Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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2021 NFL playoff picture: How Raiders can make the postseason, plus prediction for final five games

The Las Vegas Raiders have had to deal with more off-field noise than any other team in the NFL this year. First was the resignation of head coach Jon Gruden, and then the unfortunate decisions wide receiver Henry Ruggs III made that led to his release. Despite all of this, the Raiders are sitting at 6-6 and are not out of the playoff race just yet.

The Raiders got off to a hot start earlier this season, but have won just one of their last four contests. Their most recent loss came to the Washington Football Team on Sunday, 17-15, as Taylor Heinicke led a late drive to set up a game-winning field goal. It was a tough loss to swallow, but Derek Carr and Co. can’t blink with the Kansas City Chiefs next up on the docket. 

Let’s take a deeper dive into the Raiders’ playoff outlook by looking at their current positioning, their remaining games and a few things they will have to improve on in the coming weeks. 

Current playoff position 

The 6-6 Raiders are tied for last with the Denver Broncos in the AFC West record-wise, but are technically third due to their Week 6 win in Denver. The Chiefs (No. 4 seed) currently hold the division lead at 8-4 while the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 5 seed) hold the top wild-card spot at 7-5. The other two wild-card slots are held by the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills. Both are 7-5.

Vegas currently holds the No. 10 seed behind the 6-5-1 Pittsburgh Steelers and 7-6 Indianapolis Colts. Ben Roethlisberger and Co. of course scored an important, 20-19 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday while the Colts blanked the Houston Texans, 31-0. The jury is still out when it comes to the Steelers’ potential, but they are still a team that can beat anyone on any given Sunday. The Colts appear to be a stronger postseason candidate, and are led by star running back Jonathan Taylor

The teams behind the Raiders to keep track of are the 6-6 Cleveland Browns, 6-6 Broncos and the 6-7 Miami Dolphins. The Browns appear to be flailing with the injured Baker Mayfield, but they had a bye week to refocus. Miami is an interesting team, as it has won five straight games now. With the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints next up on the docket, it’s possible the Dolphins could win seven straight.

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Remaining schedule 

Here’s a look at each of the Raiders’ five remaining opponents. 

  • Week 14: @ Chiefs

  • Week 15: @ Browns (Saturday, Dec. 18) 

  • Week 16: vs. Broncos 

  • Week 17: @ Colts

  • Week 18: vs. Chargers 

The Raiders’ remaining opponents have a collective 34-27 record. This Week 14 matchup against the Chiefs is going to be very important, but that almost goes without saying. In what could be looked at as a good thing or bad thing, the final four opponents on the Raiders’ schedule are all teams they are battling with for a playoff spot. That’s a beneficial thing since a win not only adds a ‘W’ to your record but also an ‘L’ to your opponent’s record, but it’s bad in the sense that Vegas doesn’t have any “layups” left on the schedule. The Raiders don’t get the Detroit Lions like the Broncos do, or the Texans like the Chargers do. Every single one of these final five matchups is important.

It also doesn’t help that the Raiders have three of their final five matchups on the road, including the next two being away from Sin City. At the very worst, the Raiders have to split with the Chiefs and Browns before they fall too far behind. 

Areas of improvement 

  • Third down percentage: Scoring points wins games, and being able to keep your offense on the field will lead to more opportunities to score points. The Raiders officially now have a third-down problem, as Sunday marked four straight games with an under 26 percent conversion rate. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson has to make it his mission to find a way to dominate third downs down this final stretch.

    Sunday: Completed 2 of 8 (25%)

    Week 12: Completed 3 of 13 (23.1%)

    Week 11: Completed 1 of 7 (14.3%)

    Week 10: Completed 1 of 9 (11.1%) 

  • Find the big play: Carr is playing solid football, and is currently second in the NFL with 3,663 passing yards. Still, he could be better. The Raiders quarterback dominated the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, as he threw for 373 yards and a touchdown. Hunter Renfrow, DeSean Jackson and Zay Jones all had huge games. However, against Washington, Renfrow was the only wideout who ate. This was in large part due to Carr failing to find the big play. In the first half on Sunday, on a second and short, Carr hit his check-down Josh Jacobs without taking an extra second to survey his options. He missed a wide open Jackson, who would have picked up at least 20 yards. It wasn’t the only time TV cameras showed a wide open Jackson looking for the ball. The same seemed to happen with Jones in the red zone, as Carr opted to try Foster Moreau in the middle of the field instead of Jones one on one on what appeared to be a post route. You’d like to see more big plays from the passing game, especially since the Raiders’ rushing attack ranks sixth-worst in the NFL. 

  • Slow starts: Both Jacobs and Renfrow talked about the Raiders’ slow starts on offense after the loss to Washington. Just look at the last three home games the Raiders have played. In those contests, they have scored a total of 16 first-half points. It’s been a theme for this team ever since Week 1 vs. the Ravens. The Raiders always take a few drives to get going — and sometimes it can take almost three quarters. That’s not a characteristic of successful teams. 

Prediction 

I would feel more comfortable about their playoff chances if the Raiders were able to score a win against Washington on Sunday, but they are now .500 fighting eight teams for three spots with two back-to-back road games coming, with the second being on a short week. According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Raiders are +600 on “yes” to make the playoffs while “no” is -1100. 

These odds would shift if Vegas upsets Kansas City, and I like the Raiders to defeat the Browns in Week 15. However, a 1-1 split seems more realistic. I see an 8-8 Raiders team entering the regular-season finale with the Chargers, and ultimately, I don’t see them making the playoffs. 

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