By Dave Thomas
When you look at the remainder of the schedule for the Oakland Raiders (9-2), it appears to be daunting.
Not only do the Raiders finish with three of four games on the road, but all three of those contests are against AFC West rivals. If Oakland is in fact to advance and make its first major playoff run since the 2002 season (they lost the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay), it will have to go through the likes of Kansas City, San Diego and Denver. No, the NFL heads of scheduling did not make this an easy one for the Silver and Black.
After hosting the Buffalo Bills this Sunday, Oakland will have a short turnaround as they prepare for a Thursday evening (Dec. 8) contest in Kansas City. The Chiefs won the first meeting in Oakland, 26-10.
Once the Chiefs are in the rear-view mirror, the Raiders must prepare to head south for a Dec. 18 date with the San Diego Chargers The Raiders won the first meeting in Oakland, 34-31.
After a home date on Christmas Eve against Indianapolis, Oakland will finish up the regular season with a New Year’s Day game in Denver against the defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos.
It certainly won’t be an easy three-game stretch before all is said and done.
Sizing Up The Competition
When considering Oakland’s final three AFC West opponents, each presents difficulties for the Raiders.
For starters, Kansas City (8-3) is very tough to beat at Arrowhead Stadium; the Raiders’ last victory there was in 2012.
In their first meeting this season, Kansas City forced Oakland quarterback Derek Carr into one of his rare ineffective performances this season. Although it was a rainy and muddy field for both teams, the Chiefs’ defense was quite effective that day.
Coming off of a huge 30-27 overtime win in Denver last Sunday evening, the Chiefs head to Atlanta this week before hosting the Raiders.
Not Underestimating The Chargers
In the meantime, Oakland will still have to deal with another old rival on the road against the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 18.
Although San Diego has struggled to a 5-6 record, the Chargers can play with anyone on any given day.
Oakland knows first-hand how difficult the Bolts can be surviving a 34-31 victory over them in Oakland earlier this season.
The Raiders, who won 37-29 a season ago in San Diego, will need to keep their Southern neighbors from playing the role of spoiler the week before Christmas.
Beating The Defending Super Bowl Champs On The Road
The final big road test comes New Year’s Day in Denver.
After topping the Broncos in Oakland by a 30-20 score in early November, the Raiders will likely have one eye on the Broncos and the other on the weather in the Mile High City come Jan. 1. Given the weather that time of the year can be rather unpredictable, the last thing Oakland likely wants is to face the Broncos on a cold and snowy day.
Denver, which currently sits in third place in the AFC West with a mark of 7-4, has proven again this season that its defense can control large swaths of games. If you throw in some needed positive production from young QB Trevor Siemian, the Broncos can beat anyone in the league.
So, between now and late in the day on Jan. 1, the Raiders will look to grab themselves their first AFC West crown since 2002 to end Denver’s five-year run of titles starting in 2011.
Suffice to say, Oakland fans should buckle up and enjoy the ride over the next month.
In order to win the AFC West, things will have to bounce right for the Raiders in three different cities belonging to the AFC West.