By Sam McPherson
The 2014 Oakland Raiders are the last winless team in the NFL this season, and their date with the Cleveland Browns on the road this weekend may be their last chance for a win in the next month or so.
That’s because after the Cleveland game, the Silver & Black take on the Seattle Seahawks on the road, host the Denver Broncos at home, travel to San Diego to play the Chargers and then host the Kansas City Chiefs on the Thursday before Thanksgiving.
If the Raiders don’t beat the Browns Sunday, they could be on their way to joining a very exclusive club: winless NFL teams since 1960. Currently, that club includes the 1960 Dallas Cowboys, the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 1982 Baltimore Colts and the 2008 Detroit Lions.
The 0-6 Raiders have played four relatively close games this year already, losing to the New York Jets, the New England Patriots, the San Diego Chargers and the Arizona Cardinals by a combined 26 points. In their other two losses, Oakland lost by an average of 20 points per defeat.
The Silver & Black have a led just once in the fourth quarter this year. Against San Diego, the Raiders were up 28-21 in the fourth, but the defense couldn’t stop the Chargers from scoring twice in the final six minutes to steal the game.
Against New England, Oakland’s offense appeared to score the tying touchdown very late in the fourth quarter, but it was nullified by a penalty. Most recently, against the Cardinals, the Raiders needed one last defensive stop to get the ball back and perhaps tie the game in the fourth, but Arizona kept the ball and put the game away with a field goal.
It’s been that kind of excruciating season for Oakland – so close at times, so far away at others. The Raiders really aren’t “0-16 bad,” and they’re not the Tonawanda Kardex, either; that infamous early NFL “franchise” played one game in 1921, lost 45-0 and folded on the spot.
The schedule was never in the Raiders’ favor this year; that was apparent at the end of the 2013, when the other three teams in the AFC West all made the postseason. And getting older in the offseason didn’t help Oakland’s chances, either.
Firing former coach Dennis Allen has given the team a little life after their 0-4 start, but the talent that Tony Sparano has to work with isn’t what makes wins happen.
To beat the Browns this weekend, the Raiders defense may need to have the game of its season: Like they did against New England, the Oakland defenders need to hold the opponent under 300 yards on offense and under 17 points on the scoreboard. The offense has averaged only 15.3 points per game, scoring more than 14 points just once.
That’s the second part of the puzzle here: After the Raiders hold a team to under 17, the offense needs to score more than 14 itself. Yes, that math doesn’t add up exactly, but those are the general goals for the Oakland team in its quest to avoid being grouped with those four teams noted above.
The 1960 Dallas Cowboys were an expansion team that went 0-11-1 in its first NFL season. The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers also were an expansion team, but their 0-14 record was just the beginning of an 0-26 start to the franchise’s existence in the NFL.
(Remember Tampa Bay Head Coach John McKay’s response to the media question about his team’s execution? “I’m all in favor of it,” he quipped.)
The 1982 Baltimore Colts aren’t remembered very often for their 0-8-1 record in the strike-shortened season, but we all watched the 2008 Detroit Lions become the first 0-16 team ever. It was a train wreck no one could take their eyes off.
The good news here is all four of those teams recovered to make the playoffs soon thereafter. The Cowboys made the playoffs 18 times in 20 seasons from 1966-85. The Bucs made the postseason three times in four years from 1979-82. The Colts won their division in 1987. And even the Lions won 10 games in 2011.
Even if the Raiders stay winless for awhile, they need to keep hope that brighter days are just around the corner (hopefully). It may be a painful metamorphosis, but it is possible.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.