6 Games the Oakland Raiders Need to Win to Make the Playoffs
In 2011, the AFC West champion needed just eight wins to make the playoffs, but with a revamped division set for 2012, this year's winner will need to do better than that.
While the term "must-win games" is grossly overused throughout the season, there still are a number of games each team can identify on their schedule as games they can't afford to slip-up in if they have playoff aspirations.
For the Oakland Raiders, we've identified six games that the team needs to capitalize on if they hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Now obviously, if they want to make the playoffs, they'll also need to win a handful of the remaining 10 games as well, but those will be more difficult.
Week 2 at Miami Dolphins
There aren't many times that a team goes on the road expecting to win, but in their Week 2 matchup against the Dolphins, the Raiders will have high hopes.
The Dolphins are coming off of a 6-10 season in 2011 in which they began the season 0-7 before winning six of their last nine games. With a new head coach (Joe Philbin) and a pair of new quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill, David Garrard) in town, however, it doesn't appear that the late-season momentum will continue into 2012.
The good news for Oakland is that they're catching the new-look Dolphins early in the season with less time to adapt to their new system and surroundings. They've also got a bit of revenge in mind as well, as the Dolphins beat the Raiders, 34-14, in 2011.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Dolphins 17
Week 7 vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Coming off a 5-11 2011 campaign, the Jaguars are a prime candidate for a must-win game on just about any team's schedule this season.
Although they boast one of the top running backs in the league in Maurice Jones-Drew (assuming he eventually reports to camp), the Jags don't boast much else.
Like the Dolphins, the Jaguars will look a bit different in 2012 with a new coach of their own (Mike Mularkey) and a number of notable additions. Among the most notable newcomers are first-round pick Justin Blackmon and free agents Lee Evans, Laurent Robinson and Aaron Ross.
Despite all of the new faces, however, expectations in Jacksonville remain low, giving the Raiders a good chance at another victory.
Prediction: Raiders 17, Jaguars 12
Week 9 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is coming off of a disappointing 2011 season in which it finished 4-12 just one year after making the jump into the playoffs.
While the Bucs will depend on Josh Freeman to return to 2010 form if they want to improve, he will have some more help this season thanks to the addition of someone the Raiders are very familiar with: Vincent Jackson. Like Miami and Jacksonville, the Bucs also have a new coach in Greg Schiano.
While Tampa Bay promises to be a tougher opponent than both of the previously mentioned teams, however, a home game in the middle of the season makes this very important.
Prediction: Raiders 20, Buccaneers 17
Week 13 vs Cleveland Browns
Already a perennial cellar-dweller, the Browns were just 4-12 last season and don't have a ton of hope for the 2012 season.
On one hand, the Browns will boast a pair of rookies in their backfield in quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. However, youth at those two positions isn't always a good thing right away. Unfortunately for Weeden, Greg Little is the team's No. 1 receiver.
As the third straight home game on this list, this might be the easiest game on the slate in 2012 and one the Raiders will dearly need as they make a late-season push for the playoffs.
Prediction: Raiders 38, Browns 20
Week 15 vs Kansas City Chiefs
It's always tough to classify any divisional game as a must-win, but a home game against the Chiefs definitely qualifies.
While the Chiefs finished just one game behind the Raiders in 2011, they were able to embarrass the Raiders early on in a 28-0 laugher in Week 7. I'd like to believe that will serve as plenty of motivation for guys like Carson Palmer, who struggled mightily.
For the Chiefs, the biggest thing that happened this offseason was that they got healthy. In 2011, the team played significant stretches of time without quarterback Matt Cassel and running back Jamaal Charles—their two best offensive players by far.
Aside from the arrival of new coach Romeo Crennel (who got the job for the final three weeks of 2011), the Chiefs added former Raiders Stanford Routt and Kevin Boss, along with Peyton Hillis and Brady Quinn.
Prediction: Raiders 19, Chiefs 14
Week 16 at Carolina Panthers
After getting off to a great start in 2011, the Carolina Panthers withered down the stretch before finishing with a 6-10 record in Cam Newton's rookie season.
Although many people are expecting big things from Newton and Co. in 2012, I'm in the camp that believes the second half of 2011 was a more accurate picture of how good the Panthers are.
If 2012 is anything like 2011, then the final few weeks of the season will be paramount in determining who gets in and who doesn't, so with the chance to play a team outside of the playoffs down the stretch, the Raiders will need to capitalize—even if it is on the road.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Panthers 20