On the brink of 2011

Sep 19, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (left) talks with quarterbacks Jason Campbell (8), center, and Bruce Gradkowski (5) during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Rams 16-14. Photo via Newscom

The Oakland raiders are not going to be in the AFC playoff picture this year, but they have a legit opportunity to sweep their divisional play and put an end to a string of seven consecutive losing seasons this Sunday. The playoffs are good, but this is enough motivation to go out and put on their best game Sunday.

The Raiders’ goal of winning the division was a lofty expectation for a franchise that has been abysmal for the better part of the last decade. Granted, their divisional foe Kansas City Chiefs did it, but not without help from the Raiders. If it weren’t for the Raiders two victories over the San Diego Chargers, the Chiefs wouldn’t be in the position that they are in. Also helpful for the Chiefs was their favorable schedule, which included games against bottom feeders Cleveland and Buffalo, as well as December games against the Denver Broncos, the St. Louis Rams, a Jaguar team without starting quarterback David Garrard and a reeling Tennessee Titans team rather than the fresh, day-one Titans the Raiders faced.

Meanwhile the Raiders faced three potential playoff teams in the Chargers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Indianapolis Colts in December. Also, the Raiders drew games against the Steelers in Pittsburgh and the Miami Dolphins as opposed to the Browns and the Bills.

But enough with the ‘should’ve, would’ve, could’ve’ of NFL scheduling. Let’s talk about the potential accomplishment of finishing 6-0 in the division. If the Raiders beat the Chiefs Sunday, they will become the first team (of 29) since the NFL merger to sweep their division and not make the playoffs. Clearly, winning inside the division was a goal of the coaching staff that is polished enough to know that sweeping the division lands you a playoff spot with 100 percent certainty…unless you’re the Oakland Raiders.

And technically, they did win the division, as even with a loss, they will still hold the best record in divisional play. As I’ve said before, the Raider players and their fans should be able to buy “honorable mention AFC West Champions” T- shirts (right Cris Carter?).

So many ’close but no cigar’ games including those at Jacksonville, at Arizona, at San Francisco, and at home against Indianapolis. All of which are games they can build upon come next regular season. The big question will be; how can they get up for games outside of their division like they do for those played inside of it? They will definitely need to win more than two games outside of their division if they want to be one of the final six in the AFC next season. Surely, they can’t sweep the division again in 2011 (if there even is a 2011).

Will it be the current staff that is charged with the task of building on this season? I don’t think there is any other way.

Although, I understand it’s a two sided coin when you look at the job Tom Cable and his staff have accomplished since he began his tenure as the Head Coach of the Raiders. On the one side, you’ve got players that are clearly in favor of bringing him back for his continuity as well as his leadership. There are also fans who understand that it takes time to build a winner. On the other side, there are disgruntled fans who feel like the team should’ve been able to win more often, are tired of waiting, and believe he is a figure head to the puppeteer, Al Davis. Troubling part is, Al Davis could be on the second side. Right now the coin is being flipped to decide whether Cable will receive another year on his contract at the option of Al Davis, or if he will simply be released and join so many before him such as the Kiffin, the Shell, and the Turner.

Speaking of the Turner, it will be interesting to see if he comes back as coach of the San Diego Chargers after a very disappointing season.

A person I am also interested in hearing from in…oh, around February, will be the Raiders new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. You know the players would love to have him back at the end of the coaching carousel as well, as they grew exponentially as an offense under Hue’s newly implemented system. In my book, Jackson should definitely come back and for more reasons than one. He could go out and get a job with some other team that would require him to put in all that hard work like Cable has tried to do. Or he could stay here with his system installed, players he knows, and help them get to the next level.

Of course, it is a business, and opportunities don’t knock at the door all the time. Sometimes when things come up you have got to take advantage; which is why if Davis plans on keeping Cable, we may see Hue Jackson get a deal similar to the one Jason Garrett got to stay in Dallas a few years ago. In my opinion, this is the best possible solution. Then if it doesn’t work out with Cable in 2011, Jackson is still here to get the opportunity that he turned down the season before. Except this opportunity is with the team he knows. And if it does work out with Cable, then Jackson’s offense will likely look even better than it did in 2010 and he’ll be able to ride off into the sunset. Meanwhile, somebody from his offensive staff should have the wherewithal to fill his shoes.

Oh, the scenarios. Oh, the possibilities. Just remember boys and girls, after this weekend Raiders football may be gone from the TV on Sundays, but the new season has only just begun.

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