The Oakland Raiders play host to division rival Kansas City – a game that can help legitimize their first place standing in the AFC West.
Thanks to a Broncos loss to the Chargers on Thursday night, the Oakland Raiders are in a place they’ve not been in more than a decade – all alone in first place in the AFC West. Sitting at 4-1, the Raiders appear to be making good on all of that offseason hype that surrounded the team. At first blush, Oakland appears like they are a legitimate playoff caliber team.
But are they really? Or is this all just smoke and mirrors at this point?
Now, before anybody takes complete umbrage and begins hurling four letter insults never heard by humankind before, let’s look at a few things critically and objectively.
First of all, this is not to say that these Raiders are not a playoff caliber team — so go ahead and unclench.
The Raiders have bona fide stars at many of their skill positions and an overall collection of talent that rivals any team in the league. This is the deepest, most talent rich team the Raiders have had since their 2002 Super Bowl team. It could even surpass that team in terms of depth and talent, truth be told.
But one thing that 2002 Super Bowl team was able to do that this squad has yet to prove capable of is playing a well rounded, complete sixty minutes. Those Raiders played from the first whistle to the last and never let up. They were relentless. And you knew going in that you were going to get an effective, solid sixty minutes out of that team.
With this current team, it’s not that they don’t play for sixty, it’s that they don’t play smart, effective, or cohesive football for sixty.
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This is a team that has four wins out of five games on the season, true. But those four wins have come by a combined twelve points. Their biggest margin of victory – seven points – came over Tennessee in week three.
And it could have been a completely different story if not for a fortunate and borderline offensive pass interference call on an Andre Johnson touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was a fifty/fifty call that fortunately, went Oakland’s way.
Last week against the Chargers who, granted, are far better than their current 1-5 record may indicate, are a team the Raiders could have and should have beat by double digits. Oakland had a ten point lead in the fourth quarter, but wound up squeaking by with a three point win – and perhaps only because they caught another lucky break when Drew Kaser fumbled a perfect snap on a game tying field goal attempt.
This Oakland team has made some of the most electric and dynamic plays this season. For the most part, they’ve stepped up and made a play when they needed one most. But they’ve also caught some very fortunate breaks along the road to their 4-1 record.
And if not for those breaks, that shiny, sparkling 4-1 record could be very different.
It’s true that Oakland has taken on and beaten a couple of the very best offenses in the league in New Orleans and San Diego. They narrowly lost to another in Atlanta. But they’ve only managed to squeak by against a couple of the league’s lesser ranked offenses in Tennessee and Baltimore. Which is a problem.
If you look at a few of the other 4-1 teams around the league, you can see a stark difference between them and the Raiders. New England, Pittsburgh, Dallas – you look at their 4-1 records and think, yeah, they’ve posted some solid, convincing wins. They’re a rock solid 4-1.
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And if you’re honest with yourself, you can look at the Raiders and feel a little bit – shaky. Oakland’s 4-1 record isn’t quite as rock solid as the others. The nature of Oakland’s wins have been the offense making explosive play after explosive play and the defense barely hanging on by their fingertips, hoping and praying that the clock runs out on the other team.
While those other 4-1 teams have shown an ability to really put an opponent away, the Raiders have had to simply hope for the best in squeaking by.
In the end, a win is a win, is a win, of course. But if you truly think that the nature of those wins doesn’t matter, you’re fooling yourself. No, this isn’t about style points. This is about being able to post a convincing win. This is about being able to put your foot on your opponent’s throat and crush it. This is about being able to be a dominant team. This is about developing a killer instinct that allows you to put an opponent away.
Those are all things this Raiders team does not have yet.
But, the good news is that these are all things that they can develop. But they need to start developing that killer instinct quickly – as in their game with the Chiefs. Kansas City is a good team. A solid team. But they’re not a team without their flaws and weak spots.
The Raiders absolutely must attack those weak spots with reckless abandon. They need to play a complete sixty minutes and find a way to impose their will on this Chiefs team. And if they’re able to build a lead on this Chiefs team – something Pittsburgh showed is very, very possible – they need to put them away.
The Raiders need to find a way to do something they’ve yet to do this season – dominate an opposing team. And they need to do it both offensively and defensively.
They’re currently sitting in first place, of course. But it’s a tenuous hold at best right now. Many in the media are calling the Raiders the league’s worst 4-1 team. And a slip in some of the various power rankings shows that some agree.
Putting a real hurt on Kansas City would go a long way to proving that yes, they are a legitimate first place team. And it would show that there is some real substance to the squad and that fantastic record isn’t simply a product of smoke and mirrors.
This team has the talent to be a dominant force in the league. They have a lot of truly fantastic and talented pieces. But as of yet, they’ve not been able to put all of those pieces into one cohesive overall picture.
Being able to do that, to play a full and complete sixty minutes, would go a long way to proving that they are a legitimate 4-1 team, a legitimate first place team, and a legitimate playoff contender.