Prior to the season I had my prediction as to what the Raiders’ record would be: an 8-8 record to finish the season. The problem with predicting a record before the season is you are also predicting how good the opponents will be. Now that we are halfway through the season, we have a much better feel for the Raiders as well as their opponents. So let’s check in on their standing and break it down.
Going .500 would give the Raiders the same record they had last season which would suggest to some that I believed the Raiders would not be improved. That is not the case. It is all about matchups. The Raiders’ schedule appeared at the outset to be much more difficult than last season.
The Raiders would have two tough stretches in the schedule this season, the first would start with their home opener. They would come home to face the Jets and Patriots back to back before heading to Houston to play a much improved Texans team.
After what appeared to be good matchups for Raider wins versus the Broncos and Bills, those three games to follow were sure to set the Raiders back. The result was slightly different. The Broncos game was still a win as I suspected it would be, but the Bills are considerably more formidable and the Raiders were unable to stop their final drive to lose a barnburner.
So instead of heading into the tough three game stretch at 2-0, they were 1-1. But then came their first pleasant surprise. The formerly tough run defense of the Jets turned out to be not so tough this season and the Raiders were able to beat the Jets while Darren McFadden ran for 171 yards in the game.
The Patriots were as expected and the Raiders lost that game. Then the Raiders went to Houston to play the Texans who looked as advertised with a powerful offense and a much improved defense. The Raiders beat the Texans to improve to 3-2.
Then the Raiders returned for back to back home games versus the Browns and Chiefs. Those looked like easy matchups on paper and the Browns game absolutely was. But Jason Campbell went down with an injury in that game leaving the Raiders in a quarterback quandary to face their rival Chiefs. The result was Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer combining for six interceptions en route to an ugly loss.
My prediction preseason included the inevitability that the Raiders would lose one they should win and win one they should lose. They have done both already this season when they beat the Texans and lost to the Chiefs.
Now they head into the second half sitting at 4-3.
The Raiders welcome the Broncos to Oakland next Sunday. The Raiders will be led by their new franchise QB Carson Palmer while the Broncos will be led by fan favorite Tim Tebow. Tebow has played terrible since being handed the starting job, save a comeback win over the hapless Dolphins. Carson Palmer will have had three weeks of practice to acclimate himself to his teammates and the playbook. The result is a Raider win (5-3).
The following week the Raiders travel to San Diego to face the Chargers. The Chargers currently sit atop the AFC West at 4-2. They had a collapse against the Jets last week to lose. It was just their second loss on the season and I think they will be able to hold off the Raiders in this one (5-4).
Then the Raiders head to Minnesota to play the Vikings. They have benched Donovan McNabb after a terrible season thus far and started rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. The Vikings are not built around the QB though. They have the NFL’s leading rusher Adrian Peterson and the Raiders have not shown the ability to stop the league’s elite backs. This is what some might call a trap game. Raiders lose a close one (5-5).
After starting out the season looking terrible, the Bears have won two in a row. Granted it was against the 2-6 Vikings and a very hot and cold Buccaneers team. Matt Forte will give the Raiders a lot of trouble but the two teams match up pretty well. The Bears are coming alive a bit but not enough to come into Oakland and beat the Raiders (6-5).
Next the Raiders head to Miami to help the Dolphins keep their Andrew Luck season alive. Raiders win (7-5).
From warm Miami, the Raiders head to the frozen tundra to play the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. Not only are the undefeated Packers the best team in football but they will be playing on their home field in the cold. Raiders lose this one going away (7-6).
Then the Raiders come back home to face a very good Lions team. Matt Stafford has been playing pitch and catch with Calvin Johnson all season and he will continue to do so in this game. Lions win (7-7).
The Raiders head to Kansas City seeking revenge for their embarrassing 28-0 home loss to the Chiefs. This time there is no quarterback controversy for the Raiders and they handle the lackluster Chiefs on their home field (8-7).
So it all comes down to this. The Chargers come to Oakland for the season finale. I have the Chargers also sitting at 8-7 heading into the final game of the season so this game is for the AFC West crown. With the Chargers having beaten the Raiders in San Diego (by my prediction), it is now time for the Raiders to hold their home field and punch their ticket to the postseason. The Raiders will win this game (9-7).
If the Chargers come into this final game with a 9-6 record or better, they will win the AFC West regardless of the outcome. That would mean even if the Raiders won the game, they would have the same record (9-7), but the Chargers would have a better in-conference record than the Raiders. If that is the case, the win would only be a possible fight for a wildcard spot or perhaps just for pride.