Over the next few days, I'm going to take a look at the Raiders' schedule and show how the Raiders and their opponents match up. You may be surprised at how well they stack up against some of these opponents.
This is part four of four, and I will cover four games at a time.
Through the first twelve games of the season, the Raiders stand at 9-3, primed for a their first playoff run in five years. The last four weeks of the season, however, have four opponents that should pit this team against playoff-worthy opponents, starting against the San Diego Chargers on the road, continuing at home against the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans, and finishing the season at Tampa Bay.
Week 14: Raiders at Chargers, Thursday Night Football
Last Meeting: Chargers win 24-17, in Oakland*
If the Raiders are indeed a wild card team, this is the game to prove it. Coming off two straight wins against the Broncos and Chiefs, the Raiders head into this game with only four days of rest since the Chiefs game.
The problem? Lately it seems the Chargers have taken to getting better as the season goes on. And the Falcons were their last opponent and most likely their last brutally abused victim. And the primetime lights should make this game pretty interesting.
I'm thinking the Raiders' rushing attack makes this game a little easier for Russell to manage. I'm also guessing that Russell isn't going to be babied as much and play calling will allow him to do a little more with that rocket launcher they call his right arm. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how his development is going throughout the season.
And I think Russell's play is the key to beating the Chargers because if the Raiders fall behind he will be depended on to win the game. I think the Raiders will fight for this one, but will be thinking wild card (the Chargers should have a better record by at least one game because their schedule is so much easier and their team is proven),San Diego will be thinking home field, especially if they meet up with the Patriots again.
For that reason alone, I think the Chargers will want it more and pull out the win.
Final: Chargers win 27-24.
Week 15 Patriots at Raiders
Last Meeting: Patriots win 30-20 in New England, 2005
This game will be about one person and one person only: Randy Moss and his return to Oakland. If the Raiders stand at 9-4, as I have them at this point in the season, the storylines will be wild. One thing will be guaranteed no matter what the records of either team: Moss will be abused by the Raider Nation.
That said, I can't know how that will affect his performance, whether it rattles him (not likely) or if it motivates him to do his Superman-stuff (more likely). Tom Brady isn't one to be distracted by that and the Patriots offense remains intact with the exception of Donte Stallworth who was essentially a non-factor.
The Patriots' offense shouldn't have much trouble moving the ball because, like the Giants showed, blitzing is really the only way to take them down and the Raiders don't blitz.
The defense, on the other hand, took some major hits, mostly in the secondary. Asante Samuel and Randall Gay are gone as is safety Eugene Wilson. The linebackers are a mix of old vets and rookie newcomers.
Among these are Jerod Mayo and Shawn Crable, the Patriots' first and third round picks, respectively. The defensive line is still fearsome, led by Richard Seymour and the highly versatile Adalius Thomas.
I think the Raiders might be able to score by passing a little more often and gaining some tough yards on the ground but, not enough to outscore the Pats' offense.
Final: Patriots win 38-21
Week 16: Texans at Raiders
Last meeting: Texans win 24-17 in Oakland, 2007
Is this the year the Raider finally beat the Houston Broncos...I mean Texans? Looking at the Texans' offseason moves I'd say it's likely.
The Texans have good pieces on offense and defense but they are still an incomplete team. On offense, they found their quarterback in Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson is a legit playmaker at WR, and Ahman Green is an effective RB.
Only problem there is the injury bug which hit all three of them last year. And there's no way of knowing whether or not they'll be fit to play this late in the season health-wise. But they have good depth behind them as Sage Rosenfelds and Ron Dayne proved last year.
The defense will be led by third year man and former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams at DE. After last year's 14 sacks, Williams is making the Texans look smart for passing on Reggie Bush for him in the draft. The front seven may give the Raiders some trouble rushing the ball with Amobie Okoye, DeMeco Ryans, and Williams but can do enough to balance out the offensive attack.
I think the Raiders' defense can finally do enough to contain the Texans' offense this year though, and the Raiders' offense can score enough to pull out the win.
Also I think this week San Diego locks up the division title, forcing the Raiders into a fight for a wild card spot.
Final: Raiders win 23-19
Week 17: Raiders at Buccaneers
Last meeting: Raiders win 30-20 in Oakland, 2004
The Buccaneers haven't done much this offseason except Gruden's mandatory 12 free agent quarterback signings. They lost a host of free agents that were either situational players or nearing the end of their careers.
The defense is still good and even though the core of the unit is aging (Ronde Barber, Derick Brooks), the rest of them are still young and the unit did pretty well last year. They will be tough to run or pass on when the Raiders come to town.
Luckily for Russell and the Raiders they don't have to deal with Florida weather because the schedule makers did Oakland another favor and gave them Tampa in December.
The Bucs' offense has a pretty good QB in Jeff Garcia and they have a strong running game. The passing game is weak because there aren't any good receivers. but with the defense that's in place they can get away with that in the regular season.
I think the standings will dictate how this game ends and more importantly who plays in it. If the Raiders are at the 10 wins I predict them at and the Chargers have already clinched the division, then there is a good chance the Raiders will have a wild-card spot locked up.
Thus allowing them to rest their starters in this game. Bucs win in this scenario.
It's the same on the other side. Like last year, I expect the Buccaneers to rest their guys if they have a playoff spot locked up. They may even be fighting for the division with the Panthers and/or Saints. Raiders win in this scenario.
If both teams are resting their starters it won't matter who wins or by how much. If that happens, this basically becomes a preseason game that counts in the standings.
If both teams should play their starters I think the Bucs win, barely. The defense should be able to contain the Raiders' offense (think Monte knows his son's offense?), while the offense might be able to get some points in by cashing in on turnovers and such.
Final (if starters play): Buccaneers win 17-10.
I think 10-6 is a real possibility with all the moves the Raiders have made during the offseason and the opponents they will line up against this year. I think wild card is also a real possibility. Season starts on Sept. 8 for this team; we'll find out then.
Here's to the new football season.