At 6-2, the Oakland Raiders have already won more games than they had in 10 of the past 13 seasons — with only an epic collapse standing between them and their best record since at least 2002 (11-5). Thus far, the key has been winning the games they needed to win — the games they should win given the talent on the roster.
It's interesting to look back at the teams they have beaten and realize that none of the wins were gimmies — each team except for the Jaguars has at least three wins, with both losses coming to teams with five wins. Of course, the fact that five of the six wins have come on the road is also impressive.
However, while all of this is nice, the reality is that Oakland is tied for the division lead at 6-2 with just a half-game lead over Kansas City (5-2). Essentially: 6-2 is nice, but they haven't done anything yet.
So what's on tap for the next four games? Zero true road games (and a bye week) and four match-ups with high-end defenses.
Week 9: Denver Broncos (6-2)
It's the biggest game of the year and it isn't even close.
It's at home, it's on Sunday night, and it's against the team many believe they're fighting for the AFC West crown. But can the Raiders actually win?
While the Raiders have beaten the teams they're supposed to, they haven't had any signature wins yet (or at least, none that were signature for the right reasons). They've beaten a bunch of teams hovering around .500 and have lost to the two best teams they have played.
After losing to Kansas City at home (albeit with the Chiefs coming off a bye week), this one is massive for the Raiders.
Week 10: BYE
Some much needed rest here. Hopefully the Raiders can get Mario Edwards Jr. back healthy, and maybe even Aldon Smith to help bolster the defensive line. Either that, or just figure out how to fix the penalties.
Week 11: Houston Texans (5-3)
This is the type of game Oakland should feel good about — a poor offense in Houston means this game is going to come down to whether Derek Carr and Co. can score enough points (and that's a good thing). The one odd feature here is the location: Mexico City. But if Oakland wants to make some noise in the AFC, this one is a must-win. The fact that it's on Monday night doesn't hurt either — prepare yourself for the "Khalil Mack vs. JJ Watt" features.
Week 12: Carolina Panthers (2-5)
It's tough to know what to make of the Panthers. A Super Bowl team last year and projected contender in the NFC, they have won just two games — one against the lowly 49ers and one against the confusing Cardinals. So are they good?
Defensively, no. While Derek Carr's numbers against Tampa Bay were other-worldly, against this defensive backfield, he might come close to matching them. On offense, however, Cam Newton obviously makes them dangerous and will provide a massive test for Oakland's front seven.
Note: the Panthers play on Thursday night the week before this game, so they'll be coming off 10-days rest, while the Raiders will be on a short week from playing Monday night. That alone makes this game far more complicated than usual.
Week 13: Buffalo Bills (4-4)
The Raiders finish off the third-quarter of their season with a visit from Rex Ryan and Co. Like the Panthers, the Bills are confusing — after starting out 0-2, they rattled off four-straight wins against the Patriots, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers, before losing two straight to the Dolphins and Patriots.
Again: so are they good? Honestly, it doesn't really matter all that much because at this point, the Raiders should win this game either way.
So what's reasonable to expect from this stretch? One great team, two good ones and one confusing one — none truly on the road, but with varying degrees of scheduling confusion. I'd say 2-2 is acceptable given the level of competition and the Carolina scheduling — but if the AFC West crown is the dream, then anything less than 3-1 in four home games and they're in trouble.