Are The Raiders The Best In The West?


Oakland Takes Charge In AFC West

There’s always skepticism when a team is one of the league’s bottom feeders for nearly a decade and a half gets out to a fast start.  It’s magnified when all of the team’s wins with the exception of one came against teams with losing records.

Although the good teams usually take care of business against the bad ones, we’re quick to prejudge based on recent history and recently the Oakland Raiders haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt.

After Sunday night’s convincing 30-20 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, the Raiders have earned their seat at the big boy table and now should be thought of as legitimate contenders in the AFC.

“We are going forward,” said Raiders running back Latavius Murray, who ran for 114 yards and three touchdowns against one of the best defenses in football. “This is a new team, new mindset. We just want to keep getting better each day, better each week. Tonight we got a good win but we have to keep working. We’re only halfway there.”

That type of look ahead, but not too far ahead mentality is exactly what Jack Del Rio’s team needs.  After all, Del Rio has captained 12-4 and 11-5 squads in Jacksonville, only to get smacked in the playoffs (by New England).

“We’re growing to expect success now,” said Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. “We now we’re a good team. We focus really on the preparation throughout the week. The guys were really on point like they have been each week.

“For us, it’s about continuing the process.”

What’s been most impressive about Oakland is how the defense is incrementally improving while the offense is no longer a finesse unit.  They flat-out bullied the Super Bowl champs on Sunday night, and there was no doubt who was the tougher, better football team.  It was one of those “get over the hump” types of wins, regular season style.  Something that Del Rio could never get in Jacksonville, as even in his Jaguars best years, the Indianapolis Colts always were the measuring stick that the team fell woefully short of.

“They did a lot of talking all week,” Raiders left tackle Donald Penn said of the usually vocal Broncos. “But I said we don’t talk with the media; we talk with our play, with our pads, and we showed that today.”

Nobody was shocked that a Derek Carr led team beat a Trevor Siemian led unit, but the way they did it was impressive.  They physically manhandled Denver on both lines and they didn’t need their quarterback, who eclipsed 500 yards passing last week, to do much else than be a game manager.

“The way those guys were imposing their will,” Carr said, “it was a fun thing to watch.”

We’ve seen in the NFL that running the football and playing good defense is a certain recipe for success.  The Broncos did it last year and the Seahawks made it to two Super Bowls with the same formula.  If Oakland can add that kind of physicality to their already potent passing attack, the sky is the limit.

Are Packers Or Steelers Actual Contenders?

Halfway through the NFL season we didn’t expect to see either the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers sitting on their lowly perch with .500 records.  Bill Parcells once famously quoted, “You are what your record says you are.”

Despite having a pair of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the Packers and Steelers are both mediocre teams.

Make no mistake, seasons are not over at this point and the NFC and AFC North divisions are keeping both teams squarely in the hunt for a division title and a home playoff game.  With that said, it doesn’t mean that either preseason Super Bowl pick should feel good about where they are at this point in the year.

“Just because they’re losing doesn’t mean we need to lose to match it,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said after the team’s 31-26 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.  “We had opportunities multiple times out there, and we let a lot of them get away. We’ve got to zone in and make sure we’re taking care of our business and worry about ourselves and see how it plays out.”

Both teams have struggled through injury woes and are trying to get healthy.  Still, it doesn’t explain losses to pretty mediocre teams on Sunday.

“We’re just not healthy right now. We’re waiting on some guys to get back, and like I said last week, it’s going to be a work in progress,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “There were some things that happened out there tonight that were obviously very frustrating. Didn’t quite understand what [receiver Randall] Cobb’s status was, so we got him in there the last couple drives, but yeah, it was frustrating.”

In Pittsburgh, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned from his knee injury and looked rusty at best against the Ravens.  The Steelers signal caller barely completed 50 percent of his throws (23 of 45), for 264 yards with a touchdown and an interception.  He looked out of sync for most of the game, but at the end of the day a not quite 100 percent Roethlisberger is better than a completely healthy Landry Jones.

“He was healthy to play. He was willing to play. I appreciate his efforts and his display of will,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak by the Ravens and extended their winning streak over rival Pittsburgh to four games (including playoffs).

Just a month ago it looked like Pittsburgh was going to run away with the AFC North, and now they sit firmly in the middle of the pack after their third consecutive loss.  Things don’t get much easier for Pittsburgh as they host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

“The bottom line is we put ourselves in a big hole with some adversity, some of which was created by us,” Tomlin said.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.