It's more than a quarter of the way through the 2016 season and the Oakland Raiders are the current #1 seed in the AFC. That doesn't mean much yet with so much of the season left to go, but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to write that sentence while I have the chance to. The Raiders are currently the top team in the AFC.
What's even more crazy about that is that they have gotten there while having an embarrassingly bad defense for much of the time. This past game against the San Diego Chargers definitely qualifies into that statement as well. The Chargers managed big play after big play against the Raiders secondary, it was to the point of absurdity.
A good way to prove just how awful that defensive performance really was is that they gave up 31 points and 423 yards despite causing 4 turnovers. You would think that getting that many turnovers was a good defensive performance, but the Raiders managed to throw that logic out the window yesterday with their defensive play.
This might actually be a good thing in the long run though, as long as it gets sorted out now and this monstrosity of a defense cleans things up anyway. After all, they are 4-1 despite playing terrible defense so just imagine how much better this team can be if the defense starts to play well. They could become scary good if this defense start playing even just at an average level.
There were a few players on the terrible defense that do deserve some praise though, most notably rookie safety Karl Joseph. Kudos to the young man for his first NFL interception, even if it looked like he was fielding a punt on the play. He also showed great awareness and determination on a fumble recovery as well where he reached out and snatched the ball off the ground well before anybody else had a chance to jump on it.
Both plays lead directly to points on the board for the Raiders, one a field goal just before halftime and the other drive was capped off with the Michael Crabtree touchdown reception. The biggest question left about Joseph since he was inserted into the starting line up is why the hell wasn't he playing the first two games? We will never have a good enough answer to that question though.
The other defensive players worthy of being highlighted were defensive lineman Stacy McGee and newly acquired linebacker Perry Riley Jr. McGee had not one but two sacks in this game, both badly needed with the Raiders severely lacking any type of pass rush so far this year. Riley on the other hand had a huge forced fumble on the opening Chargers drive when Antonio Gates was deep in Raiders territory and he also led the team in tackles, not bad for a player who wasn't even on the team week ago.
The Raiders offense was the reason they won this game though, Derek Carr continues to make a case for being in the league MVP conversation. He started out slow in this game with a terrible interception thrown on the Raiders first drive, but he finished with 317 yards and 2 perfectly thrown touchdown passes.
One of those touchdowns was placed perfectly into a speeding Amari Cooper's hands right in stride as Cooper ran untouched 64 yards to pay dirt. This was Cooper's best game of the season and that was his first touchdown catch this year. He also had two different times where he was just barely out of bounds on would be scores and one very strange play where he caught a touchdown pass but was deemed to have not established himself back from being out of bounds for the completion.
The other touchdown was another extremely ballsy call by Jack Del Rio to go for it on a 4th and 2 within field goal range. They were rewarded for their bravery with a great connection between Carr and Crabtree. Again, the throw was put right on the money but the catch from Crabtree was even better.
That was actually another moment where I was yelling "NO!" right up until the time it became a "YES!" as Crabtree caught it for a touchdown. It was yet another time where JDR opened himself up to second guessing but instead it worked out great for him. Say what you will about these Raiders, but they are not scared of anything.
It's crazy to think that this whole game ended up coming down to a botched hold on a chip shot field goal though. It's actually kind of a shame because it could have been a lot of fun to watch Derek Carr lead another 2 minute drill to take the lead back at the end of the game. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy it didn't actually come down to that and the Raiders won without the fireworks being needed.
At the same time though, it would have been really awesome seeing Carr lead the offense down the field for a 3rd game winning 4th quarter drive for the Raiders in just their 5th game of the season. We don't know for sure he would have been able to do it, but it's hard to bet against him having been able to get the offense downfield with only needing a field goal to win had the game been tied up.
Now the Raiders have the biggest game of the season next week as they host the Kansas City Chiefs. These games are always so difficult between these two historic rivals and if the Raiders plan on stealing the division from the Broncos they will need to have a great record within the division.
The Chiefs are coming in well rested and desperate to get their team playing like they believe they can. They are 2-2 which isn't terrible by any means, but their last game was a Nationally televised embarrassment. Kansas City is going to come in ready to play tough, hard AFC West football so the Raiders defense will need their best game of the season to secure a win.
Even scarier is Andy Reid's incredibly impressive post Bye week record. He was 13-1 after bye weeks in Philly and he is 2-1 so far for the Chiefs making his overall post bye week record an astonishing 15-2. The Raiders are going to need to be prepared to deal with a monster of a team with KC next week, especially defensively where they can not afford to give up the big plays like they did this past week against the Chargers.