Are the Raiders the NFL's Best Team?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystSeptember 18, 2017

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) is congratulated by quarterback Derek Carr (4) and tackle Donald Penn (72) after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

There isn't an easier trap to fall into early in the season than to make snap judgments based on a limited sample size. The New England Patriots are a great example of this. After they were trashed by the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, it would have been easy to proclaim them overrated. A paper tiger.

It also would have been nuts, because that paper tiger took a bite out of the New Orleans Saints in Week 2.

But there are also certain trends that have emerged over the first two weeks of this NFL campaign. Some of those trends are just a continuation of things we saw last year.

That's the case with the Oakland Raiders. Before an injury to quarterback Derek Carr ruined their season, we knew the Raiders were a good team. Perhaps the best team in the AFC that wasn't the aforementioned Patriots.

The Silver and Black haven't missed a beat with the calendar turning to 2017. As a matter of fact, after blasting the hapless New York Jets, 45-20, at the Black Hole on Sunday, the Raiders are smack in the middle of the conversation as more than just a thorn in Tom Brady's side. Or even the best team in the AFC.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

The Raiders are staking their claim to the mantle of the best team in all of the NFL.

As you can tell from that gaudy score, Oakland's offense was in full chipper-shredder mode against the Jets. There was actually a point early in the second half when it appeared for a moment New York might make a game of it. But after a Chandler Catanzaro field goal closed the score to 21-13, the Raiders peeled off 21 unanswered points to blow the game open.

And they did so with the sort of chunk plays on offense that would make Al Davis proud.

OK, so Davis would have likely preferred those chunks to have come through the air (that man loved the bomb). But I doubt he'd have complained when wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson took a carry up the middle and streaked 43 yards for a score:

Or when reserve tailback Jalen Richard took a pitch off the edge and ran past the Jets 52 yards for a touchdown of his own:

Side note: The Oakland offensive line is really, really good. It looked like the best line in the NFL on Sunday, as the team rushed for a staggering 180 yards on just 27 carries.

And that's on a day when Marshawn Lynch had 12 of those carries for only 45 yards.

Carr benefited plenty from that line as well. With all day to survey the field, Carr had no problem picking the Jets apart, missing on just five of his 28 pass attempts and throwing three touchdowns to wide receiver Michael Crabtree:

Side note No. 2: It was a fantastic day to start Michael Crabtree in fantasy football leagues.

As Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, it was an offensive performance that had Lynch dancing on the sideline. And that's just fine with his quarterback.

"We love it," Carr said of Lynch. "It's not the fact that he's dancing. He's just him."

Per Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle, head coach Jack Del Rio considered busting a move himself.

"It was exceptional," Del Rio said. "I was going to join him, but I thought it was better to stay behind and coach."

You know it was a good day when the coach is also a comedian.

The thing is, we knew (or at least strongly suspected) that the Raiders would be great offensively. They were in 2016 until Carr got hurt.

The question was the defense. And so far this season, that question has been answered emphatically in the affirmative.

Yes, the Jets rushed for 126 yards. But 31 of those yards came on Josh McCown scrambles, and 22 of the 31 came on a single play.

That, after the Raiders held a Tennessee Titans team that averaged over 136 yards a game on the ground in 2016 under 100 in a Week 1 win in Nashville.

Oakland's revamped secondary has also fared well. Through two games, the Raiders are averaging 200 passing yards a game allowed after surrendering just 145 to the Jets. That would have ranked Oakland second in the NFL in pass defense a year ago.

Sure, in the Titans and Jets, the Raiders haven't exactly faced the Greatest Show on Turf. But this was a secondary that was 24th in the NFL in 2016. They're allowing nearly 60 fewer yards per game at this point.

Does this mean the Raiders suddenly have a great defense? No. But they don't need one. They have a difference-maker on that side of the ball in reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, but as a unit, with that offense, they just needed to be better this season.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Early indications are that they are significantly so.

A 2-0 record doesn't anoint the Raiders as AFC front-runners. In the meat grinder that is the AFC West in 2017, all it gets you is a three-way tie for first place with a Kansas City Chiefs team that blasted the Pats at Foxborough on opening night and a Denver Broncos team that spent Week 2 wiping the field with the Dallas Cowboys.

We'll find out soon enough just how good they really are. In two weeks, the Raiders travel to Denver. Three weeks after that, they play their first of two with the Chiefs. And three weeks after that, it's litmus test time when Brady and the Patriots come to town.

Oakland Raiders 2017 Schedule
39/24/17at Washington Redskins1-1
410/1/17at Denver Broncos2-0
510/8/17Baltimore Ravens2-0
610/15/17Los Angeles Chargers0-2
710/19/17Kansas City Chiefs2-0
810/29/17at Buffalo Bills1-1
911/5/17at Miami Dolphins1-0
1111/19/17New England Patriots1-1
1211/26/17Denver Broncos2-0
1312/3/17New York Giants0-1
1412/10/17at Kansas City Chiefs2-0
1512/17/17Dallas Cowboys1-1
1612/25/17at Philadelphia Eagles1-1
1712/31/17at Los Angeles Chargers0-2
Week 10 Bye

Through two games, the Raiders look like a team that could win any of those games—or all of them. They have a franchise quarterback. A tailback who showed against the Titans he can grind out a win late. A great receiving duo in Crabtree and Amari Cooper. One of the best offensive fronts in football.

And perhaps most importantly, an improving defense to complement all that firepower and people-movers.

At not even two full weeks into the 2017 NFL season, it's premature to start crowning any team (cue Dennis Green) as the league's best (or worst, although the Cleveland Browns, as always, are giving their maximum effort in that regard).

But make no mistake. The Oakland Raiders are the real deal. A force to be reckoned with. One of the best all-around teams in the National Football League. Maybe the best.

Somewhere, Old Man Al is smiling. And that (as it always did) should make the rest of the league very nervous.


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