This may only be apologetics because many in Raider Nation expected that the Raiders would earn a postseason berth in the 2010 NFL season. But after defeating the Denver Broncos 39-20, the Raiders have snapped their notorious streak of seasons with double-digit losses.
The win also means that the Raiders still have an outside shot at the division title, but they must hope for San Diego and Kansas City to lose next week.
Even though the Raiders trail the Chiefs and Chargers in the division, I think I could argue that they have been the best team in the AFC West this season.
Since this is the last game before Christmas, I thought I'd talk about what the Raiders have to be thankful for this season. And hopefully, this prior to next season, they'll add even more for Raider Nation to be thankful for.
Firstly, the Raiders are 5-0 in the AFC West and will face Kansas City in the final week of the season.
And considering the number of changes made (quarterback, left tackle) and rookies that have started (wideout, linebacker, safety, defensive end), the Raiders have been able to light up their opponents. In several cases, the Raiders have posted over 500 yards of offense and have made some of the most electrifying plays this season.
After being dogged by "bust" talk, running back Darren McFadden topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. Running back Michael Bush has provided the needd physical running game, serving as a nice compliment to the home-run play of McFadden. Meanwhile, fullback Marcel Reece has been a revelation for the Raiders as a productive runner, receiver and blocker.
The receiving corp is still here and there, but it has arguably the most talented group of receivers in the NFL in Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy, and Jacoby Ford. The trio would surely benefit from the presence of a veteran wide-out (say, Donald Driver) or a better position coach. Of course, tight end Zach Miller is still one of the best at his position.
Defensively, the Raiders have made significant strides in boasting one of the best rushes against the pass and run. Tommy Kelly has proven himself to be one of the best pass rushers in the NFL from the tackle position after critics had questioned the big contract he received in 2007.
Richard Seymour has been a steal, after the Raiders sent their 2011 first-round pick to New England in exchange for the All-Pro tackle. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley has been a boon as a pass rusher since the Raiders acquired him for a draft pick from Cleveland.
The only weaknesses on defense seem to be against the deep pass and gaffes against running backs. Obviously, both those types of plays have been costly but would surely be eliminated with the signing of a free-agent defensive back, (say, Antonio Cromartie) and more experience.
The Raiders arguably have the most complete special teams unit in the league. Punter Shane Lechler has perennially been the NFL's best punter. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is a top scorer. Returner Jacoby Ford has returned kicks for touchdowns. Aside from a nightmarish game against Arizona, the Raiders have been generally solid on special teams coverage by blocking punts and recovering multiple muffed punts.
The Raiders needed to upgrade many positions in the off-season and the Raiders scored on almost every pick from the 2010 Draft. I said almost, because rookie offensive lineman Bruce Campbell did not start or play much but is considered the future at right guard.
Here's a question that I would like feedback on: Do you think that the Raiders should experiment with Cooper Carlisle at center?
The move would allow Campbell to start at guard. Carlisle has been average at best as a blocker, but he's a smart player who makes few mental errors in terms of penalties and would be sandwiched by massive guards, Robert Gallery and Campbell.
Rookie left-tackle Jared Veldheer appears to have shored up an offensive line that had been porous at best. I know that part of the improvement has been the scrambling and toughness of quarterback Jason Campbell, but in terms of sacks, the O-line has improved significantly.
Ford has been a threat every time he touches the ball, either running, receiving or returning kicks. He has scored a touchdown in each facet he brings to the team.
Rookie linebacker Rolando McClain appears to be the defensive leader of the future. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has played very tough and productively. Late-round picks CB Walter McFadden, LB Travis Goethel, CB Jeremy Ware and S Stevie Brown have either started or made big plays on defense or special teams.
Going forward, the Raiders simply need to commit to Jason Campbell and make smart additions because they clearly have the playmakers. The 2010 Draft could be to the Raiders what the 2004 Draft was to the San Diego Chargers. Even though the Raiders could miss the postseason (they still have a chance though), the Raiders could be the best team in the AFC West for years to come.