The margin for error is razor-thin, but the Oakland Raiders can tread water with EJ Manuel as their starting quarterback for the next few weeks.
The Oakland Raiders understand that their 2017 NFL season hangs in the balances. They will be without starting quarterback Derek Carr for the next two to six weeks, as he suffered a transverse process fracture in his back during Week 4’s road loss to the Denver Broncos.
Oakland will have to roll with his backup EJ Manuel for the next several weeks. It’s not great, but is there a way that Oakland can survive this mid-season loss of Carr with Manuel under center? Simply put, there is a pathway to success, albeit there is very little margin for error.
Oakland is 2-2 and two games back of the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs at 4-0. Winning the division might be out of the question with Carr missing extended time, but there is a way that the Raiders can tread water with Manuel at quarterback until Carr can return in mid-November.
The Raiders are fortunate to have a favorable part of their schedule coming up. Assuming Carr is out the full six weeks, there is only one certain loss for the Raiders on the slate. That would be to the Chiefs in Week 7. However, that will be a weird Thursday Night Football game and it will be in Oakland. Kansas City is the better team right now, but getting the Chiefs at home on a short week only helps.
Looking at Oakland’s upcoming games, we have the Baltimore Ravens at home in Week 5, the Los Angeles Chargers at home in Week 6, the Chiefs at home in Week 7, at the Buffalo Bills in Week 8, at the Miami Dolphins in Week 9 and then a Week 10 bye before a Week 11 game with the New England Patriots in Mexico City.
It’s daunting, but navigable. Baltimore might have the worst offense in football and Oakland gets the Ravens at home. The Chargers don’t know how to win yet under new head coach Anthony Lynn. Los Angeles might be 0-6 should the Raiders win that division game in Oakland.
Let’s just say that Oakland drops that home game to Kansas City. The Chiefs are the best team in football right now, so it only stinks that they’re the Raiders’ biggest rival. Oakland could be 4-3 with 10 days to get ready/healthy for a road game with the Bills.
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Buffalo has been solid so far, thanks to a swift culture change by head coach Sean McDermott. However, this is a defensive-minded team hasn’t found itself offensively just yet. Beating Buffalo in Orchard Park could be very difficult, but at least team isn’t burying the opposition with the K-Gun offense.
Miami looks to be a lost cause. The Jay Cutler effect has seeped into the Dolphins locker room. Their defense isn’t great. The Dolphins might be the worst team in the AFC East, a division that includes the New York Jets.
That bye in Week 10 is huge before getting New England at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Carr could be back by then. It all starts with a Week 5 home victory over Baltimore, but Oakland could go 3-2, maybe even 4-1 if they clip Buffalo in Orchard Park. A 5-4 or 6-3 Raiders team entering Week 11 would in theory still be in the mix for a playoff spot.
Manuel might only be a career 58.5 percent passer in his five-year NFL career, but his NFL experience, his rapport with offensive coordinator Todd Downing and a favorable slate of games gives the Raiders a chance to tread water until Carr returns. This all assuming Oakland can play sound defense and run the ball with conviction.