Sign of the Apocalypse No. 543: The Oakland Raiders are Super Bowl contenders


I was driving back home from the Comcast SportsNet Bay Area studios in downtown San Francisco last Monday night. The Raiders had pulled out a 27-20 victory in Mexico City despite not playing particularly well, and the most exciting portions of the game occurred while I was on SportsTalk Live. That didn’t allow me the chance to watch every single play as closely as I would’ve liked, but I was able to listen to the postgame show on the team’s flagship station.

Caller after caller told Chris Townsend how they had no doubt the Raiders would eventually pull out the game. The numerous drops didn’t shake their confidence, nor did Oakland’s inability to run against Houston.

As the Raiders surrendered 25 unanswered points to Carolina today, and then came back to win 35-32 — just like Raider Nation probably expected all along — I thought about those callers, and my own thoughts about this team.

  1. This is the most exciting squad in the NFL, and — unlike most of their games — it isn’t even close.
  2. I would’ve had the same reaction to the injury Derek Carr sustained (dislocated pinkie) that he did. Hilarious take by non-quarterback Bill Romanowski on the subject, though.
  3. Carr always seems to figure out a way late in games.
  4. Michael Crabtree makes more plays than Amari Cooper fairly often, which isn’t what I expected heading into this season.
  5. Anyone who questioned Khalil Mack in September has to be feeling pretty silly right now.

Let’s give the game ball (Can we do that here? Sure, why not.) to Mack for a disgustingly good performance. He made six tackles, pulled off a pick-6 near Carolina’s goal-line that you had to watch on replay at least five times to feel like you fully appreciated what you had just seen in real time, and he won the game for Oakland with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on the same play with the Panthers trying to keep their season alive on 4th-and-10.

The Raiders could end up with the MVP and DPOY this year, and that’s not the crazy thing. The crazy thing is they came from the same draft two years ago. If you’re a cellar-dweller looking for hope, that sounds so promising. But this kind of thing just doesn’t happen. This is like the Warriors getting Draymond Green in the second round AFTER landing Damian Lillard in the first (Lillard went one spot ahead of Harrison Barnes, and Lillard plays the same position as Steph Curry, but you get the picture). Teams just don’t draft two MVPs in a span of 32 picks.

Individual honors are nice, but the Raiders are 9-2 and that just happens to put them in a tie for the best record in the AFC with New England. Forget incremental improvement and “making some noise” in the divisional round. This team could end up in Houston on Feb. 5.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Raiders fans feel fine.

  • Chicago Cubs win World Series
  • President Elect Donald Trump
  • Pretty much everyone famous who could’ve died this year … did
  • The Raiders could go to — and win(!) — the Super Bowl after winning 4.85 games per year on average over their previous 13 seasons.

Granted, there are a few question marks.

  • This team isn’t the greatest at covering wide receivers.
  • Or tight ends.
  • They’re point differential is +32, which is worse than the 6-5 Bills (+45), 6-5 Steelers (+44) and 5-5 Eagles (+55).

Hmmm … no matter how many times I refresh the doubt-o-meter, that’s all I get. And we haven’t even talked about the team chemistry, which appears superb. The offense is electric. The defense has a habit of coming through when necessary. Special teams isn’t a problem as long as the game plan doesn’t consist of a steady diet of long field goal attempts. More than anything, there’s a belief attached to this team that seems impossible to shake.

So far, anyway.

But of the other contenders, who’s all that great? The Patriots, who barely beat the Jets today and deal with a new injury to Rob Gronkowski (their most important player other than Tom Brady) on a near-weekly basis? The Seahawks, who lost to the Bucs today? The Cowboys, who are nearly a mirror image of the Raiders (amazing offense, less-than-stellar defense) and depend heavily on two rookies?

The Raiders could lose in the playoffs to any of several teams in their own conference, but they could just as easily beat those same teams. They also control their own destiny over their last five games, and those games look like a fantastic way to prepare for the playoffs.

  • Home vs. BUF
  • At KC on SNF TNF
  • At SD (which should sound like a home game)
  • Home vs. Indy (over/under is currently set at 240 points)
  • At DEN on New Year’s Day

Speaking of home games, I couldn’t help but notice how the Coliseum’s available seats always seem full during Raiders games this season, as opposed to the wide swaths of red plastic you see when the 49ers play at home. It’s probably a function of one stadium (where the product on the field is better than the products in the packed concourses), vs. another, newer stadium (where the product on the field drives the customers who showed up because they couldn’t give their tickets away to take shelter and drink copious amounts of booze in the wider concourses and 0h-so-posh club areas).

But with all of the talk about the level of play — and the ratings — declining, isn’t it something that the most entertaining product week in and week out is produced by a team that was the league’s most irrelevant franchise for over a decade, a team openly trying to move to Las Vegas?

We shouldn’t ignore the offensive line, or exciting defensive rookies like Cory James and Karl Joseph (or is it Karl James and Cory Joseph?), or a really deep set of receivers, or the only cool punter in the history of the sport, or the influence of a competent head coach who was quite possibly underrated in his previous stops. But in a league where parity is the business model, collecting a star on offense and a star on defense, at the most important respective positions on both sides, changes things awfully quickly. It’s enough to make all of those 9-7 predictions that seemed optimistic before the season seem almost quaint, and it’s enough to make me stock up on canned goods and bottled water. Just in case.

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