The Raiders enter Thursday Night Football against the depleted Rams with new life and still an outside chance of making the playoffs. It was hard to imagine them even being on the playoff bubble at this point after they fell to 2-7 with a loss to the Colts. They've since reeled off three straight wins, including back-to-back OT wins on the road in Denver and Seattle, followed by a seven-point win against the Chargers.
While they only have a five percent chance to reach the postseason according to SportsLine projections, they may be closer to going on a run than you think.
Here are five reasons the Raiders can make the playoffs:
1. Easier schedule than it looks
Las Vegas is 5-7 and two games behind the Jets for the final AFC playoff spot, likely needing to win out or go 4-1 to secure a postseason berth.
While the Raiders' remaining strength of schedule is right around the league average, it may be an easier path than it looks.
- Their game on Thursday Night Football is against a Rams' team that has lost six straight and is considering playing Baker Mayfield two days after signing him.
- Josh McDaniels will reunite with Bill Belichick in Week 15 so all bets are off. However, it's a home game for Las Vegas against a Patriots team that has lost two straight.
- They face an improving Steelers team on the road on Christmas Eve, but they are still starting a rookie quarterback. Wins against two playoff bubble teams (Patriots and Steelers) could leave the Raiders knocking on the door entering the final two weeks.
- It's tough to know how the 49ers will look in Week 17 with Brock Purdy, San Francisco's third-string quarterback. But Las Vegas will take that over Jimmy Garoppolo.
- And they face a Chiefs team in Week 18 that could be resting starters if they don't have a shot at home-field advantage. The Chiefs have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, but Buffalo owns the tiebreaker, so it's possible they won't have anything at stake in the regular season finale.
If the stars align, the five quarterbacks the Raiders could face are John Wolford, Mac Jones, Kenny Pickett, Brock Purdy and Chad Henne (if Patrick Mahomes is rested).
|Raiders' Final Five Games||Opponent||Opponent W-L|
2. Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams
The Raiders could certainly stay hot the way Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams are playing. Jacobs leads the NFL in rushing and Adams ranks fourth in receiving. Both are on pace to break the Raiders single-season rushing and receiving records held by Marcus Allen and Tim Brown, respectively. They've been so good in recent weeks that they are now on pace for 1,600 rushing yards and 1,600 receiving yards. Only one duo in NFL history has hit those numbers: Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin for the 1995 Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys.
|Raiders Duo This Season||Josh Jacobs||Davante Adams|
1,845 Rush yards
1,666 Rec yards
1,759 Rush yards
1,408 Rec yards
1985 Marcus Allen
1997 Tim Brown
This two-headed monster has been putting up video game numbers in the last month-plus, too. They've combined for 1,470 scrimmage yards in their last five games. That's nearly 300 per game! It's more than 12 entire teams since Week 9. It's also the most by any pair of teammates over a five-game span since Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce for the 2000 Rams.
When you have a duo this hot, any game is in reach.
3. Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow nearing returns
As good as Jacobs and Adams have been, the Raiders offense would benefit from the return of Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. Both are eligible to come off injured reserve this week, although that's more likely to happen in Week 15 against the Patriots, rather than a short week.
There was certainly hype to the Raiders offense going into the year, deservedly so. They had three players with 100-catch seasons on their resume in Adams, Waller and Renfrow. Yet the Raiders have only run 37 plays with their "Big 4" of Adams, Waller, Renfrow and Jacobs on the field together. Waller and Renfrow's returns could ease the burden with Adams and Jacobs combining for nearly two-thirds of the Raiders' yards this season.
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4. Chandler Jones breaking out
Nobody expected the Raiders to have one of the best defenses in the NFL this year, but we at least expected the pass rush to be their strength after Chandler Jones was acquired to pair with Maxx Crosby. That hasn't been the case for most of the season until recently. The Raiders have 11 sacks during their three-game win streak after they had an NFL-low 10 sacks in the first 10 weeks of the year.
Crosby has been a one-man wrecking crew on defense all season until Jones woke up in recent weeks. Jones leads the NFL with 20 pressures during the Raiders' win streak, more than he had in his first nine games combined (18). He also had his best game of the season in Week 13, racking up 3.0 sacks against the Chargers.
Jones (20) and Crosby (19) rank 1-2 in the entire league in pressures in the last three weeks, just ahead of Micah Parsons (18). With the duo finally playing at the level we expected, the Raiders' struggling defense might have enough firepower to close out games.
|Raiders' Pass Rush This Season||First 9 Games||Last 3 Games|
Chandler Jones' pressures
5. They ran the table last year
I probably wouldn't be so bullish on the Raiders chances if I didn't see them run the table last year. They started 6-7 in 2021 before winning four straight close games, including a wild finale against the Chargers, to sneak into the playoffs. They also benefited from facing two backup quarterbacks in that span, Nick Mullens and Drew Lock, along with Carson Wentz. As I mentioned near the top, the Raiders could once again have a friendly quarterback path to the finish line.
One other key to last year's finish was winning close games. The Raiders won their final four games in 2021 by a combined total of 12 points. They were 7-2 in one-score games for the season. There's definitely an element of luck involved there but if anything Las Vegas' luck is finally turning around this season. They have won three straight games, all by one score, after starting the season 0-6 in one-possession games. They were on the wrong end of miraculous plays by Kyler Murray in an overtime loss to Arizona and missed a late go-ahead two-point try against the Chiefs. They also tied an NFL-record by blowing three 17-point leads this year! Point is, things are finally turning around after a brutal start.
I can't promise that lightning will strike twice for the Raiders, but you can at least see how all the pieces could fall into place between their path to the playoffs, health, star power and momentum.
Entering Wednesday they have +600 odds to make the playoffs at Caesars Sportsbook, a reasonable price for a team with a lot going for them entering the season's final month.