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Mapping out the Raiders’ path to the playoffs

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The loss to the Texans was brutal, but there’s still hope for a playoff push in Oakland

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The chances of the Raiders making the playoffs took a major hit with Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Houston Texans, but with the AFC wild-card spots looking wide open, Oakland can still forge a path to playoffs.

The long, grueling 48-day road trip has come to an end. That six-week trip will undoubtedly be the toughest test of the regular season, and the lessons they learned away from home will define the rest of the year.

As the schedule eases up, the Raiders might be poised to go on a run. No, seriously, look at the upcoming slate.

Week 9: Home vs. Lions

Week 10: Home vs. Chargers

Week 11: Home vs. Bengals

Week 12: Away vs. Jets

That four-game stretch of opponents is a combined 7-22-1 right now, and with the Raiders looking particularly emotionally charged after Sunday’s heartbreaker, this team feels like they’re poised to bounce back. Dropping below .500 might be exactly the motivation that Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock need to make a splash before Tuesday’s deadline.

Every week, Football Outsiders runs 30,000 simulations of the rest of the season. Before this weekend, the Raiders made the AFC playoffs in 49 percent of simulations with a win over the Texans, while making it just 21 percent of the time with a loss. If the Raiders can traverse that schedule and head into Arrowhead stadium at 7-4 when they face the Chiefs in Week 13, those odds will likely have skyrocketed.

Although they’re not yet out of reach of Kansas City atop the AFC West standings, it is much more likely that Oakland grabs a wildcard spot. Really the only competition the Raiders face for the two wildcard spots includes Buffalo (5-2) and the entirety of the muddled AFC South.

With the Colts (5-2), Texans (5-3), Jaguars (4-4), and Titans (4-4) all sitting above Oakland, the Raiders final home games against Tennessee and Jacksonville in Week 14 and 15 could be among the most important Raider games in years. Possessing tiebreakers over three of the four AFC South teams could be the difference in January.

With away games against the uneven Chargers and Broncos rounding out the schedule, the Raiders going 6-3 to finish 10-6 seems possible. Heck, 11-5 might even be within reach if everything breaks right and the defense improves.

If Gruden decides to continue selling off pieces of the team to add draft picks and focus on the future, it would be understandable, albeit disappointing. Although he has the safety of being less than two years into a 10-year contract, Raider Nation fans who have only seen one playoff appearance since the 2002 season aren’t ready to kick the can on to 2020.