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Raiders prepare for critical four-game stretch

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Every game counts the same, but with four weeks between the Oakland Raiders and a match-up against the undefeated Broncos, the next four games could go a long way towards determining the fate of this season.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Off to the best start in 14 years, the Oakland Raiders have plenty to be excited about as they reach the quarter-mark of the 2016 season. With that said, many Raider fans will remember the last time they had this much reason to be excited — 2011 — and how that season ended.

The 2011 season began with a thrilling 23-20 win over the Broncos on Monday night. The Raiders headed into week 7 with a 4-2 record. The problem was, their starting quarterback, Jason Campbell, was lost to a collarbone injury and was done for the season. We'll skip over the dreadful Carson Palmer trade for now, but the Raiders would lose two in a row before winning three straight to improve to 7-4 on the season.

And then the wheels fell off. The team lost four of their final five games of the season to finish at 8-8 and miss the playoffs once again.

Why bother bringing this up? Because 3-1 is great, but you don't win any awards for how you do in the first four games.

Over the next four weeks, this batch of Raiders will face a critical stretch of winnable games — teams with a combined record of 5-11 (including two divisional foes). To ratchet up the pressure even more, this four game stretch will lead the Raiders into their first matchup of the season with the undefeated Broncos — in Oakland on a Sunday night.

The first two games in this stretch are the most important for a couple of reasons: they're divisional games and they're at home.

Week 5: San Diego Chargers (1-3)

This Sunday, the Raiders get a visit from the 1-3 Chargers — a team that's probably under appreciated thanks to three blown leads within the final two minutes of the game. The latest, which featured two fourth-quarter fumbles on their own side of the field, led head coach Mike McCoy to hold a fairly animated post-game press conference.

Week 6: Kansas City Chiefs (2-2)

The following week, it's the Chiefs who come to town off their bye week The toughest of the four games throughout this stretch, the Chiefs are 2-2 following the beating they took from the Steelers Sunday night. Coming into the season many people viewed the Chiefs as a dark horse Super Bowl contender, and with 12 games to go, this match-up could go a long way towards determining whether one of these teams gets into the playoffs.

If the Raiders can get through both of these games with a win, it could potentially eliminate these two teams from divisional contention — not to mention give the Raiders an advantage in any late-season tiebreaker scenarios.

Week 7: Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3)
Week 8: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)

Following the two divisional matchups, the Raiders travel to Florida for a pair of road games against the Jaguars and the Buccaneers. Both teams currently sit at 1-3, but seem to be headed in different directions.

The Jaguars are coming off a big divisional win against the Colts, and head into a bye this week before matching up against the dreadful Bears. The Bucs on the other hand, have lost three in a row by a total of 58 points and will travel to Carolina before their bye week and a match-up against the 49ers.

So, what do the Raiders need from these four games? Obviously, anything less than 2-2 would be a massive disappointment and could spell trouble for the second-half of the season. Like the first four games, I think 3-1 would be more proof this team is better off than they have been — ready to win the games they should win and that they need to win unlike in years past.