good at reading blocks and following his assignment, something important in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Vanderbilt’s Ke'Shawn Vaughn is an option who might be available later. He isn’t quite as big but has the toughness required to get hard yards and could absorb some blows to keep Jacobs healthy and fresh.

This isn’t a full-on draft breakdown, so we won’t go down the list of every scheme fit available for selection. There aren’t many free agent dollars left, so it’s hard to see another runner coming in.

The Raiders can survive with the depth chart they’ve got, especially with fullback Alec Ingold able to carry the ball effectively when called upon. But the NFL is trending toward two back benefits, even when there’s an obvious alpha like Jacobs.

Gruden has historically preferred feeding multiple backs, as he did in his previous Raiders stint with Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kauffman, and later with Wheatley and Charlie Garner.

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Gruden has also ridden one back pretty hard, as he did with Cadillac Williams while with Tampa Bay.

The Raiders are more than capable of rolling with the crew they have but could use to make the backfield a little better before the 2020 season begins by filling a relatively low-ranking need.

NFL rumors: Raiders meeting with Oregon QB Justin Herbert before draft


NFL rumors: Raiders meeting with Oregon QB Justin Herbert before draft

The Raiders are meeting with former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert on an official top-30 visit. Well, the term “visit” might be a stretch considering nobody is allowed inside NFL facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pre-draft meetings still are happening, but those face-to-face interactions now are done over FaceTime or Zoom or Skype or whatever video conferencing platform you prefer.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Herbert will be meeting with the Raiders in this way, as the Silver and Black try to refine their options in the NFL draft.

Each team gets 30 meetings during the pre-draft process, though they’re often used on players from lower rounds or with character questions they need to examine further.

This meeting is sure to raise some eyebrows considering Herbert’s position and eventual draft status, but this should be viewed as an exploratory exercise of the Raiders doing due diligence.

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Herbert should be taken in the NFL draft’s top 10, well before the Raiders draft at Nos. 12 and 19. The Raiders have the capital to trade up in the draft if they choose, but it would be costly to move up high enough to get beyond the quarterback starved Miami Dolphins at No. 5 and the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 6.

They also have a quality quarterback room with Derek Carr as the starter and Marcus Mariota as the backup. There are far more pressing needs at receiver, cornerback and safety and maybe defensive line that could use talent available in the first round.

It’s possible the Raiders draft a quarterback later in the draft, but it seems unlikely in the first round.

Let’s also recall that the Raiders met with top quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins before last year’s draft and didn’t take either guy.

While the Raiders don’t have an immediate need at quarterback, general manager Mike Mayock always says the team will consider upgrades at every position. Head coach Jon Gruden loves meeting with quarterbacks and learning how they think.

Herbert is ranked high among the NFL draft’s best options at quarterback, typically third behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. He has ideal size for a quarterback at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds, with great arm strength and field vision. He can throw on the move and is confident throwing the ball downfield and making smart decisions going with shorter and intermediate options.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s latest mock draft has Herbert going No. 5 to the Dolphins.

NFL Network also reported that Herbert has a video conference scheduled with the Bolts.