By Dave Thomas
For Oakland (11-3), there is too much on the line to get caught looking ahead to the final week of the regular season, even though it will be against a Denver team that very well could be on the outside looking in as far as the AFC playoff race goes. With the defending Super Bowl champs three games behind Oakland and two behind Kansas City, capturing the AFC West title yet again is out of the question.
So, what can the Raiders expect when Andrew Luck and the Colts come to Northern California this Saturday?
Expect nothing short of Indy’s best effort, especially given the Colts are sitting at 7-7, a seat that like Denver would have them on the outside looking in at the playoffs if they began today.
Contest With Colts Could Be Trap Game
Although one would think that playing a .500 team as opposed to say the Browns or the Niners would not be hard to get up for, Oakland has had its share of close calls this season with teams sitting home come January.
For instance, a pair of three-point victories over AFC West rival San Diego (34-31, 19-16) proved that no game is a sure lock. Oakland also had to come-from-behind in a 35-32 win at home in late November against a Carolina team that has done a 180 this season from its stellar campaign (NFC champs in 2015) a year ago.
That said, Indianapolis should prove another stern test for an Oakland team going to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. Although the Colts have had their share of bad luck this season, they are still a formidable foe when it comes to late season contests. When you’ve got a team desperate to make the playoffs, they become even more dangerous.
No Scoreboard Watching Necessary On Saturday
While Oakland is hosting Indianapolis on Christmas Eve, its nearest rival in the standings (Kansas City) will be preparing for a Christmas Day encounter at home with division rival Denver. Even though the Broncos and their playoff hopes are nearing life support at this point and time, the defending Super Bowl champs will likely give Kansas City all it wants come Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
If there is one small advantage in the minds of the Chiefs, they will already know the Oakland results from the day before when they take the field to meet one of their old AFL rivals. On the flip side, the Chiefs still need to put last Sunday’s debacle behind them (lost at home on last play of game to Tennessee 19-17), a loss that could end up costing them the AFC West crown.
If both the Raiders and Chiefs win Christmas weekend, it will come down to New Year’s Day to decide the AFC West title. While Oakland plays in Denver Jan. 1, Kansas City travels to San Diego to meet the Chargers. Should both the Raiders and Chiefs end up tied for the division, Kansas City wins it based off of sweeping the season series with Oakland. Simply put, the Raiders want to avoid this scenario, which starts by taking care of business in week 16 against the Colts.