Photo: Tony Avelar, Associated Press
There is no doubt in my mind and there shouldn’t be doubt in anyone else’s mind. The Oakland Raiders have cemented themselves as Super Bowl Contenders. It is crazy how the season has gone for this team. After the week 2 loss to the Falcons, everyone was wondering if the team was going to be the same as last year, maybe even worse. That quickly changed because the Raiders have now won 8 out of their last 9 games and sit tied with the Patriots atop the AFC at 9-2. Here are the main reasons the Oakland Raiders have a good chance of a trip to Houston in early February.
He is the biggest reason for the Raiders’ success. On Sunday we saw a glimpse of what could happen when this team just thinks they may not have Derek Carr in at quarterback. He only missed one series, yet 25 straight points were given up. Of course, some of that had to do with Derek Carr throwing a pick and fumbling on the freak play, but the momentum entirely changed towards the Panthers because of the dislocated finger. He then came back into the game with a busted finger (it is hard to grip the ball and throw a tight spiral in addition to the pain) and with absolutely zero momentum by his side. Nevertheless, Derek Carr led his team to another 4th quarter comeback victory (his 5th of the season). Luckily, the Raiders have an MVP caliber player at the most important position. It is hard to argue that anyone is playing better football than Derek Carr. He has 22 TD to only 5 INT and is throwing for over 280 yards a game. The best part of the game is what he is able to do late in games. There is a reason the Raiders don’t have the best stats but are 9-2. It is Derek Carr and he wills his team to a victory almost every Sunday.
The Offense Rolling on All Cylinders
There are not many offenses better than the Raiders’ in the entire NFL. Just like the Cowboys, they have a dominant offensive line. The Raiders do not give up sacks and are usually (emphasis on usually) pretty solid running the football. Their one weakness is that they will struggle to run the ball against top tier defenses. They aren’t as dominate as the Cowboys because they cowboys are able to run the ball against anyone, but the Raiders can’t. Nevertheless, the Raiders still rank 10th in the NFL in rushing. In addition to being a good running team, they can absolutely shred teams through the air. They have so many weapons at the skill positions with Crabtree (always reliable with great hands), Cooper (the big play threat), Roberts (a clutch player), Olawale (explosive full back) and Murray (big and fast running back). The players all fit certain roles and specialties that help the team win because the Raiders tailor gamelans that utilize different players and matches that exploit opposing defenses. That is why we constantly see games were a team shuts down Crabtree or Cooper, but the other goes off. It is impossible to stop all their weapons because of how good Derek Carr is. He is so intelligent that he always find the right matchup, spreads the ball around to keep the defense guessing, and of course delivers each ball with extreme accuracy making him one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. All of these weapons lead the Raiders to rank 4th in the NFL in passing and 5th in scoring. Arguably, this is the best offense in the league because of how clutch they have been each game. If the Raider’s have the ball with a chance to win the game, no matter the defense, every Raider fan, and most importantly, every Raider player, believes Carr will lead them down the field and to a victory.
Bend but Don’t Break Defense
For the Raiders to be a Super Bowl contender, they do not need to be a great defense. They have a great and clutch offense on the other side, so, in all honesty, the Raiders only need an average defense. Their defense has been getting better every week. Even though the defense has given up a lot of yards, they have forced a good amount of turnovers. The Raiders have a +10 turnover margin, which leads the Raiders to win the turnover battle by almost 1 a game. Those turnovers have come at key points of games and have lead to an immense amount of momentum and victories. Furthermore, the Raiders should be getting Mario Edwards Jr., and Aldon Smith back in the near future. These additions should help improve one of the weaknesses of their defense, the pass rush. It is nice the Raiders have Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, who have had key sacks and forced fumbles, but the rest of the team hasn’t been able to get a consistent pass rush. Aldon Smith will help get to the passer and Mario Edwards won’t get as much of the sack numbers, but will help open up space for everyone else. Mario should also take advantage when Mack, Irvin, and Aldon are double teamed because he will have a one on one with maybe the weakest o-linemen on the opposing team. Aldon Smith and Mario Edwards are also very good at stopping the run. Imagine, they get those two back and the Raider should become a very tough team to run against creating many passing situations. And in those passing situations, teams will have to block Khalil Mack, Aldon Smith, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards Jr. I can’t imagine a tougher unit to block on passing situations. I obviously don’t believe this defense will become dominant, but because this team has already won 9 out of 11 games with a pretty terrible defense, an improvement to just an average defense will easily make them Super Bowl Contenders.
Just Win Baby
There is a confidence about this team. No matter what the scenario is in the game, the team believes they will win. As a fan watching, I have not gotten nervous when they go down by a touchdown because I honestly know Derek Carr will bring them back. Many people have said that this team has gotten lucky and the luck is going to catch up with them, but we are 11 games in and they are 9-2. So we know that the 9 wins aren’t luck this far into a season, but are a skill. You can never count them out because they have the “it” factor. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there has never been a team with this poor of a defense that is the top team in a conference. However, they are here because of their belief amongst each other that has manifested itself into winning games they shouldn’t and being the most clutch team in the league.
The Raiders are undefeated away from Oakland (6-0). Getting the job done on the road usually bodes well for the playoffs. This team is not afraid of any environment or team and it shows that they will be prepared for any moment that presents itself in the playoffs. In addition, they are 2-0 on primetime games, so a there is not a stage too big for the Raiders.
AFC West Winners?
At the moment, the Raiders would be winners of the best division in football. So, if the division winner of the AFC West isn’t considered a Super Bowl threat then that would be preposterous. They are battled tested and have beaten both teams that were in the Super Bowl from a year ago (Carolina and Denver). If they go on to win the AFC West then they are the best out of Kansas City and Denver, which shows a lot. If they can get the division title they will have at the very least a bye and maybe even the 1 seed in the AFC.
The Raiders being one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl is all contingent on them being AFC West Champs, which they are in a position to do so. That would probably mean they would face the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, either in Oakland or in Foxborough, (which shouldn’t matter a ton because the Raiders have shown to be tough on the road and to play well on the big stage). Furthermore, if I had to pick one team to beat the Patriots in the AFC at the moment, I would have to say the Raiders.
In the end, it looks like a good possibility that the Raiders will get a bye or the road to the Super Bowl will run through Oakland. If that holds true, which I think it will when the Raiders win this weekend the Chiefs fall in Atlanta, then the Raiders will go from being a Super Bowl long shot to becoming a Super Bowl favorite (2nd to the Patriots). Also don’t forget, this team has the best ability to improve going into the playoffs with many young players and a very talented defense not quite reaching their potential.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.