JUST WIN BABY! That was the motto of late Raiders owner Al Davis, a mantra that has reverberated between Oakland and Los Angeles (and back to Oakland) for the better part of five decades. This, along with the phrase “Commitment to Excellence” are known throughout generations of football fans. Raider Nation, the die hard Oakland fan base, practically have these two credos embedded in their DNA from birth. The last decade hasn’t been kind to the residents of “The Black Hole” as the Raiders have been one the leagues bottom feeding teams. There hasn’t been much to write home about since the 2002 season.
Now, I’m sure we all can agree that the 2016 season has produced some surprise teams. Last week I wrote about one of those teams in the Dallas Cowboys, who just last night have won their eleventh straight game. Yet somehow, some way, just nine weeks away from Super Bowl LI, the Oakland Raiders are sitting pretty with the number two seed in the AFC, second to only the Patriots. You read that right; if the playoff were to start this weekend, Oakland would have a first round bye. What stands out to me more than anything is that the Raiders are on top what is arguably the toughest division in the AFC West, where Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego are usually in a tight race to procure a playoff spot.
Now I’ve been high on the Raider offense since Derek Carr took over the reigns during his rookie season two years ago. They had already drafted Latavius Murray the year before to bolster the running game, but things didn’t really start to gel until the team drafted receiver Amari Cooper in 2015. Cooper is on pace to have another 1000 yard season, while Murray and backups Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are combined for 1000 yards on the ground. Then there’s Carr, he of 3,115 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, and only five picks. Those numbers currently surpass those of New England’s Tom Brady (2,201 yards, 18 TD’s, 1 pick), though Brady was suspended for the first four weeks of the season.
Now defense is supposed to win championships, but the Oakland defenders are in all honesty the Achilles’ heel of the club. Its hard to fathom a team that gives up 25 points per game is able to only have two losses on the year so far. You also want to keep in mind that as a team, Oakland remains the most penalized, being flagged 127 times to date for a total of 867 accepted yards (nflpenalties.com). These negative factors lead me to believe that the Raiders essentially live and die by how the offense performs, even though the defense has been able to hold teams like Tennessee and Jacksonville to less than 20 points.
In any event, Raider Nation is finally feeling the love after a decade-plus of abysmal play and top draft picks that didn’t pan out (i.e. JaMarcus Russell). Maybe their current next door neighbors, the Golden State Warriors have inspired them to turn Oaktown into a premiere sports city again. With five games left, and three of them rematches against the entire AFC West, the Raiders look to be on a mission to getting their respect of the old days back. If they could draft defenders in the same vein as Howie Long and Charles Woodson to give Khalil Mack and the boys some help, there’s no telling how far they can go. For now, Raider Nation, bask in the joy of being kings of your domain. The next five weeks are gonna heat up.
JUST WIN BABY!!!
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