The final focal points of the the 2011 season. The last few games of this season have all held a great deal of importance, but it is saying something that we are at the final game of the season and it still holds meaning. So here we go with the important storylines in what will be the last game of the regular season, but hopefully not the Raiders' last game before the offseason.
The playoffs really started for the Raiders last week. If they lost, they were out. They beat the Chiefs to give their final game versus the Chargers meaning. The same goes this week. They lose, they go home. Unfortunately a win doesn't guarantee a playoff spot. They lost out on the chance to control their own destiny when they blew the lead against the Lions two weeks ago.
It gets a bit complicated as to how the Raiders would get into the playoffs but I will try to simplify it. The simplest scenario has the Raiders winning and the Broncos losing to the Chiefs. The Raiders would then win the AFC West outright and enter as a fourth seed.
If the Broncos win, the Raiders only option is as a wildcard. Without going into all the reasons why, I'll just say they need the Bengals to lose first and foremost. If both the Bengals and Broncos win, the Raiders are out. If the Bengals lose, the Raiders would need the Titans to lose or the Jets to win. There are various reasons for this that include factors like common opponents and strength of schedule. But none of that really matters.
Before the Raider game even starts, the scenarios will be shaking out. The Jets play the Dolphins in the early game. If they win, the Raiders would need a win and a Bengals loss to get in as a Wild Card. The Titans play the Texans in the early game as well. If the Titans were to win and the Jets were to lose, the Raiders would be out of wildcard contention and would then need the Broncos to lose the late game to get in as a division winner. If both the Jets and Titans lose, it will be down to either the Broncos or Bengals losing in the afternoon for the Raiders to get in.
So aside from beating the Chargers, Raider fans will be rooting for the Chiefs to beat the Broncos. If that doesn't happen, they will need the Ravens beat the Bengals. If the Bengals lose, the Raiders will need either the Texans to beat the Titans or the Jets to beat the Dolphins.
There are a few different teams the Raiders could play once they get in the playoffs and some fans have mentioned who they would rather the Raiders play. But does it really matter? To be the best they will eventually have to beat the best. You can bet the Raiders are not concerning themselves with who they might play next and neither should you. Getting into the playoffs is the one and only priority.
Feed the need for speed
The Raiders' speed is back. Well, not all of it because yet again Darren McFadden has been ruled out. But we can only worry about those players who will be taking the field on Sunday. They have had Denarius Moore back for a couple weeks now and he paid dividends last week when he caught a clutch 61 yard touchdown pass—the only one of the day for the Raiders. Now they get two more speed burners back in the offense in the form of Jacoby Ford and Taiwan Jones. Between the three of them they average about a 4.3 40 yard dash. Last time the Raiders played the Chargers, Ford and Moore were the two most targeted receivers with Moore going for 123 yards receiving. Taiwan Jones carried the ball seven times averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
Ford is officially listed as questionable but he has been practicing all week and said on Friday that there is no way he is not playing in the game. Taiwan Jones has been practicing for the past two weeks and appeared set to play last week but was ruled out at the last minute. Having all three of them in the lineup will add a dynamic to this Raiders offense upon which they have come to rely—speed.
Hold them down
Prior to the Chargers losing to the Lions last week, they had been on a resurgence that had them winning three games in a row and knocking on the playoff door. In those three straight wins they scored at least 34 points and held the opponent to just two scores. Granted, the first team was the lowly Jaguars who have fired their head coach and are finishing the season on life support, and the second team was the Bills who have been on a spiraling collapse of their own. But the third team was a tough Baltimore Ravens team that has already punched their ticket into the playoffs. The Ravens have a tough defense and yet the Chargers still hung 34 points on them.
This shows what the Chargers are capable of when they get out of their own way. They have the weapons and the talent; they simply make a lot of costly mistakes. Their loss to the Lions last week ended their playoff aspirations. The loss sent out the rumblings of Norv Turner being fired which most people expected unless he could somehow get the Chargers surging through the playoffs.
So what the Raiders will be facing is a dangerous, high-powered team with nothing to lose. The Raiders' defense has given up leads several times this season when it mattered most and Philip Rivers and Co. are as much or more capable of moving the ball downfield quickly as any team in the NFL.
The Raiders don't know which team they'll see Sunday: the team that twice this season won three straight or the one they beat in week ten in the midst of a six game losing streak. The Raiders will need to set the tone early to put the Chargers to self destruct. Otherwise they could see an explosion of which the Chargers are very capable.
Where's the Boss?
The only big name free agent the Raiders had all offseason was Kevin Boss. He was expected to step in and perform near the same level as his Pro Bowler predecessor, Zach Miller. Thus far, that has not materialized.
Last week in Kansas City, Boss was held without a catch. Four other times this season he was held to just one catch. The simple reason could be that he is being held at the line for blocking purposes. It makes sense considering last week the Raiders faced one of the more fierce pass rushers in Tamba Hali. Boss had one of his four one-catch games in the Raiders' previous game against the Chiefs. In two of the other one-catch games, the Raiders faced Julius Peppers and Cameron Wake. The flip side of that is when the Raiders faced NFL sack leader Jared Allen and held him without a sack, Boss matched his season best in catches with five. The Chargers have a double digit sack man in Antwan Barnes (11.0) so we could see Boss help protect Palmer from Barnes' rush. With Barnes as the Chargers' only real cause for concern from the Raiders, I would expect to see Boss back in the passing attack. Last week Lions' tight end Brandon Pettigrew gouged the Charger defense with nine catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. It was Pettigrew's second best game of the season. His teammate Tony Scheffler had his best game of the season with three catches for 47 yards as well.
I expect Boss to get off the schneid and put up some good numbers to finish the season on a high note.
Michael Bush is sitting at 911 yards on the season which means he needs just 89 yards to hit 1000 yards for the season. He has been the Raiders' feature back most of the season with Darren McFadden not playing since week six. Since McFadden went down, Bush has run for 773 yards of those 911 yards. If he has a day anywhere close to the one he had when the Raiders met the Chargers in week ten, he should reach 1000 yards easily. He ran for 157 yards in that meeting, his best outing of the season. In that game he also added three catches for 85 yards. If he were able to somehow surpass his receiving yards in that game, he has a chance to get 500 receiving yards as well. That milestone is far less likely considering he sits at 405 now. He would have to have the game of his life to reach 1000/500 for the season. That was what McFadden did last season as the first Raider to do it since Marcus Allen in 1986. For Bush to reach 1000 yards in just nine starts would be extremely impressive. It is very reachable and you can bet Bush will be pushing to reach it. He is set to become a free agent and reaching that milestone could get him a very large payday. It is certainly an effort to watch for. I know I will be counting down.
Follow me on Twitter @LeviDamien or befriend me on Facebook.