As the schizophrenic NFL continues to twist like a ball-park pretzel, the Raiders find themselves relieved not to be eliminated from the playoff discussion. With injuries always playing a part in each teams big finish, Oakland has several things that need to fall in place if there is to be a 17th game.
Without further adieu, let's take a look at what has to happen in order for Oakland to continue their competitive play.
As McFadden's career best campaign to date continues, the lurking possibility of an aggravated hamstring injury has been in the back of Tom Cable's mind all season.
McFadden has been playing near MVP-like for the first time as a professional, and his stats certainly back that up. More importantly, his health allows for Michael Bush to be used as the bruising back that he is. You can't under-estimate the importance of a goal line back with a team like Oakland, who is penalized more from the one-yard line then any team I've ever seen.
McFadden along with Bush allow for a dual threat running back combination, something that Oakland hasn't had since Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner were lined up in the backfield.
If any good has come out of McFaddens injury riddled career to date, it's that Michael Bush has proven that he can shoulder the load, if it's necessary. That's a pretty good No. 2 option to have should there be any problems with McFadden's hamstring down the home stretch.
McFadden and Bush have a combined one lost fumble, which McFadden was responsible for last Sunday in rainy Oakland.
This has been a hot topic in Oakland for quite some time: Who will line up under center this week?
The questions seem to be answered with three consecutive wins, however, Campbell has played far from perfect. Raider fans were also shown a glimpse of what effective quarterbacking can do for a stuggling team last year, when Bruce Gradkowski led the Raiders to a win in Pittsburgh over the Steelers.
Before you start chanting "Bruce" after Campbell makes a bad play, consider how stupid that makes you look. I love the guy's heart as much as the next football fan, but now is not the time to give Campbell any insecurities about his game play as of late.
He's been given the task of resurrecting the Raiders, and on top of that, has been forced to work with a rotating door of receivers, due to injuries to Chaz Schillens, Louis Murphy, and Zach Miller.
He's worked with a rookie center, Jared Veldheer, and been able to switch it up between Veldheer and Samson Satele, which gives Oakland much more freedom to asses possible weaknesses within their offensive line. The result has been virtually no fumbled snaps, and an eerily cohesive Oakland front.
Campbell has been sacked 19 times this year, so looking ahead to the tough schedule that Oakland must face, the mobility of Campbell will be crucial.
Call me a homer, but ever since Zach Miller busted out that 80-yard touchdown against Philadelphia last year, I have considered him the most potent feature of Oakland's passing game. I'll admit, the competition was like picking between candy and poison, eluding to DHB's horrid rookie season.
Miller's production has been outstanding this year, hauling in 34 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns. HIs presence allows Campbell to check down to him, and vice versa, check off of him, reason being that he's typically the go-to guy on short passing downs.
Important to note, Zach Miller has caught 200 passes in just 55 games for Oakland, and this past Sunday marked only the second game of his career where he was forced to take a seat due to a foot injury. It's been reported that he will not practice at all during the bye week in order to rest his foot "arch" injury.
With Jacoby Ford's emergence as the jet fueled receiver that scouts once raved about, Zach Miller can only make things better. However, Miller is not the only wounded Raider who needs to make an appearance in the remainder of the season.
Chaz Schilens has just hit the practice field after knee surgery in the pre-season. His return means the jump ball option can be pondered, as his 6'4, 225 pound frame makes him an attractive lobbed-ball target. He hopes to get back on the field in about a month, just in time for a division deciding stretch.
Louis Murphy, who has been dealing with a bruised lung, has been cleared to play against Pittsburgh following Oakland's bye this week. His ability to remain healthy is huge, as the more receivers at Oakland's disposal allows for an increased offensive game-plan for offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
Oakland maintains a +1 turnover difference this year, which can largely be attributed to San Diego's special teams debacle in Oakland.
With what they lack in rushing defense (No. 26 in NFL), they make up for in defending against the pass (No. 3). Even without Nnamdi Asomugha in the mix, the Raiders were able to do a decent job against the Chiefs receivers, although Dexter McCluster didn't get to expose any shortcomings.
The Raiders have only allowed six rushing touchdowns in nine games, and have gotten to the opposing quarterback 26 times. Both of these stats will be of monumental value as the Raiders face a slew of tough backs in the weeks to come.
Michael Huff has easily had his best three games recently, but it's hard to say that with absolute confidence, as he really hasn't been tested. One thing is for sure, he better be studying, because other teams are aware of his play-action biting tendencies.
John Henderson will also be back in the D-line mix soon, and any added weight in the box will be huge for an already incredibly speedy linebacker crew.
Pretty self explanatory.
Over the last 8 or so years, the Raiders line has been shifting more then a baby on an airplane. Rookie studs Bruce Campbell and Jared Veldheer have been exceeding their expectations, and now the question becomes whether or not they can continue to build on a productive start.
The left side has been dominant, and setting up the potential for an effective weak side running attack will be a key game-plan strategy as Oakland features a game against the master-mind likes of Steelers defensive coordinator, Dick Lebeau.
Once again, staying healthy is paramount. Mistakes can be forgiven, but consistency in who is out there plays a big part in the entire offense.
Oakland has been flagged over 10 times a game.
That's three more times then they averaged last year.
It has to stop sometime, and no better way to begin the uphill trek towards mistake free football then with a bye week. Somehow I feel like referees might still get Oakland for something this weekend.
Oakland has been horrid against special teams over the years, not so much in returning, but defending.
Jacoby Ford sparked a special teams resurgence, but not all of that return was his doing. Rock Cartwright, relatively unknown in Raider Nation, made a huge block which allowed Ford to sprint down the sideline. That's not Rock's first game changing play this year.
When Oakland hosted San Diego earlier this year, Rock was part of the back-to-back punt blocking fiasco that helped propel Oakland over the Chargers.
Look for this role player to continue his wedge-breaking mentality, and open up some jet streams for the rocket man, Jacoby Ford.
When I comment on his need to keep mixing it up, I don't mean at the quarterback position.
Hue Jackson has done a great job with a young Raider receiving core, and really seems like he is comfortable with each players attributes. Heyward-Bey has had glimpses of big-play potential, and the running game couldn't be any better.
Oakland hasn't been ruled out of any contest this year, and Jackson can be thanked for this. His ability to remain unpredictable is a breathe of fresh air from what has been essentially a run-run-pass offense in Oakland over the past several years.
It will be interesting to see how he handles the return of his marquee receivers, and in order to be effective for the remainder of the schedule, his use of Miller and McFadden must continue, but in slightly different ways.
As of now, Zach Miller and Darren McFadden account for the teams leading rusher, and top two in catches.
Tom Cable has been referred to as a "players coach" by media outlets across the nation. This is vastly different then his old title as Al Davis' puppet.
His nature as a former offensive line coach allows for him to be short and forthcoming with interviewers and Al himself. As a result, he seems to control much more of the team then in previous years, featuring the likes of Bill Callahan, Art Shell, and Lane Kiffin.
Cable has inspired his players, as he has been one of few figures in Oakland to stand behind his players. It's now evident, the phrase "winning is everything" couldn't be more true, and Tom Cable knows that better then ever.
His composure will be important for the remainder of the season, as the players now understand that he can lead them to victory. It's a respect thing, and the only way to break that trust is by losing games.
This last Sunday was huge for the players and staff on the Oakland Raiders.
As hard as it is for the fans to witness losing seasons, it's equally hard for the players to look out into a sea of empty seats. The economy plays more of a role then not, hence, why winning is that much more of a catalyst for those fans who may be on the fence over coming to the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.
The Raiders play host to Miami, Denver, and Indianapolis in the coming months. The Raiders will need a full house to help them deal with Peyton Manning's constant audibles, and to give them the confidence in what has already been decided across the nation as a easy Colts win.
Miami is great on the road, so any extra noise couldn't hurt.
And Denver...well, you should know why it's important to attend that game. The Raiders have a perfect division record, and realistically, if they can somehow win every division game, their chances are exponentially better at winning the division, and going to the playoffs.