The Oakland Raiders started the season 1-3 and the media was quick to claim that this team is the same team of years past. Most assumed that all the hype of the offseason was just that—hype.
New quarterback Jason Campbell was scrapped after one-and-a-half games in favor of the scrappy reserve, Bruce Gradkowski, and they were still giving up big runs.
Then the Raiders beat the favorite to win the AFC West last weekend when they hosted the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders withstood an outstanding performance by Phillip Rivers and played tough from start to finish in order to secure the win.
Despite an impressive win that showed the dedication of this team, the talking heads all still dismiss the Raiders as a bad team not worth discussing.
However, when one really takes a look at how this season has gone, it is easy to see how different things could be right now. The Week One game against the Titans was a bad loss that showed the team was not prepared for the season, but things changed the next week.
In Week Two at home, the Raiders pulled out a close win against the St. Louis Rams that required a quarterback switch at halftime. Most saw this as a further sign that the Raiders are no good.
But the Rams are not nearly as bad a team as they were last year. They played Arizona tough and handily defeated both the up-and-coming Seattle Seahawks and the hot Washington Redskins. Yes, they were trashed by the Detroit Lions, but they are clearly no longer a team that is a presumed win.
In Week Three, the Raiders went on the road to play the Arizona Cardinals. We all know the story of that game. The Raiders won in nearly every aspect of the game except the one that mattered—the score.
If Janikowski hits just one of his three missed field goals, the Raiders are 2-1 to start the season. The Raiders should have beaten the Cardinals, the same Cardinals that beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.
In Week Four, the Raiders welcomed the Houston Texans. Houston came into town having started the season fairly strong, with wins over the Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins. The game ended up coming down to the final series, as the Raiders attempted to drive the field and score a touchdown to tie the game.
In that game, the Raiders defense came out flat in the first and third quarters. If the Raiders defense played a complete game the way Raiders fans know they can, the Raiders would have likely won that game. For the first and only time this season, the Raiders offense was keeping the team in the game.
In Week Five against the Chargers, the Raiders offense struggled as the rest of the team pulled more than their own part in order to get the win. So far this season we have seen every aspect of the Raiders team show success at different times. If the Raiders can play well in all facets of the game week in and week out, they will be able to win a good number of games.
If the Raiders do want to turn this season around and compete for a playoff spot, it is imperative they play well this way the next four weeks, as they have four winnable games, two against division rivals.
This weekend the Raiders visit the floundering 49ers. In perhaps one of the biggest shockers this year, the San Francisco 49ers have struggled their way to an 0-5 start. The Niners can't get anything going on offense and are a shell of the defensive juggernaut they once looked to be.
This is an opportunity for the Raiders defense to feast on an offense that ranks 31st in the league in points scored per game. It is also an opportunity for the offense to get back on track against a struggling defense and in a road game that will feel almost like a home game.
After playing the 49ers, the Raiders go on the road to face the Denver Broncos. The Raiders have beaten the Broncos in both of their last two trips to Mile High Stadium. The Broncos are not having the strong start they had last year and are ranked 32nd in rushing so far this season.
If the Raiders put together a complete game and do not make stupid mistakes, a win at Denver is completely possible and would go a long way towards winning the division.
After the Broncos, the Raiders return home to host the Seattle Seahawks. While the Seahawks have been much improved this season, they still have a long way to go, which was made clear in their losses to the Broncos and Rams.
If the Raiders can take some momentum from good games against the 49ers and Broncos, it will be hard for the Seahawks to pull out a win in front of an excited Raiders home crowd. Just ask the Chargers whether or not it mattered how few fans were in the stadium. The Raiders have some of the loudest fans in the country, so traveling to Oakland is never an easy feat.
If the Raiders are going to turn the season around, this is the type of game they have to win.
In their final week before the bye week, the Raiders travel to play the Kansas City Chiefs. If the 49ers were one of the biggest shocks this season, the Chiefs are the biggest shock. After starting the season 3-0, the Chiefs were brought to earth, kind of, after losing in a close game to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Chiefs defense looks great so far this season. They prevented Peyton Manning from throwing any touchdowns and only allowed one touchdown in that game.
This game will be a real test for the Raiders, and surprisingly, it could have major implications for the AFC West. But it is also a game that the Raiders can and should win.
The Raiders are presented with an opportunity to prevent this season from turning into a letdown like the past seven have been. After the bye week, the Raiders schedule gets much more difficult. If they enter the bye week still struggling, the Raiders will likely not finish well.
However, if the Raiders go into the bye week with momentum and a good record, winning the AFC West is not out of the question in a year where the division is as weak as ever.