It all comes down to this. One game. One weekend. One AFC West division title.
The Oakland Raiders have one chance and one chance only to earn their first playoff berth since 2002. All that stands in their way is the San Diego Chargers, this Sunday, at home at the Oakland Coliseum.
Oh, and the Denver Broncos.
There are a handful of scenarios that can unfold this weekend, with the end result being either the Broncos or the Raiders coming out on top of the AFC West. If the Raiders win and the Broncos lose, Oakland will win the division and claim the No. 4 seed in the AFC. But alternate options would result in the Raiders snaring the wild card spot—depending on certain other teams losing or winning.
Either way, the Raiders need to win.
What makes the situation more spicy is the battle between divisional foes. The Raiders must topple the Chargers; meanwhile, the fate of the AFC West hinges on the contest between the Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. It's an all-out Wild, Wild West shootout. The hate between all four teams will foam at the mouth this weekend. It will be exciting to see who is the last team standing.
Which team will come out on top?
The nation has been captivated by the angelic performance of the otherwise unorthodox quarterback Tim Tebow. But on the flip side of the coin is the dark side, the notorious Silver & Black Oakland Raiders. It will truly be a battle of good versus evil, appropriately this Sunday.
So who do you want to claim the division? Here are five reasons to root for the Oakland Raiders to win the AFC West.
Everybody is full aware of the most captivating epidemic in the NFL this year: Tebowmania. The quarterback without an arm, Tim Tebow, was thrust into the starting lineup midway through the season—as a last-ditch resort—and somehow he has guided the Broncos into playoff contention through a series of last-minute comebacks. He has done the impossible. He has done the unexplainable.
As everyone is full aware, Tebow is quite the religious fellow. Very religious. And his Christian faith has only added to the mystique of Tebow's miraculous performance throughout the year. Time and time again, Tebow has resurrected his team from defeat, pulled out a win and kept the Broncos in the playoff hunt. A seven-game winning streak under his guide, including six come-from-behind victories—five of which occurred in the fourth quarter, is quite amazing to say the least.
What makes his run so maddening to some fans is the fact that he has seemingly done so without true quarterbacking expertise—critics harp on his inability to throw a decent ball. He truly is unconventional, as Denver has completely written the offensive playbook to accommodate their college-style quarterback.
And yet it's worked.
The mania swept the entire nation, as non-fans were caught up by the charismatic story of this devout football player. His piety and likability have somehow overridden his signal-calling skill set, infuriating fans and analysts alike who claim he is not of the pure quarterback mold. How is this possible? How can a player who completes less than half of his pass attempts make it to the playoffs?
It's insane? It's inconceivable? Why is there so much attention surrounding this fullback who sometimes passes?
If you're in the majority, you'd like to see Tebow fail. He is the opposite of what dozens of years have taught us about the makeup of a bona fide quarterback. Many root against him because of this.
If you want to cure the disease of Tebowmania, you may unfortunately have to root for the Raiders this weekend. That in fact might be the only cure.
Until next season.
Let's face it: The Raiders are a team that you either love or hate. There is no in between. Much like the Lakers or Yankees or Duke basketball, the Raiders are a franchise that offers bipolar magnetism: Many people loath them, others adore them with pride.
For several decades, Oakland has thrived off being the rebellious Silver & Black sheep of the league. In fact, they have sort of adopted being the dark side of the force throughout the NFL. Always quick to go against the grain, be it in the front office, on the field or on through its fanbase, the Raiders have done things their way.
Drafting players that no other teams would; picking up free-agent castaways and malcontents; hiring head coaches just because they are young; embracing the manic Black Hole at their home stadium, the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders truly have done things their own way.
Through this course of action, Oakland has been picked on by the rest of the league as being too maverick, too woe-is-me, too conspiracy theory. When things go wrong, it's as if the entire world has turned against the Raiders. That sort of timeless chip on the shoulder irritates the opposition, who believe that Oakland deserves every citation they have received and each setback they've encountered.
That's why it's been almost comical to some to see the Raiders plunge into oblivion over the past decade. A franchise so proud and so independent established an NFL record with seven straight seasons of losing 11 games or more. Truly a sad, pathetic accomplishment. But one that has the rest of the league's fanbases smirking.
Every league needs a villain. The Oakland Raiders are them. They represent all that is evil and immoral in the NFL. If you are not a fan of the Raiders, there's a good chance you absolutely despise their team, the organization, their way of life and even every person who ever cheered for them.
And that's what makes it so necessary for them to be in the playoffs. They are the anti-Tebows. Without the Raiders, it's just two teams that people like to watch. Isn't that boring?
Like the Broncos, the Raiders have sort of defied the odds, too. After all, they are one of three teams in the league to have a winning record despite being outscored by their opponents for the season (Denver and the New York Giants being the others.) Interestingly, Oakland is ranked fourth-worst in terms of total points allowed. How are they this close to reaching the playoffs?
What's amazing to some, is how they've gotten at the postseason doorstep. During this season, the franchise has turned into an infirmary, as numerous key players have missed time due to injury. Darren McFadden, Jason Campbell, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Taiwan Jones, Kevin Boss, Marcel Reece and Louis Murphy have all been injured and sat out games as a result. And that's just the offense! That's the starting quarterback, starting running back, plus four of the team's top five wide receivers.
And yet Oakland is right there. But how?
This is a team that called the semi-retired Carson Palmer to rescue them when Campbell went down midseason. He became the third starting quarterback for Oakland on the season (Kyle Boller being the other), Carson Palmer!
This is a team that leads the league in penalties and is on pace to shatter the single-season record. Many are of the boneheaded variety: 17 have been of the unsportsmanlike variety, while nine have been delay-of-game penalties! It's inconceivable.
This is a team that gave up three double-digit leads, losing three close games in devastating fashion: an 18-point halftime lead at Buffalo, losing by three; a 10-point halftime lead to Tim Tebow (Denver), losing by 14; a 13-point fourth-quarter lead, losing by one. That inability to close puts Oakland in the position they're in right now. If Oakland wins one of those games, they're already in the playoffs.
That sort of unconventional performance is exciting and interesting to watch. You never know what you're going to get with the Raiders. They could pull off a fake field goal and get penalized for a delay of game. Oh, wait, they did that last weekend. In the end, they do whatever it takes to win games. And their abnormal style might just get them there on Sunday.
Oakland is indeed on the verge of the playoffs should they win Sunday's game. However, they are also on the verge of a non-winning season, should they lose. Another non-winning season.
Since reaching the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, the Raiders have not had a winning record. That's eight straight seasons. Before last year's 8-8 record, the Raiders achieved the near-impossible: seven consecutive 11-loss seasons. For a franchise that boasts a commitment to excellence, that stretch is unacceptable.
It is time for Oakland to get off the schnide, to rid themselves of this deplorable streak. This puts so much on the line for the Raiders this weekend. A divisional opponent against the hated San Diego Chargers. A chance to win the AFC West and make the playoffs for the first time in nine years. An opportunity to record a winning season, which in itself is an accomplishment for this moribund franchise. All under the guide of a first-time head coach, Hue Jackson.
The NFL needs to have the Raiders succeed in order to keep the balance of the league in order. The cross-bay rival San Francisco 49ers have generated buzz back in the Bay Area for returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. All hail them for their accomplishments and return to glory, but nobody cares about what possibility of the Raiders halting their own playoff drought.
The Raiders are thirsty, and if they want to lap up the Gatorade bath in the postseason, they need to win this weekend and give the league something to cheer about.
If there's any reason to win, for the Raiders, it's for their late owner, Al Davis. The maverick of all mavericks, Davis passed away earlier this season after a long illness.
Al Davis was, and still is, the Oakland Raiders. And the Raiders are Al Davis.
There has been a tremendous amount of turmoil over the past few seasons with the coaching carousel and losing performances. This took a toll on the ever competitive Davis, who ate, lived and breathed Silver & Black. A winning season and a trip back into the playoffs would certainly make him smile from above, especially given the makeup of his castaway cast of players.
Everybody knows that the Raiders' roster has Davis' thumbprints all over it: From the 4x100 track athletes in Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Taiwan Jones to the trade for defensive tackle Richard Seymour to the hand-selection of Hue Jackson as head coach, the sixth man in charge since 2002. It would be a great end to a rollercoaster season to see the Raiders in the playoffs, especially in honor of the man in black himself, Davis.
Love him or hate him, Davis had a tremendous influence on the rest of the league. It'd be great to put the cherry on top, honoring him with a playoff berth. It'd be good for Raider Nation, the organization and the entire NFL.
"Just win, baby." That was his motto. If the Raiders "just win," then they're in the postseason. And if they do come out victorious on Sunday, there's no doubt that Davis will have a part in his team's performance.
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