7 Reasons to Take Oakland Raiders Seriously as a Super Bowl Contender
The Oakland Raiders are coming off of their most embarrassing performance since the season opener in Tennessee last year. They lost to division rival Kansas City Chiefs 28-0 to make much of the media jump off of their bandwagon.
The score indicates that the Raiders were thoroughly beaten by the Chiefs, but they thoroughly beat themselves. They out-gained the Chiefs 322-300 but the threw six interceptions to give the game away.
Recently acquired quarterback Carson Palmer was pressed into unprepared duty and it wasn't pretty. That has led many in and outside of Raider Nation to believe the Raiders are doomed without Jason Campbell.
But that is as far from the truth as one can get, as they should actually still be seen as a Super Bowl contender. There is so much still going well with the Raiders that's being overlooked due to the bad loss.
Turn the page for a closer look.
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The Raiders have already gone through the toughest part of their schedule—finishing it 4-3. The only game that that I'm worried about the Raiders really struggling in is their Week 14 matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
Outside of the Packers, the Raiders remaining opponents have a combined record of 22-29. The Kansas City Chiefs will get a dose of the Raiders at full strength to close the year out.
This isn't an overwhelming remaining the schedule.
The defending Super Bowl Champs will actually be a good measuring stick.
Right now, the Raiders are tied atop the AFC West but would lose the tiebreaker to the Chiefs. But I fully expect the Chiefs to fall on their face, as they've depended on turnovers in their last two games.
Outside of that, neither the Chiefs or San Diego Chargers have beaten a solid team this year, as Carson Palmer at quarterback after four days only counts in the standings right now.
That's four near-guaranteed losses before they even face the Raiders again. The Chargers have to play the Packers and the Raiders back-to-back in the next two weeks.
That's tough sledding there.
The Broncos are rebuilding, so I'm not going to go there.
Run Defense Improving
Once the Raiders win the division, they will turn their attention to the playoffs.
In the playoffs the Raiders will have to stop the run, and that's the most improved part of the Raiders this year. After giving up only 38 yards in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos, the Raiders gave up close to 170 yards per game for the next three games.
Those totals had the Raiders at the bottom of the league in that category, but not for long. The Raiders have since crept up to No. 16 on the strength of their last three games—allowing just 91 yards per game.
That includes holding last year's leading rusher Arian Foster to 68 yards. This bodes well for the Raiders, as running and stopping the run become more important in December and January.
Pass Defense Improving
Over the first five games of the season, the Raiders pass defense was the worst in the NFL. They allowed 315 yards per game, a 54 percent completion percentage, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Opposing quarterbacks had an average 83.8 quarterback, rating but the yards and touchdowns were too much. Corners Chris Johnson, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa took turns getting hurt, while Johnson was ineffective when he tried to play hurt.
The last two games have been a different story for the Raiders pass defense, as they crept up to No. 25. During this time, the Raiders gave up 188 yards per game, a 48 percent completion percentage, two touchdowns, two interceptions and allowed a quarterback rating of 60.
While corner Stanford Routt has been the constant in all this, Van Dyke has come back from injury to open some eyes. Then of course, there's the defensive line applying the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
This is starting to look like a Super Bowl contending pass defense.
Punter Shane Lechler is the best in the business without a shadow of a doubt. During those defensive struggles, having him is an advantage to keep the field position battle in the Raiders' favor.
The Raiders also have the best kicker in the game with Sebastien Janikowski. He only needs the Raiders offense to get to the opponents 40 yard line to win a tight game with a field goal.
I don't know if he's the best in the business yet, but Jacoby Ford can change the momentum of a game at any time with a kick return.
The big-legged kickers are especially an advantage with their ability to kick through the elements.
The Oakland Raiders took a step back to take a few steps forward in the passing game. Unprepared, Palmer was horrible in his Raiders debut but head coach Hue Jackson now believes Palmer is ready.
At the post-practice press conference shown on CSN he said, "He really has a grasp now of what we're trying to accomplish." To make Palmer even more comfortable, Jackson just brought in old security blanket T.J. Houshmanzadeh.
In his five years with Palmer, Houshmandzadeh averaged 89 catches, 1,012 yards, and seven touchdowns. Houshmandzadeh gives Palmer an over-the-middle, underneath, third-down option.
He will also give Palmer comfort until he gets used to the Raiders receiver corps already in place. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, as he gets back up to speed, will Palmer's targets down the field.
Opposing defenses will now have to cover the whole field with tailback Darren McFadden, fullback Marcel Reece, and tight end Kevin Boss out in routes. The three are viable check-down options and mismatches for linebackers down the field.
It's all right there for Palmer, a career 87-rated passer in the month of December, when the weather changes. Palmer has thrown for 5,104 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions for his career in December.
His arm strength allows him to throw a ball that cuts through any kind of inclement weather.
Obviously, the mainstay of this football team is the running game and the best player on the team is Darren McFadden. He's coming off of a game in which he rushed for only five yards due to leaving the game early because of injury, but he's still on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards.
He is also still among the league leaders in runs over 20 yards and runs over 40 yards. Should he go down, Michael Bush is as good a second option as you'll get, as he rushed for 99 yards in McFadden's stead against the Chiefs.
Bush's thunder could then be complimented by the lightning of rookie Taiwan Jones, who has fresh legs. The effectiveness and depth the Raiders have at the running back position will be needed as the weather changes.
Palmer helps this running game, as his name alone will make opposing defensive coordinators reluctant to load the box and play man coverage.
The Raiders running game will be hard to stop.
The defense is coming together with what they have shown in the last few games, as they are getting healthy and added outside linebacker Aaron Curry. Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke is already starting to get it, and he's only going to get better.
Then of course, Richard Seymour and Co. up front will continue do their thing as the season goes on. On offense, Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewksi and Co. will keep Carson Palmer clean to find his track team of receivers led by Heyward-Bey and Louis
That will open things up for Raiders MVP Darren McFadden.
We know what he's capable of.
The field position will be controlled by Lechler, Janikowski and Ford.
This is a complete team coming together.
A contender is on the way in Raider Nation.