It can be futile and useless to play the “what-if” game in sports, but hey, it’s the offseason: What else are we going to do, talk about the Raiders’ lack of draft picks for two months? So let’s play a little make believe for a minute and contemplate a question that has bothered me ever since Tom Brady's wife got mad at Wes Welker: Could the 2011 Oakland Raiders have been Super Bowl champs?
The New York Giants became the first 9-7 team to win the Super Bowl, completing an inexplicable run where they beat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the NFC on the road, then knocked off the odds-on favorite in the AFC. This is the same Giants team that suffered an unforgivable loss to the Seahawks at home in Week 5, that lost to the Redskins twice, and needed a victory in the regular season finale just to make the playoffs.
So it begs the question: Had the Raiders made at least a couple of defensive stops against San Diego in Week 17, could they have done the same? Could Oakland have gotten hot and run the table, culminating with Hue Jackson tearfully hoisting the Lombardi Trophy toward the heavens in the ultimate tribute to Al Davis?
I think so.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying the Raiders would have won the Super Bowl if they’d made it into the postseason. It’s just as likely they beat the hobbled Steelers at home in the first round and then get pummeled by pretty boy Brady and the Patriots a week later. But consider the parallels between the team that won the title and your Oakland Raiders.
Both suffered some inexplicably bad losses in games they should have won: Oakland blew fourth-quarter leads against the Bills in Week 2 and the Lions in Week 15; the Giants had the aforementioned losses to Seattle and Washington. Both had turnover-prone quarterbacks: Only six quarterbacks had more interceptions than Eli Manning, who had the same amount of picks (16) as Carson Palmer (although admittedly in less games). And both had statistically weak defenses: New York was 27th in total yards and 25th in points allowed; Oakland was 29th in both total yards and points allowed.
One possible hindrance to Oakland making a Super Bowl run is its awful defense. Near the end of the season, the Raiders would have been lit up by a college offense. But the Steelers were led by an injured Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco is still Joe Flacco. The Raiders could have mustered enough defense to slow down the Raven and Steeler offenses. The biggest challenge would have been beating the Patriots at home in January, but Tom Brady didn’t exactly light the world on fire this postseason. After beating the Broncos easily in the Divisional Round, Brady’s quarterback rating was a mediocre 75.4. And as clever as Hue Jackson is, don’t you think he would have come up with a great gameplan to pick apart that awful Patriots defense?
Nobody gave the Giants a chance when they were languishing at 7-7 in December. Few people know football better than sports bettors, and some casinos had the Giants’ odds to win the Super Bowl as 100-to-1 during the season. As flawed as Oakland was, the most important thing in the playoffs is just getting in. In the last seven seasons, 28 teams have had first-round byes—only one of them ever actually won the Super Bowl.
So if the 2012 Oakland Raiders go 9-7 and sneak into the Wild Card round, don't get too upset—it just might be their ticket to Super Bowl XLVII.
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