How the Oakland Raiders Can (Realistically) Make the Playoffs

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Aug 22, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) takes the snap from offensive lineman Rodney Hudson (61) in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Split The Next Two

The Raiders face two quality opponents back to back, beginning with a tough road test against Pittsburgh, followed by a visit from the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams are playoff contenders in their own right, with each presenting a unique challenge for the Raiders.

Playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh is never an easy out for anybody. While the Pittsburgh offense is reeling from the loss of LeVeon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger is back and has had a game to shake the rust off. The Steelers run game can still be potent with D’Angelo Williams, but look for Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown to wreak havoc on the Raiders secondary if the pass rush can’t close the deal on the elusive Steeler quarterback. The Steelers defense is a shell of its former self, however, and this could translate to another big day for Derek Carr and company.

The Steelers are another contender for an AFC Wild Card at 4-4, with the Bengals clearly in control of the AFC North. Handing them a loss would do a lot for the Raiders. A win here could potentially have major implications on playoff seeding at the end of the year, with a loss being the difference between a 5th and 6th seed – or qualifying and not qualifying altogether.

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Against Minnesota, the Raiders offense will face one of the league’s best defenses, while the Raider defense will have a tough matchup with Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson coming to town. The Vikings defense has been among the league’s best in limiting scoring by opposing teams, allowing only 13 offensive touchdowns through seven games. They excel at getting to the quarterback, having logged 18 team sacks so far on the year, but can be vulnerable to the run at times. 

Offensively the Vikings are fairly unimpressive under OC Norv Turner. Adrian Peterson has done much of the heavy lifting, carrying the ball an average of 20 times per game, but the Vikings passing offense, despite the emergence of Stefon Diggs, has been generally lacking with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. That said, they have a good trio of receiving weapons in Diggs, Mike Wallace and Kyle Rudolph that could give the Raiders trouble.

Frankly, however, the Vikings may be benefitting from a very easy early schedule that saw them play two games against the woeful Lions and two games against the struggling Chiefs and Chargers. They may not have as easy a time limiting scoring or running the ball with Peterson against the talented Raiders. 

If the Raiders can win both of these tough tests, it will bode very well for them, but it’s more realistic to expect a split: the Raiders fall short on the road in Pittsburgh but then come home and beat up on the Vikings.

Next: Keys to the Wild Card: Sweep the Soft Middle