Well, it’s probably too early to call the Raiders a legitimate wild-card contender, but after this week’s new and improved smackdown, this time against a highly ranked team, it’s definitely okay to be optimistic about their chances. Look at the rest of the AFC — perennial contenders such as the Colts and Ravens are terrible, and even resurgent teams such as Pittsburgh and Buffalo are merely mediocre. Only New England, Cincinnati, and Denver are any good, and of course they’re all undefeated. But the Raiders are definitely in the next tier, and more importantly, are improving, and can still make some easy adjustments to improve even more.
With this game and the previous one, the Raiders caught some breaks — the Chargers were easier to roll without Pro Bowlers Antonio Gates and Eric Weddle, and knocking Ryan Fitzpatrick out on the Jets’ first possession certainly didn’t hurt the Raiders’ cause today. But the fact is that good teams take advantage of breaks like those, and bad teams don’t. The Raiders made the most of those breaks, and backed it up once again with great play on both sides of the ball. There were several highlight-reel offensive plays, especially from Taiwan Jones and Andre Holmes.
This time there was less of a fourth-quarter let-up, showing that they’ve already learned from last week, and will continue in that direction. They’re play competitively and winning, and showing great signs of the long-awaited turnaround. Going into Heinz Field is always a tough prospect, but the Steelers are weathering key injuries and roster losses, and once again the Raiders may catch some breaks they can capitalize on.