All it would have taken was one stop by the Kansas City Chiefs to effectively end the Oakland Raiders' season. Had Andy Reid’s group kept Derek Carr and the Oakland offense out of the end zone in the closing drive of last Thursday’s divisional battle, the Raiders would be looking at a 2-5 record. It also would have been the Raiders' fifth straight loss and placed them in sole possession of last place in the competitive AFC West.
Fortunately for the Raider faithful, Carr came through yet again and has kept their season alive. The victory was huge for Oakland’s slim playoff hopes, but if they want any chance at reaching the postseason for the second straight year, they can ill afford to experience any more hiccups.
The win marked just the second time in Carr’s career in which he defeated the Chiefs. Carr has historically played less-than-stellar against their heated division rival. In an MVP-caliber season in 2016, Carr and the Raiders offense were completely shut down when they traveled to Kansas City. Carr completed just 17 of his 41 pass attempts on that Sunday Night, throwing for 117 total yards with a 6.0 Total QBR.
Carr bounced back in a big way this past week, notching his season high in yards with 417 (his previous high was 262 in Week 1). Invisible through the first six weeks of the season, the Raiders finally got a big performance from their top receiver, Amari Cooper, as he hauled in 11 receptions for 210 yards. Their defense is still a work in progress, and they lost Marshawn Lynch for a game, but the performance was a step in the right direction for Jack Del Rio’s ball club.
Now the Raiders (3-4) face the toughest part of their schedule in dire need of wins. Their next two games will come on the road against a pair of AFC East foes – the Bills and the Dolphins – who are both in the thick of the AFC Wildcard race. Oakland will be travelling east for these games, putting them at a tremendous disadvantage.
However, they match-up fairly well against both squads. Buffalo is a run-first team that typically passes out of necessity. Tyrod Taylor has been formidable at QB this season, though isn’t a game-breaking passer. The Raiders' biggest weakness on defense is in their secondary, but they’ve actually been solid in stuffing the run – giving up just 3.9 yards per carry to opposing offenses. If they can stymie LeSean McCoy (far easier said than done), they’ll be in a good position to pull out a victory.
The Dolphins have been atrocious on the offensive side of the ball, and have leaned on the league’s 6th best scoring defense to win games. Baltimore just held Miami to 196 yards of total offense and zero points. It's unknown who will be starting at QB for the Dolphins in this game, but Jay Cutler and Matt Moore have both struggled early on.
It doesn’t get any easier from there. After those two road games, the Raiders have a bye and then a match-up with the defending champion New England Patriots in Mexico City. Following that will be a run through three NFC East teams (vs. Giants, vs. Cowboys, at Eagles) and a game with all of the other AFC West teams.
In a tightly-packed AFC playoff race, nine wins might be enough to secure a playoff spot. Losses to beatable teams earlier in the season could come back to haunt the Raiders, but they have the talent and the quarterback to make a run in the closing months of the season.
Sources: Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports, ESPN.com