The Oakland Raiders have been one of the most refreshing stories of the first half of the NFL season. Don’t expect the good vibes to end.
Oakland is 4-3 and has been playing dynamic football, especially the past two weeks. Oakland came into this season with 11 wins over the past three seasons combined and hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 years. That will change this year. Here are five reasons the Raiders are headed to the postseason:
Derek Carr: It’s not surprising the Raiders are a contender and their future is bright, because that’s what a productive quarterback does for a team. Carr makes the Raiders relevant. The lack of a quality quarterback was Oakland’s biggest problem during the past decade-plus. The second-year player is the key to the Raiders' resurgence. He is improving with every snap and is already a difference-maker. Carr has 15 touchdown passes and just three interceptions, and he’s still getting better. His decision making is strong, and the Raiders will only improve as he continues to make strides in the second half of the season.
Jack Del Rio: Del Rio came to Oakland with nearly nine years of head-coaching experience with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He replaced Dennis Allen, who had one season as a defensive coordinator before coming to Oakland. Del Rio knows how to lead players and a coaching staff. The result is a confident, well-organized, prepared team. Del Rio isn’t romanced by the fact that his team is 4-3. He knows there’s plenty of work to do. He’ll keep the team focused and humble down the stretch.
Improved defense: The defense has played well the past three games. The unit was a major question mark in the first quarter of the season, but it's coming together. Frankly, I’m not completely sold on it yet, but there is talent on the Oakland defense and it’s well coached. The pass defense is vulnerable, but veteran Charles Woodson is leading the league in interceptions with five. If Oakland can keep doing what it has been the past three weeks, it will win a lot of games.
Offensive weapons: Yes, Carr makes the Raiders go, but it’s not just him. He has a lot of weapons, and this offensive unit plays well together. Look at Sunday's win over the Jets. Carr threw four touchdown passes to three different receivers, and none was rookie sensation Amari Cooper, who may be the best player on the roster. Michael Crabtree, Latavius Murray, Andre Holmes, Clive Walford and Taiwan Jones are a nice supporting cast. Through seven games, Oakland has had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the same game twice. That’s the first time that's happened in team history. And the Raiders have had some great Hall of Famers over the years. This offense can be elite.
Schedule: The Raiders are on a stretch in which they've played opponents who are missing key players. That will continue Sunday at Pittsburgh. Oakland shouldn’t apologize for it. That’s the way it goes, and the Raiders need to take advantage. The Raiders also have a three-game stretch starting Nov. 22 in which they play the Lions, Titans and Chiefs. Those three teams are a combined 5-18. Also, the Raiders end the season with games against the Chargers and Chiefs, who are a combined 5-11. Oakland does have three games left against teams with winning records -- Minnesota, Denver and Green Bay. But two of those games are at home, where the Raiders have won five of their past seven games. This is a manageable schedule. If the Raiders can go 6-3 to finish the season, they should be a wild-card team. It’s going to happen.