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Oakland has suddenly become trap for playoff hopefuls

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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

If I were to tell you a little more than a month ago that no one in the NFL would want to make a trip to Oakland, you would probably laughed in my face. You would have been justified in doing so. I would have done the same. They began 0-10 on the season and hadn't won in a calendar year, including a streak of 7-straight home losses.

Then suddenly, and completely out of nowhere, they became the playoff killer.

Their first win came against the Chiefs who were on a 5-game winning streak. They would come into Oakland and that streak ended and a new one would begin - a three-game losing streak.

The Chiefs would host the Raiders three weeks later with the playoffs very much on the line and win going away, 31-13. But even with the win, their playoff hopes were on a thin thread. That thread got even thinner with a loss to the Steelers today. At 9-7 they no longer control their own destiny.

Two weeks later, after the Raiders were dumped 52-0 in St Louis, they returned home and hosted the cross-bay rival 49ers. Even with a strong 49ers fan contingency in the crowd, the Raiders still put down the already wounded 49ers. Their life support plug was pulled the following week with a trip to Seattle. It made their last two games meaningless which is probably for the best considering they choked away a big lead against the Chargers Saturday night.

It was the 49ers' 4th straight loss and the one-time 7-4 team is now facing the possibility of finishing the season under .500, sending Jim Harbaugh out of San Francisco and perhaps to Oakland.

Then Sunday they welcomed the Bills who were coming off a big win over the Packers in Buffalo and absolutely had to win out to get in. Then they entered the buzz saw that is Coliseum and their playoff hopes were chewed up and spit out.

"What it says to me is this team is hook, line, and sinker, in," said Tony Sparano. "And they're in it for the long haul. And they fight. And they're tough. They're tough-minded guys. I get it; it's kind of a rollercoaster. It's been up, It's been down, it's been up, it's been down, but every time we're down, and people want to count us out and we make a million excuses for who, what, when and why for Buffalo or for any of those kind of things, but at the end of the day, we won the football game. We played a good football team and won the football game. There's no excuse there. We beat a good football team today."

It was the last game in Oakland this season, so no other teams will have to deal with falling into that trap.

The hard part is that these Raiders players can't seem to find this same level of play on the road. For whatever reason, they look like a completely different team on the road. They look like the team that went 0-10 to begin the season.

In between those three-straight wins have come two big road losses against the Missouri teams in which they were outscored 83-13.

I asked Derek Carr why the Raiders can't find the same level of play on the road as they do at home.

"We're growing. We're learning," said Carr. "We've got to learn how to take what we do here and go on the road and do it. Play with the same passion and intensity, our coaches say swagger. We have to take that - the way we can play here against some really good football teams, and do that on the road. We need to learn how to do that and it's something that we are learning to do. But it just hasn't happened yet. We know, like this whole thing has been, we're going to keep fighting, keep working, keep trying and eventually we'll get it right."

All indications are the Raiders will be signing another one-year lease extension to stay in Oakland at least one more season, so many of these players will be able to continue to try and maintain this newfound homefield advantage.