By Sam McPherson
National Football League schedules are set up to ensure competitive balance and rotational matchups, so the fans of America’s favorite sport can stay engaged in the season, all year and every year.
And the 2013 Oakland Raiders seem to have gotten some good luck with their schedule this season, though they were unable to capitalize on it, and it’s one of the many reasons the team is just 4-8 in Coach Dennis Allen’s first year on the job with the Silver and Black.
First, there’s the division reality: the Raiders, playing in the AFC West, are looking at a very tough slate for the six annual matchups against its biggest rivals. The Denver Broncos (10-2) and the Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) are both playoff bound this season, and when you have to play two of the best teams in your conference twice, that starts the schedule off toward the “deep end” very quickly.
Oakland has already lost to both of those teams once this season, each time on the road. The Raiders lost to the Broncos in Denver on September 23 by the score of 37-21, and the Silver and Black lost to the Chiefs in Kansas City on October 13 by a 24-7 margin.
(At least Oakland gets to host the rematches later this month, though, right?)
The San Diego Chargers (5-7) may not be playoff bound in 2013, but they’re still a pretty good team that has outscored its opponents this season in spite of that losing record. The Raiders beat the Chargers at the O.co Coliseum on October 6 by a 27-17 score, and the Silver and Black will travel south to sunny San Diego on December 22 as they go for a season sweep of the Chargers right before Christmas.
So the AFC West is easily the best division in the conference, and as the Raiders are the “worst” team in the division, they automatically had a tough go this year with the “fixed” part of their schedule.
But Oakland’s rotational matchup against an NFC division this year featured the NFC East, one of the two worst division in the other conference —yet the Raiders ended up going 0-4 against the Philadelphia Eagles (7-5), the Dallas Cowboys (7-5), the New York Giants (5-7) and the Washington Redskins (3-9), by a combined score of 128-78.
That’s just ugly for Oakland, to give up close to half its total points allowed in 2013 in just four games against one of the worst divisions in the NFL.
When the Raiders look back at this season and try to figure out what went wrong, dropping those four games might be a good place to start. Against both the Giants and the Cowboys, Oakland had the lead in the second half but couldn’t hang on, for example.
Losing to the Redskins at home was just inexcusable, and the Eagles game disaster was a true low point in the season for the Raiders.
The other rotational division matchup for Oakland in 2013 was against the AFC South — again, probably the worst of the divisions in the AFC, with only one winning team so far this year (Indianapolis, 8-4). The Raiders played the Colts tough in Week One, holding the lead late in the fourth quarter before losing (surprise).
And the loss to the Tennessee Titans a few weeks ago at home? More of the same with another blown fourth-quarter lead.
Beating the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 and the Houston Texans on the road in November were good wins for Oakland, but they also were games the Raiders should have won. So just holding serve against the worst teams on your schedule doesn’t make for a winning season.
As Oakland prepares to take on the New York Jets (5-7) next, the Raiders may look back on this season with its schedule and really wonder “What if?,” and that’s too bad, because when the NFL schedule is on your side, you truly need to take advantage—and Oakland did not do that in 2013.
Who knows what the schedule will look like in 2014?
Chances are, it’ll be a bit tougher than it was this year, all things being equal to the football gods.
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.