The Oakland Raiders are off to their best start since 2001, when they had Rich Gannon, Tim Brown and a young Charles Woodson. That year, they lost to the Patriots by three in playoffs, and the year after, they made it all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to the Buccaneers.
But since then, the Raiders have stumbled. From questionable draft picks like Darius Heyward-Bey and Jamarcus Russell to rumors of them moving, things have not been great for the Black and Silver. But now, things look different. After a few really solid first-round picks in a row (Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack) and good free agent additions like Michael Crabtree and Bruce Irvin, the Raiders find themselves right in the thick of the AFC playoff race at 7-2.
Carr and Cooper were a magical connection waiting to happen, and Crabtree, who is for sure not a sorry-ass receiver (sorry, Richard Sherman), is having a breakout year. While the multifaceted and dynamic passing attack has been huge for the offense, the real bump they received this year is their newfound ability to run the ball.
The Raiders have three running backs with more than 40 rushes – Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington, and Jalen Richard, each with over 270 total rushing yards. As a team, they are averaging 127.8 yards per game, good for fourth in the league. Carr also throws for 273.3 yards per game, good for fifth in the league. The Raiders have a complete offense, they can control the tempo and they also score when they need to. This is a key facet of a good team. Purely passing offenses can look sweet, but are often not coupled with good teams, the Saints being the prime example.
One critique of the Raiders is that they have won close games against bad teams (Saints by 1, Bucs in OT, Titans by 7). But good teams win close games and they answered these questions by stepping up to the plate and beating the Broncos rather handily, locking them into that No. 1 spot in the AFC West, which is the best division in football.
Most importantly, the Raiders have the mentality of a winning team. Flashback to week one when they scored a TD to trail the Saints by 1 with under a minute to go, and Jack Del Rio went for two. Not only did they get it, but they got it on a fade, a play where you throw it up and trust your receiver to make the catch. They have faith, they believe in each other and I think they can make some noise. The Raiders are back, baby.