By Sam McPherson
Strangely, with their 4-6 record, the Oakland Raiders are just one game – and some messy tie-breakers, perhaps – away from the National Football League postseason, thanks to a plethora of mediocre teams in the American Football Conference.
The Raiders play in the AFC West, of course, where two teams have 9-1 records and are sure to make the playoffs. But after the second-place AFC West team, whether it be the Denver Broncos or the Kansas City Chiefs, there is still room for another team in the postseason picture.
Why not the Raiders?
Currently, AFC East teams the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are tied for that last playoff spot in the conference, both with 5-5 records. Right now, the Jets win a tiebreaker over the Dolphins based on division record, since both play in the East.
One game behind those two teams, there are a whopping six teams with 4-6 records, and at this moment, thanks to several tie-breaking procedures, one team is at the top of the mediocre pile: The Oakland Raiders.
No joke, the Silver and Black are that close to making the playoffs.
The Raiders hold tiebreak edges over the five other teams with the same record: Tennessee (based on conference record), Pittsburgh (head-to-head victory), San Diego (head-to-head victory), Baltimore and Cleveland (both AFC North teams rank behind Pittsburgh already in the tie-breaking procedure).
(The NFL’s tie-breaking rules are a fun read if you have the time, by the way.)
So thanks to some fortuitous victories already this year, Oakland can keep winning and have a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
And wouldn’t that be something?
But, of course, the key is right there, written above: keep winning.
Lose on Sunday to the Titans, and there goes that tie-breaking edge to Tennessee. Lose at San Diego on December 22, and there goes that current tiebreak. Lose at all, in fact, and everything can be left to chance.
But with six games left on the schedule, the Raiders will need to win at least four of them to finish at 8-8 and have an outside shot at a playoff spot, and considering they have games remaining against both the Broncos and the Chiefs – albeit both at the O.co Coliseum, where the home-field crowds could be helpful – Oakland may need to even win one of those games to guarantee itself a chance at the postseason.
Breaking it down, game by game, is it possible?
- November 24: The 4-6 Titans come to Oakland with a backup QB, and the Raiders should be confident for this game;
- November 28: The Raiders travel to Dallas for the traditional Turkey Day game against the currently inconsistent Cowboys, and if Oakland can be 6-6 after this game, they may have a real shot;
- December 8: Another game in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey this one against the Jets. So far this season, New York has alternated wins and losses. This would be a “win” week for them if the pattern holds, so the Raiders will need to be at their best to claim another road win;
- December 15: Oakland hosts Kansas City, and the Chiefs beat the Raiders by 17 points earlier this season in Missouri;
- December 22: The Raiders travel to play the inconsistent Chargers, but Oakland always has more fans at that stadium than the home team does. That could be huge if the Raiders are at least 7-7 at this point. You know the faithful fans would make the trip for a little holiday fun in the sun;
- December 29: The Broncos come to town, and they may have already sewn up a postseason spot. Meaning no Peyton Manning. And while Denver beat Oakland by 16 points earlier this season in Colorado, this game could be huge for the Raiders if they are at least 8-7 at this point.
You can sort of see this happening, if the chips fall the right way for the Silver and Black: beat Tennessee, knock off Dallas, bury the Jets.
And suddenly, anything’s possible in the NFL.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.