The expectations for the Oakland Raiders for the 2019 season were low for the majority of analysts and fans. The buzz that was heard about their upcoming season was their lack of defense, the question of confidence in quarterback Derek Carr, and a brutal first half of their schedule. Prior to Andrew Luck‘s retirement, the Raiders had matchups with six potential playoff teams, five of them were Super Bowl contenders. The odds were not in their favor, but the odds took a turn after the Raiders started winning games they originally weren’t supposed to. I had suppressed feeling that the Raiders would find a way to make noise in their last season in Oakland, and surprise us all with a playoff berth. This was an 8% confidence in a playoff run all based on hope. This hopeful hunch now has meat to back it up. The Raiders are 4-4, and the confidence percentage in a playoff berth has now turned into 65%.
Growing Confidence in the Oakland Raiders
65% of Confidence
The first half of Oakland’s schedule was seen as having some of the most difficult matchups compared to any other team. The Raiders would be traveling to play the Vikings, Colts, Packers, Texans, and one of Oakland’s home games was replaced with a small trip to London to play the Chicago Bears. Now the schedule gets much easier, and the Raiders are playing great football on the offensive end. The running game is clicking with a rookie star, the schedule is favorable, and behind another great offensive line, Derek Carr is playing the best football of his career.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
There’s so much that could be written about running back Josh Jacobs. The Alabama alumni was taken with the 24th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, a pick that was sent to the Raiders for Hall of Fame talent defensive end Khalil Mack. The uproar from sending off the coveted former All-Pro for an unproven running back has subsided. Jacobs showed out in his debut, accumulating over 100 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns, the first running back to do that since LaDanian Tomlinson in 2001. After a couple of blowout losses, the offensive line became healthier and head coach Jon Gruden began establishing the run earlier to set the tone. The Raiders pulled off back to back wins over the Colts and Bears, dropped two straight hard fought losses on the road to the Packers and Texans, and then finished off their first eight games with a home win over the Lions. In those last three wins, Jacobs was given 71 carries that he turned into 322 yards, an average of 4.53 yards per carry. He also scored 4 touchdowns, two in London and two against the Lions. Jacobs is on his way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and is making GM Mike Mayock‘s drafting skills look good so far.
A Tale of Two Schedules
As discussed before, the first eight weeks were a brutal stretch. The 21,347 miles the Raiders traveled in that period was more traveling than 22 NFL teams have in their entire seasons. Before the season, the Bears and Colts were considered Super Bowl contenders. After Andrew Luck retired before the season began, the Colts expectations were curtailed. Also, the Bears did not make that leap from playoff team to true contender due to the fact that their offense cannot find a way to move the ball. These two difficult matchups became more winnable games, and winning is just what the Raiders did. Their eighth game was another test. If the Raiders win, they’re sitting at .500, if they lost, they would have 5 losses and the playoff chances would be dim. Derek Carr provided some fourth quarter magic and the defense made a stop allowing the Raiders to keep their hops alive.
Coming up are the Chargers at home, tonight, on Thursday Night Football. This is another true test. Our offensive line is a little banged up, and keeping the Chargers pass rush at bay is a priority. After this game the Raiders have 10 days to rest and prepare for the winless Bengals. The following games are the Jets, Chiefs, Titans, Jaguars, Chargers , and Broncos. Those are a lot of winnable games. A 6-2 finish to the season is more than attainable, it’s likely.
That’s My Quarterback
Derek Carr is back baby. Give this man an offensive line to protect him, that he can have confidence in, and he will produce. Raiders fans have had an off and on relationship with Carr for about three years now. I think we know what he is now. He’s our franchise quarterback, but no, he can’t take us to the playoffs on his own. This is the first season he’s ever had a strong running game and great offensive line to back him up and he is playing excellent football. Over his last 5 games, Derek Carr is 106 for 152 (69.7%) for 1,285 yards (8.5 per attempts) with 9 TDs, 1 INT, and only two sacks as well. He is second in the league in passer rating under pressure at 109.0, only behind MVP favorite Russell Wilson. In the last two seasons, he threw 17 interceptions while under pressure. This season, he has zero in that situation. Before the Lions game, Derek Carr was ranked first in completion percentage, Red Zone completion percentage, passing touchdowns on 3rd Down, and passer rating on 3rd Down. Finally, since our bye week, Derek Carr is ranked first in pass yards per attempt (9.7 avg), third in passer rating (120.4) and is tied for fourth with seven passing touchdowns.
NFL quarterbacks earn their paychecks by not turning the ball over, third down excellence, Red Zone efficiency, and clutch fourth quarter play. Carr has checked all these boxes whenever he has time in the pocket and weapons to throw to. Gruden has also given Carr the reigns to audible and coach at the line of scrimmage which has benefited at times. This Derek Carr-Jon Gruden led offense is averaging 6.2 yards per play, fourth in the NFL. What they are doing is working, and I am not expecting the results of this offense to change for the rest of the year.
35% of Doubt
There are still some factors to prevent certainty of playoffs. Injuries could happen. The Chargers are also finding their stride and could beat the Raiders both matchups, along with a probable Chiefs loss. The biggest issue is their defense. The run defense has been solid, ranked seventh in the NFL, allowing 92.5 yards per game. However, the pass defense is the league worst. The Raiders secondary has given up almost 300 yards per game on average. Matthew Stafford threw for 383 yards last week and Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes hit the 400 yard threshold. The Raiders defense made the most important stop last week when they forced a turnover on downs on the Lions last drive to clinch the win, but throughout this season the team has been picked apart in the middle of the field. The personnel just isn’t there to get better either. The pass rush is lacking someone to put pressure on the opposing quarterback and the safeties and linebackers are struggling to keep tight ends and wide receivers from gashing for chunks.
So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance
The Raiders are primed to make it to the playoffs for only the second time since 2002, but they need to keep playing great football on the offensive side. The defense will not turn the season around suddenly. If the offensive line stays healthy, Derek Carr will continue to have time to drop dimes to his tight ends and his favorite receivers Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow. Josh Jacobs will continue on his campaign and the Raiders will score points. Run the scores up on these soft teams that are coming up these next two months, and yes, there’s a chance. About 65% chance to make me happy.