By Dave Thomas
As the Oakland Raiders get set to conclude the regular season over the next three weekends, one question remains: Can this team finish what it started?
While the team was expected to improve this season, not too many folks would have predicted that the Raiders would be sitting at 10-3 heading into the home stretch. That said, Oakland will need a perfect finish—and a little help from other teams—to win the AFC West crown.
Despite falling to Kansas City on the road, Oakland can still capture the AFC West if it can win the remainder of its games, and get a little help along the way. Even though the two teams are both 10-3, the Kansas City Chiefs hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep of the Raiders.
Oakland must take it one game at a time. The team hopes to finish off San Diego, Indianapolis and Denver, respectively.
So, what are the Raiders looking at in the final three games?
At San Diego Dec. 18
Despite another dismal season from their neighbors to the south, the Raiders know they can’t take the Chargers lightly when these two old AFL rivals collide Sunday in San Diego.
Coming off of a 4-12 season a year ago, San Diego (5-8) had hoped to improve upon that record in what may be its final season in San Diego and possibly even get back into the AFC playoffs. As it turns out, the Chargers will likely finish under .500.
That said, San Diego gave the Raiders all they wanted in their first meeting in the Bay Area, falling 34-31. Were it not for a botched hold on an attempted game-tying field goal, the two teams may very well have gone into overtime.
Come this Sunday, expect another tight game—one where Oakland will certainly have its share of fans in attendance. As the Chargers know all too well, they really do not have a true home field advantage in San Diego, especially with so many Silver and Black fans expected once again this time around.
Home vs. Indianapolis Dec. 24
Playing their final regular season home game in Oakland on Christmas Eve, the Raiders will host an Indianapolis squad that is fighting for its playoff lives heading into the stretch run.
The Colts sit at 6-7, one game back of both Houston and Tennessee in the AFC South.
Given the injury issues star QB Andrew Luck has had this season, it will literally take some luck for the Colts to make the playoffs this time around, especially with the likes of Minnesota and Oakland on the schedule over the next two weekends. While Indianapolis does finish at home with lowly Jacksonville, they could already be eliminated from playoff contention by that point.
No matter what happens in San Diego this weekend, Oakland will have to be ready for a Colts team that is fighting for its playoff existence in all likelihood come Dec. 24.
At Denver Jan. 1
Oakland will close out the regular season with a familiar foe on the road: None other than the Denver Broncos.
In a meeting earlier this season in Oakland, the Raiders tallied a 30-20 win over Denver, perhaps a sign of the changing of the guard in the AFC West (Denver is the defending division, AFC, and Super Bowl champion).
Since the weather can always be a factor in the Mile High City, the Raiders can expect the unexpected on New Year’s Day.
Heading into action this weekend, Denver sits in third place in the AFC West at 8-5, though it is in a good position to grab one of the two AFC Wild Card spots.
The Raiders will not have the easiest of times closing out the regular season with three straight wins, but the victories are there for the taking nonetheless.