2010 NFL: Despite "Sucker Punch," The Oakland Raiders Are Still Contenders

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst INovember 23, 2010

Raiders coach Tom Cable
Raiders coach Tom CableEzra Shaw/Getty Images

Memo to all you defeatist Raider fans: Do the math.  Despite the loss to Pittsburgh, the Raiders still have the edge in the AFC West by being 3-0 in the division.

It seems as though the 2010 NFL season in the AFC West looks eerily similar to the way it looked in the 1960s.

Denver stinks, while San Diego, Oakland and Kansas City battle for first place.  Oakland's embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh was a sucker punch (reference to Richard Seymour intended).  Fortunately though, the loss will have little effect on tiebreakers because the Steelers are not a common opponent in the AFC West.

The Chiefs and Chargers have also experienced embarrassing losses, but rebounded.  The Raiders are no different.

Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell has his flashes of brilliance, but then he also has his "deer in the headlights" moments. Backup Bruce Gradkowski usually provides a spark for the offense, but makes costly mistakes and has not proven himself as a bonafide winner.

The Raiders will likely spend the offseason trying to shore up the quarterback position, but until then, they'll just have to find other ways to win. There's more than one way to skin a cat, you know.

2011 Free agents: Kyle Orton, Chad Pennington, Michael Vick.  Pennington can win but he's always hurt.  The Eagles will likely tag Vick.  Orton is likely a system quarterback.  Draft: The Raiders will be without their first round pick.  Best solution: Shore up the offensive line (center, right guard) and hire a better position coach for the wide receivers.  Free agent Donald Driver would also provide a good veteran presence for a talented group of young receivers.

Obviously the AFC West is still very much up for grabs.  With the Raiders at 3-0 in the AFC West, the Raiders still have the edge.  The next three weeks should create separation, though. 

The Raiders will need to defeat San Diego in a few weeks to halt their late season charge, while the Raiders will face Kansas City in the final week of the season.  The Raiders also face Miami, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.. 

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Kansas City still must play at Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis; plus home games against Tennessee and Oakland.  The Seahawks are generally better at home, while all five could be fighting for postseason chances.

San Diego will face Oakland, Kansas City and Indianapolis.  San Diego's last three weeks feature chumps like Cincinnati, San Francisco and Denver.  Nevertheless, cold weather could play a factor in whether the Chargers can win all three.

The Chargers right now, are first in offense and first in defense.  The fact that they aren't running away with the division reflects Norv Turner. They find ways to lose when it counts.

As we all know, no matter how dominant San Diego is, the Raiders can find a way to defeat them when it counts.

At one point, the Dallas Cowboys were dominant offensively and defensively but would lose the game anyway.  Thus, Wade Phillips was canned.  I would bet that Jon Gruden is licking his chops over the idea of coaching the Chargers (would Charger fans want him?).  The Chargers have crushed most of their opponents, but can't seem to handle the AFC West.

I picked the Chargers to finish 11-5, the Raiders to finish 9-7, and the Chiefs to finish 7-9, plus or minus a win.  At this point, the AFC West could look as follows: Oakland, 10-6; San Diego 10-6; and Kansas City, 8-8. 

The Raiders still have the edge in the AFC West, because all they need to do is defeat San Diego and Kansas City (to clinch the tiebreakers) and can likely afford one loss to a different team.  Thus, the Raiders have "some" room for error, while the Chiefs do not. 

The Chiefs will need to run the table until the end in order to win the division, which seems unlikely.  Even one more loss will mean that the Raiders will be in position to win the division (assuming that the Raiders lose only one game until then, with exception for the San Diego game).

The Chargers right now, have a better record against common opponents than Oakland, so the game in two weeks could be the decider for which team wins the AFC West.  Losing to San Diego would mean that the Raiders will need to win at Jacksonville, against Indianapolis and hope that San Diego loses to San Francisco and Indianapolis.  Defeating the Chargers, however, would prevent the convoluted scenarios from factoring in.

Defeating the Jags and Colts would make up for the losses to the Niners and Cardinals by the Raiders.  Realistically, the Raiders should have won both games, save for a crappy day by kicker Sebastian Janikowski against Arizona and a lethargic second half against San Francisco. 

The Cardinals and Niners got lucky, if you ask me.  Janikowski whiffed on three field goals and whiffed on tackling LeRod Stephens-Howling which allowed a TD on the opening kickoff to the Cardinals. 

The Raiders outplayed the Niners in the first half, and went par for most of the second half with exception for the difference maker, which was the touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.

Common Opponents       Raiders            Chargers              Chiefs
Arizona                          L                      W                       W
San Francisco                L                      N/A                     W
Seattle                           W                    L                         N/A
St. Louis                        W                    L                         N/A

Indianapolis                   N/A                   N/A                     L
Houston                        L                       W                       L
Tennessee                    L                       W                       N/A
Jacksonville                  N/A                    W                       W

Denver                          W                     W                       L
Kansas City                  W                     L                         --             
San Diego                     W                    --                         W

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