The roller coaster 2011 season, complete with devastating injuries (Jason Campbell, Darren McFadden), surprise additions (Carson Palmer), inspired victories (Week 3 vs. the Jets) and crushing defeats (last week vs. the Lions). But with all the ups and downs, the Raiders still head into their Week 16 matchup against Kansas City with slim playoff hopes.They remain a game behind Denver in the AFC West, and are still alive for a division title and a wild card berth.
The scenarios break down to this: If the Raiders (7-7) win both their remaining games (at Kansas City on Saturday and against San Diego on Jan. 1), and Denver loses to Kansas City in Week 17, the Raiders would win the AFC West. Oakland can secure a wild-card spot with two wins and losses by the New York Jets or Cincinnati Bengals.
The possibilities are real and, on paper, don't look miraculous. But consider the Raiders' one glaring problem all year, and the task become much more far-fetched. That problem? Finishing. The phrase "late-game collapse" has been used entirely too often in reference to the Oakland Raiders this season, and that's why they find themselves in the position they're in. It's also why they won't be a playoff team this year.
It all started in Week 2, when the Raiders allowed an incredible 35 second-half points to Buffalo, including 21 in the fourth quarter, in a 38-35 loss. The defense was putrid, unable to stop a last-minute drive by Ryan Fitzpatrick to seal the victory for Buffalo.
Lest anyone think the total collapse in Buffalo was an aberration, there was the Week 9 loss to Denver. The Raiders allowed 31 second-half points in the key division matchup, a game that helped get the current "Tebowmania" jump-started.
Then there was the disheartening defeat last week at the hands of the Detroit Lions. In a game the Raiders absolutely needed, at home, they surrendered 14 fourth-quarter points, including a game-winning 98-yard drive that took Detroit only 1:35 to complete.
Three games that the Oakland Raiders simply handed to their opponents. Three wins that, if they had finished, would leave them sitting comfortably ahead of Denver and looking at scenarios that would secure them a first-round bye (not simply a berth), in the playoffs.
Finishing. Putting teams you've beaten away. It's the mark of a good team, a playoff team. It's something this edition of the Oakland Raiders is missing. They find themselves in a position where a loss on Saturday to Kansas City combined with either a Jets or Bengals win eliminates them from playoff contention. A loss Saturday, basically, means they're finished.