This Is the Year the Raiders Could End the Patriots Dominance in the AFC

Elias Trejo – Nov 12, 2016

The Raiders are coming off a dominating victory against their AFC West rivals and defending Super Bowl champs. At 7-2 you'd think they are playing their best football of the season, but the reality is they're not even close to their peak at this point in the season. They may be trending in the right direction, but there is still plenty of room for improvement for this Raiders team. 

The Raiders have won two of their last three games by at least 10 points. During that three game winning streak the defense has played much better. During the first six games of the season the Raiders defense allowed an average of 444 yards per game and teams were scoring 27 points per game. During those six games the Raiders went 4-2. Over the last three games the Raiders have only allowed 304 yards per game and 20 points per game. It's no surprise they have won their last three.

You would expect improvement from this defense as the season progressed. Over half of the starters this year weren't on the roster in 2015. 5 Regulars on the defensive rotation are rookies including their starters at safety, middle linebacker and defensive end. It appears that after nine games they are finally starting to gel together enough to be able to dominate games early and close out games late. 

A couple of things that are helping the defense are the return of Latavius Murray and the fact that the offense has been staying on the field longer than the defense. The Raiders over the last three games have dominated possession of the ball. Not only are they holding on to the ball longer, but they are scoring more points as well. This is the first time this season the Raiders have scored at least 30 points in three straight games and they've done it in four out of their last five games. 

Murray returned from injury against the Jaguars and has been a big reason for the Raiders success. He has touched the ball at leat 16 times per game during the Raiders winning streak and has scored five touchdowns. His latest game against the Broncos showed that the Raiders can score 30 points whether they are dropping back and passing 40 times a game or running it 40 times a game. Murray's return also helped make Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington more dangerous as change of pace backs. 

Perhaps the biggesst reason the Raiders are so successful is the play of their offensive line. Not only are they allowing the least sacks and hits per game, but they have also shown they can manhandle any defensive line. This was evident as they completely destroyed the Broncos defensive line and essentially ran the same play over and over until the Broncos could stop it and they couldn't. 

The Raiders have the make up of a team that can continue to dominate late into the season. They have the quarterback, the offensive line, the running game and two of the best wide receivers in the game this year. They are capable of dominating the line of scrimmage and time of possession, which is big. The only concern for the offense is performing when the weather isn't perfect.

Against the Chiefs, this team was completed dominated and embarrased at home. Perhaps it was the rain that caused such a poor performance by the Raiders, but that might be something to watch as the season progresses. This team has also shown the ability to win on the road as they have a 5-0 record. They still have games in Mexico, Denver, Kansas City and San Diego. Finishing with 7 or 8 wins away from Oakland would be a sign that this Raiders team is ready to win now. 

The biggest question mark for the Raiders is their defense heading into their final seven games of the season. This defense has plenty of playmakers on their side of the ball and they are waiting for the return of a couple more playmakers during their playoff push. Sean Smith, Stacy McGee, Mario Edwards and maybe even Aldon Smith should all be joining this unit for the last two months of the season. Edwards is expected to give the defense a big boost as he has the ability to be a one man wrecking crew. 

Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Reggie Nelson are veterans on this team who have shown the abilities to make game changing plays. Mack alone can disrupt a game and we've seen Irvin make his share of big plays. However, there is still something missing on this defense and that missing piece could be Edwards. This defense will be put to the test, but if they show they can continue to improve, this Raiders team could very likely be one of the favorites to win home field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

Currently, the Raiders are behind the New England Patriots who are 7-1. However, the AFC West is considered the best division in the NFL this year and the Raiders are on top of that division. If Oakland can keep pace with New England, don't be surprised to see the Raiders earn a first round bye. The Raiders are one of the few teams in the leage who can not only beat the Patriots, but they have the ability to physically beat them up. 

It would be poetic justice for the Raiders to fly to New England for the AFC Championship game. Who wouldn't want to see the end of the Patiots era happen in a snowy game against the Raiders? This team can make that happen. There is a lot of work to be done and things to fix, but being 7-2 while trying to figure everything out is the perfect situation for the Raiders. 

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