The Oakland Raiders won a divisional game, and are now, somehow, just one game out of the division lead and/or a Wild Card spot, and more or less in control of their own destiny with games remaining against both the Chiefs and Chargers.
What this unlikely position obscures is a team in near-total disarray. Derek Carr’s yards per attempt are way down, he’s throwing fewer touchdowns and more interceptions, and he looks at least mildly uncomfortable in a pocket that’s much less secure than a year ago. Marshawn Lynch is the leading rusher with just 457 yards on the year at only 3.7 yards per carry. Alleged Pro Bowl wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have stood out more for their drops than anything this season, and both are likely to miss this week’s game (Cooper with a concussion and hurt ankle; Crabtree with a potential suspension after igniting a brawl with Aqib Talib on Sunday).
And the offense is the good part. If the Raiders defense gave fans any hope as they sacked Paxton Lynch four times, grabbed their first interception of the year and shut out the Broncos for two-plus quarters, that hope was likely dashed by back-to-back fourth-quarter TD drives from Trevor Siemian. The defense, supposedly the strong point of head coach Jack Del Rio, has been awful — and the firing of Ken Norton, Jr. will likely do little outside of anger Bruce Irvin.
Del Rio, like many mediocre NFL head coaches, is failing to lift up the unit that he is most responsible for. He also seems to be failing to inspire a group of players who are almost uniformly performing below their potential; certainly he has failed to institute any discipline or control over a team that seems to participate in on-field brouhahas with alarming regularity.
The Raiders’ continuing contention doesn’t do much for the franchise. Does anyone believe that this team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender?
So what good would a playoff berth really do? The Raiders need better coaching. They need better defensive talent, too, but it’s difficult to compete at the highest level in the NFL if you are routinely out-schemed, and this team has fallen short in terms of adjustments.
If Oakland fans really want to build a winner, the last thing they want is a late-season sprint to a first-round playoff loss that saves Del Rio’s job. Better to slide downhill into 6-10 and upgrade the whole regime.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. Find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.