ALAMEDA (CBS Local) — Back-to-back wins over the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers has the Oakland Raiders right back in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
Sitting at 5-4 on the season, the team is just one game back of the division rival Kansas City Chiefs with a matchup against Andy Reid’s squad still to come. In addition to staying alive in the division race, Gruden’s crew trails the Steelers only on the basis of conference record. Pittsburgh is 4-2 versus AFC opponents while the Raiders have played one less game in the AFC and stand 3-2.
That all begs the question. Is this group, one that dealt with all of the commotion and fireworks that was the Antonio Brown situation, capable of making the the playoffs this season in spite of that?
In the view of Inside The NFL analyst Brandon Marshall, the answer to that question remains unclear. “Now, do I believe that they are a playoff team? I’m not sold on that yet,” said Marshall. But, the former NFL receiver does compliment the coaching staff and management of the organization for their ability to weather the storm that was the preseason Antonio Brown saga.
“Every team, every year has a moment where they either push through and it makes them better or it breaks them down and it makes them worse. The whole Antonio Brown situation gave Coach Gruden the opportunity to galvanize his team, bring everyone together and fight for the same thing,” said Marshall. “I truly believe that was a defining moment in the Raiders turnaround and early success. The job they have done has been amazing and something they should be proud of considering the way they started the season with all of the Antonio Brown drama.”
There is optimism to be had for Oakland heading down the stretch run of the season, too. The team grades out well in advanced stats on offense, checking in as the 5th-best team by Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA numbers. They also rank 12th in overall DVOA by Outsiders. Rookie running back Josh Jacobs has put together a strong opening campaign (811 yards, 7th NFL) and quarterback Derek Carr is having a quietly solid year (70.8% completions, 2,202 yards 14 TD 4 INT).
In addition, the schedule is favorable. The Raiders have games remaining against the Bengals (0-9), @ Jets (2-7), Titans (5-5), and Jaguars (4-5). All of those games are winnable. And, the team has road games left against the Chargers and Broncos after beating both teams at home. At the very least, it would appear that Gruden and company are set to make things interesting in the stretch run of the season.
The Raiders host the win-less Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, November 17 at 1:25 p.m. Pacific Time on CBS.
You can get more NFL insights from Brandon Marshall along with Ray Lewis, Steve Smith Sr., Phil Simms, and host James Brown tonight when Inside The NFL airs on Showtime at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.