The Oakland Raiders have been playing great football lately, currently sitting at 5-4 and in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Coach Gruden has his Oakland Raiders team playing better than just about anyone expected, winning games against the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Los Angeles Chargers. Derek Carr and the offense are playing better than ever, and although the defense is struggling, they have stepped up in big moments on multiple occasions.
Heading into the season, Oakland sported the toughest schedule in the league, as they played two home games to open up the year, and then hit the road for Week 3 through 8. Returning to the Coliseum for a Week 9 matchup with the Detroit Lions, the Raiders took care of business, and five days later, beat division rival Los Angeles inside the Coli as well.
Now, sitting at 5-4, the Raiders are a legitimate playoff contender, and have completely changed the narrative surrounding the franchise. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have established a roster that can hang with any team in the NFL, and their schedule gets a lot easier looking ahead.
There is still plenty of football left to play this season, but let's take a look at four reasons the Raiders will make the playoffs this season.
The remaining schedule
The Oakland Raiders played an insanely difficult schedule in the first half of the season, being away from home for five weeks straight, and playing against a number of playoff teams. The Raiders have lost four games this season, all to teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
On the other hand, the Raiders have defeated solid teams, and have been underdogs in just about every game this season. The Raiders schedule the rest of the season is close to the opposite of what it was in the first half, and with the team finally coming together, they could end the season with a great record.
The Raiders defeated the Chargers on Thursday night in a must-win game. The Raiders are 5-4 with their next two games being against the Bengals (0-8) and Jets (1-7). Assuming the Raiders win both of those games, they will sit at 7-4 with a great chance to make the playoffs.
After that, the Raiders play the Chiefs, Titans, Jaguars, Chargers, and Broncos. Assuming these teams continue on the trend they are going, the Raiders should only be underdogs in one of those games. Although it probably won't happen, the Raiders could easily finish this season 11-5 if all goes the way it should.
Raiders offense is playing at an elite level
I may catch some heat for this, but it is not stretch to claim the Raiders offense as one of the best in the NFL, or at least the AFC. Derek Carr is currently playing at a high level, making reads and throws that we have not seen him make in a long time.
Along with Carr, rookie running back Josh Jacobs is playing like a top-five NFL back right now, dominating every defense he faces. Tight end Darren Waller is playing like a pro-bowler, and although his production has slipped a bit in the last two weeks, he still is making a huge impact on the team.
The Raiders do not currently have a receiver that is dominating defenses, but the group they have is extremely underrated. Tyrell Williams is a touchdown machine, rookie Hunter Renfrow has come along in the last two weeks, Zay Jones should contribute more and more each week, and rookie tight end Foster Moreau has been a pleasant surprise.
Along with all of this, the offensive line is playing like one of the best in the NFL, even with injuries. Tom Cable has done a great job with this line and deserves credit after getting a lot of hate last season.
Rookies are starting to put it together
The Raiders rolled into this season with an extremely young team, starting a lot of rookies on both sides of the ball.
In the first part of the season, the rookies did not do a whole lot. Clelin Ferrell has been marked as a disappointment, Hunter Renfrow was not making many big plays, and Johnathan Abram is out for the year.
Over the last few weeks, rookies have shown their improvement and they are getting comfortable with the schemes and plays the coaches are putting in front of them. Josh Jacobs is the clear best rookie on the team, as he is already one of the best running backs in the entire league.
Hunter Renfrow has been a big part of the offense over the last two weeks, scoring touchdowns in both games, including a game-winner against the Lions. Not only is Renfrow finding the end zone, but he is picking up huge third downs for the team consistently.
Foster Moreau has played a similar role to Renfrow in the receiving game, making big plays on third down all season, and finding the end zone on multiple occasions this season, being a great compliment to Darren Waller.
Although Clelin Ferrell is not filling up the stat sheet, he is making big plays for the Raiders and does not deserve as much hate as he is receiving. Ferrell made the game-winning play against the Lions, reading the play action and getting after Matt Stafford on the final play of the game, forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly and not let the pay develop. He also stepped up big against the Chargers, recording 2.5 sacks.
Maxx Crosby has been another surprise for the Raiders, looking like a starter for years to come. Crosby does it all, whether it is getting to the quarterback, forcing fumbles, or batting the ball at the line. He made a huge difference against the Chargers on Thursday, having ten QB pressures.
This rookie class is looking like the best in the NFL, and they are only getting better. If they continue to improve, this team is going to look like a real threat.
Raiders defense makes big plays in crunch time
Although the Raiders' defense is struggling to stop the pass, they do have one thing going for them; they step up when it matters. Outside of the Texans game, this defense has made big plays at the end of the game.
When the Raiders played the Colts, Erik Harris had a game-winning pick-six to close out the game, a game where the defense as a whole played fairly well. Against the Bears, the Raiders had an interception to win the game again, making that back to back weeks.
When the Raiders played the Packers, they were exposed and did not even have a chance to make a game-winning play, and against the Texans, they could not get to Deshaun Watson when it mattered. They let that game slip away, but they bounced back against the Lions, making a stop at the one-yard line on fourth down.
The defense looked its best against the Chargers, recording three interceptions, two coming from Harris, and 5 sacks, three coming from rookies. If the defense can play at that level the rest of the year, there is no doubt this team will make the playoffs.