After a one-point victory in New Orleans during Week 1, it’s hard to say what anyone was expecting from the 2016 Raiders. Saved by a gutsy two-point conversion call, the Raiders started the season 1-0 for the first time since 2011.
The following week, the Raiders came home only to suffer a seven-point loss at the hands of the Falcons — a game in which the Raiders were actually 4.5 point favorites.
Two weeks in and this team was already confusing — but that confusion wouldn’t last long.
Over the 10 games since, the Raiders are 9-1 — including six straight wins dating back to Week 7. That stretch has been marked by consistency as well — with the Raiders finishing the first ‘quarter’ of the season 3-1, the second quarter 3-1 and the third quarter 4-0.
But what does the final quarter of the season have in store?
At 10-2, the Raiders have all but clinched themselves a playoff spot — but the question remains as to what little number they’ll find ahead of their name come January. Will they get a bye? Will they get any home games? Will they be division champs?
All of these questions will be answered over the next four weeks — a stretch that includes three road games, three divisional match-ups and one short-week match-up on national television.
Week 14 at Kansas City (Thursday night)
It’s not hyperbole to say this is the biggest game of the season, and honestly, it’s not even close. The Chiefs were the last team to beat the Raiders (in Oakland, no less), and they’re the clear favorite to challenge the Raiders for the AFC West crown.
A loss on Thursday would give both teams identical records, although it would essentially put the Chiefs a full game ahead of the Raiders thanks to the head-to-head tie breaker.
The last time these two teams met, it wasn’t pretty for Oakland, as they were out-coached and out-played in just about every way imaginable in the 26-10 loss.
The Chiefs held Derek Carr to a QBR of just 35.7 (his worst of the season), and held the offense as a whole to just 285 yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Oakland allowed 405 total yards and forced zero turnovers as Alex Smith threw just three incompletions all day.
It might be good news for Oakland that this game is on a Thursday night, as short weeks tend to create more uncertainty. As a team more likely to win with passion, heart and improvisation than with scheme and planning, anything could happen.
Week 15 at San Diego
With an extra couple days of preparation coming off the Thursday Night game, this one is a must-win for Oakland. The Raiders won a close one, 34-31, at home in Week 5 against the Chargers already this season, but there’s far more on the line for Oakland this time around.
At 5-7, the Chargers’ season will long be over by the time this game starts, but hatred for the silver and black should offer plenty of motivation for a team that might be playing their second-to-last game ever in San Diego.
Week 16 home vs Indianapolis
A dangerous team hovering around .500, the Colts present a second-consecutive must-win for the Raiders during this crucial stretch. Any team with Andrew Luck is dangerous, but on the defensive side of the ball, the Colts are atrocious (30th in YPG, 28th in PPG) — a weakness Derek Carr and Co. should have no problem exploiting.
This also presents what might be the Raiders final home game this season — hopefully only the final game of the regular season.
Week 17 at Denver
It’s tough to imagine a scenario where this Week 17 game is meaningless, given that both teams are firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt. In fact, it’s possible this game could determine the AFC West champion if the cards fall correctly.
Either way (as with all AFC West match-ups), all the motivation either team needs will come from the rivalry itself.
The Raiders beat Denver 30-20 in Week 9 — their third-biggest victory of the season — as the Raiders ran for 218 yards and three touchdowns against the vaunted Denver defense. The Broncos were held to 33 yards on 12 carries — all on national television.
As was laid out last week, the Raiders are in the midst of a ferocious fight for playoff positioning in the AFC — a fight that was softened a bit with Miami’s loss to Baltimore. As it stands, the Raiders are three full games up on the team currently in 7th place in the AFC — a good spot to be with four weeks to go.
Then again, at 10-2, the Raiders aren’t hoping simply to get into the playoffs, but rather to make some serious noise as AFC West champs. In order for that to happen, the Raiders are going to need to beat the Chiefs and win two of their final three games, finishing at 13-3.