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.
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.