Although the Raiders' 4-8 record hardly has the team where they wanted to be in the standings at this point, it does little to diminish the significant strides they have made and how competitive they have been throughout the 2013 season.
Sunday's matchup on the road against the struggling New York Jets may be the lone winnable game remaining on the Raiders schedule—it's one they need badly.
If the defense continues to play the way they have so far this season, they should be able to take control against a Jets offense that has scored just six points in their past two games combined.
Having said that, the Jets' defensive front has been among the league's best in defending the run. They should force the Raiders to beat them through the air from the game's outset.
The Raiders will need to have success in a few key areas to come away with a win, and each can be narrowed down to a specific matchup.
C Stefen Wisniewski vs. NT Damon Harrison
The Raiders offensive line has performed significantly better in the games in which Stefen Wisniewski has played in rather than those he hasn't, and that is no coincidence.
Quietly so, he is becoming one of the best young centers in the NFL. He is key not only as a run- and pass-blocker, but as the leader of the entire offensive line.
Wisniewski draws a tough matchup in Damon Harrison, who has been one of the league's breakout defensive players. Harrison is a big reason for the Jets' No. 1 overall ranking defending the run.
For the Raiders to get any sort of run game going against Harrison and the Jets defense, Wisniewski will have to have his best game of the year to be able to keep Harrison in check.
If not, the Jets defense will continue their dominance up front, and this could turn into an extremely low-scoring game.
Raiders Secondary vs. QB Geno Smith
The Raiders secondary has been arguably the team's most improved unit throughout the course of this season. On Sunday, they could get a another huge boost with the potential return of starting strong safety, Tyvon Branch.
In Geno Smith, this group faces a young quarterback who has been inconsistent thus far. As of late, those inconsistencies have turned into overall struggles, as he was benched in the second half of last week's loss to the Dolphins.
For the Raiders to come away with a win, the secondary will need to take advantage of Smith's lack of experience at the NFL level, and force him into committing some timely turnovers.
For the offense to score, especially if their run game is shut down early on, it may take the kind of field position that such turnovers can create, much like we saw in the Raiders' road win in Houston.
If Smith bounces back and has a big game against the Raiders secondary, it could make for another very long game for the silver and black.
OC Greg Olson vs. HC Rex Ryan
Year in and year out, Rex Ryan leads one of the NFL's best defensive units, and this season is no exception.
With how dominant the Jets defense has been, particularly against the run, Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson may need to get a little more creative in his play calling if the offense is going to find a way to move the ball consistently.
Whether it's timely misdirections or screen passes to keep the defense honest—or even an all out aerial attack—the Raiders must rely on plays other than inside runs to pick up yardage.
With how heavily each defense outmatches the opposing offense, this could easily turn into a punt fest early on and stay that way throughout. However, if Olson can have one of his good games calling plays, putting his players in the right position, the Raiders may be able to keep the Jets from hanging around and put this game away early.
Overall, the majority of the Raiders' key matchups focus on them having success against the Jets' dominant defensive front.
If they can do just that, be it on the ground or through the air, as well as have the defense create turnovers against an inexperienced Jets offense, the Raiders should come away from this game with a win.
Moving to 5-8 wouldn't look all that impressive on the surface, but if the rest of the day's games go their way, it could very well keep them alive, with a glimmer of hope, in a rather weak AFC Wild Card race.