The Battle For The AFC West: How The Oakland Raiders Are Still Alive

Devon FlynnperraultContributor IDecember 15, 2010

Darren McFadden en route to Jacksonville endzone
Darren McFadden en route to Jacksonville endzoneSam Greenwood/Getty Images

For the first time in a long time, the Raider Nation suffered a case of the “NFL Sunday Blues” that actually meant something.

Come December, the Raiders are normally scrounging the league for measly, last minute wins, but this Sunday the Raiders took a loss that might actually cost them a trip to the playoffs.

While the Raiders weren’t able to pull out the win against the surging Jaguars, they played some top-notch football.

Jason Campbell packed in 324 passing yards and two touchdowns, looking very relaxed and fluid within the pocket. Darren “the Man” McFadden continued to play at the top of his explosive game, rushing for 123 yards and hitting the end zone three times. 

The Raiders Defense held the Jaguars to just seven points in the first half. The game was virtually under Oakland’s control until a couple of key mistakes in the second half cost them the win.

Despite what was at stake, this was the easiest loss of the year to stomach, given the exceptional performance by the team.

Playoffs or no playoffs, the Raiders have definitely made a forceful statement this season and they are doing that by simply winning games. There is a stronger sense of unity among this Raider squad, which we haven’t seen for over seven seasons.

Regardless of your opinion about the man, Tom Cable has done wonders for his team. He, along with the veterans and stellar rookies, has turned a dismantled mess into a competent team that possesses that winning mentality.

So, why not take a look at the playoff picture? Now, I’m not some crazy conspiracy theorist, so forgive me when I say the Raiders are still in contention for an AFC West title. We’ll need a lot to go our way, but it’s best to keep that hope alive.

The first and foremost priority is for the Raiders to win out. This has been under heavy scrutiny because the Raiders are indeed an inconsistent team, except when faced with other AFC West teams and fortunately, two of the last three games are against Denver and Kansas City.

The biggest challenge will be facing the wavering Colts. Thankfully, that game will be played in Oakland. Winning three in a row is rare for the Raiders, but with that lineup, it doesn’t seem so farfetched for a win-out.

The Chiefs currently lead the division with an 8-5 record, but seem to be burning out with a shutout loss to the Chargers this week and almost losing to a despicable Bronco team the week prior.

With the next two games against the Rams and the Titans, there is a very good chance they will lose one of those, especially with Matt Cassel not 100%. This would lead to a showdown between the Raiders and Chiefs in the final to see who takes the division title.

But wait, I seem to be forgetting something—oh yes, those San Diegans.

The Chargers are currently in second place in the division with a record of 7-6 and objectively have the easiest schedule ahead of them to finish out the season. In the last three weeks, they face the 49ers, Bengals and Broncos, which certainly bodes well for them.

But here is why the Chargers have a good shot at losing to either the 49ers or the Broncos: San Francisco is fortunate enough to be in the leagues weakest division and is therefore fighting for the playoffs as well; having come off a huge win against Seattle, they’ll be playing to stay in the fight for postseason.

If not the 49ers, the Broncos will stand as the last line of defense to keep the Chargers out of the playoffs. The idea of the San Diego in the playoffs once again is a bother on the mind of every AFC West team.

It’s that “anyone but the Chargers” mentality and if we’ve learned anything about this division this season, it’s that anything is possible—even a shut out.

So keep your heads held high Raider Nation, for there are still three games to be played and most importantly, two divisional games.

The Autumn Wind is here to stay.