And the road gets even more difficult!
If I'm correct with my analysis in the two previous parts of this series, the Oakland Raiders will bring a 6-2 record into week nine of the 2010 NFL season. But can the winning continue? It's possible, but winning in the third quarter of the season will a tall order to say the least.
Let's take a look.
Week Nine: The Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs are an improved team from last year, but they aren't as improved as the Raiders. They selected the best safety in the draft, Eric Berry. This will most certainly improve their secondary play, but they didn't do much to upgrade their weak offensive and defensive lines.
Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel are now on the Kansas City coaching staff. This means with Matt Cassel running the show, we can expect them to look a lot like the New England Patriots of five or six years ago...without all the talent. If we can control the quick, short pass to rookie Dexter McCluster and draw plays to Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones their offense will be largely neutralized.
To get to their defense, the Raiders must pound the ball between the tackles to set up play action. The defensive line of the Chiefs isn't horrible, but can be taken advantage of by the Raider's guards. There should be some nice running lanes for Michael Bush and Darren McFadden to exploit.
Once the run has been established, Jason Campbell can take advantage of the Chief's inexperienced secondary. Play action will keep the solid Chiefs linebackers in check while the young, speedy Raider's receivers find space in which to work and get open. This should lead to some big plays and big points for the Raiders.
At the rate they're going, the Chiefs will not be a push over, but they aren't ready to compete for another couple of seasons.
Projection: Raiders-27 Chiefs-14
Week 11: At The Pittsburgh Steelers
After a bye week to rest up, the Raiders will face their toughest game to date in Pittsburgh. This will not be the same Steelers the Raiders beat last season. They should have Troy Polamalu back, making it much more difficult to beat their secondary like Bruce Gradkowski and Louis Murphy did last season.
With Ben Roethlisberger in the game, the Raiders have to create a good pass rush, but can't sell out and get beyond the drop. If Roethlisberger escapes the pocket, he can torch defenses. It is imperative that the Raider defensive line contain him and prevent him from creating plays outside the tackles.
Stopping the Steeler running game will not be as tough as it was in their glory days, but it is still quite a task. Young running back Rashard Mendenhall is big, fast, and powerful. The Raiders cannot even attempt any arm tackles on him. If they do, he could win this game on his own.
The Steelers have arguably the best linebacker corps in the league. Lamar Woodley and James Harrison will be hard to contain. Two tight end sets and chipping with the running backs will be required if the Raiders hope to keep those two out of their backfield. Dropping off screens to Darren McFadden from time to time will help to slow down their excellent pass rush, but it won't work by itself. There has to be a legitimate threat of the pass over the middle to Zach Miller to keep Woodley and Harrison in coverage, rather than in Jason Campbell's face.
This will be one of the rare games that I would advocate using the pass to set up the run. Moving the chains with dump off passes and screens may work to keep the good Steeler linebackers in coverage, thereby opening up room for Michael Bush to gain yards on delays and sprint draws. If this works, the Raiders have a legitimate shot at repeating last year's surprise.
Unfortunately, I have a gut feeling that the return of Polamalu and the bad taste of losing to the Raiders last year will inspire the Steelers to victory over the silver and black.
Projection: Raiders-13 Steelers-28
Week 12: The Miami Dolphins.
When the Dolphins come into Oakland, they will be bringing an old Raider adversary with them, Brandon Marshall. Marshall makes this Dolphin team a lot better and more difficult to defend. Teams will no longer be able to focus on Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams and the running game. If they do, Henne will get the ball to Marshall and score...a lot!
The "Wild-Cat" offense is starting to fade away in the NFL, except in Miami. The Raiders have to be ready to stop Brown and Williams without ignoring Marshall. This will test the Raiders newly assembled front seven. Staying true to their gap responsibility and covering the middle of the field will be key to stopping the Dolphins' offense.
The loss of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor will slow the Miami pass rush, but the addition of Carlos Dansby and rookie Jared Odrick will improve their run defense. The only real weakness the Dolphins have on defense, if any, is on the edge. This could be the day Darren McFadden makes the difference. Pitches, sweeps and quick screens can be very productive.
The Dolphin secondary is young, but very talented. Cornerbacks Vonte Davis and Sean Smith won't get beat with athleticism, but with scheme. Double moves off of play action and complex route combinations will confuse them and may cause some blown coverages for Jason Campbell and the young receivers to exploit.
When all is said and done, the Raiders will end up on top in this battle of wild card contenders.
Projection: Raiders-27 Dolphins-23
Week 13: At The San Diego Chargers.
Revenge will be on the menu on December 5th in San Diego. The Raiders will be looking to return the favor to the Chargers for beating them in the Black Hole in week four.
Once again, the key on defense will be to get after Philip Rivers and punish him. Getting him on the ground and constantly harassing him is the only hope the Raiders have. If Rivers is given time to throw, he will pick the defense apart. This game will be won or lost by the pass rush.
Ryan Matthews will be more comfortable in his role and have a better understanding of the Charger offense. This will make him more dangerous that he was in week four. Matthews is a fairly powerful back, so the Raider defensive line has to control their gaps and force Matthews to look for other avenues. Then, Tyvon Branch and the rest of the secondary must step up and support against the run with big hits and forced fumbles.
If the defense does what is needed to rush the passer and stop the run, the offense will have a chance to control the clock with the run game. Michael Bush needs to have at least 25 carries; all between the tackles. Once the Charger safeties have to commit to stopping the run, play action passes deep to Louis Murphy and Darius Heyward-Bey can really hurt the Chargers.
The Raiders not only can do all of this, but will do all of this. Once the dust settles, the Raiders will have the satisfaction of beating their rival Chargers in their own house.
Projection: Raiders-23 Chargers-20.
So there it is. I have the Raiders going 3-1 in this stretch giving them a 9-3 record heading into the last quarter of the 2010 season.
What do you say? Am I right? Am I wrong? Or, am I just crazy? Speak to me Raider Nation!
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