In a perfect world, every game is a must-win game. You never want your favorite team to lose, and every win, even against inferior competition, matters. But in the Super Bowl era, only one team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, has gone the entire season without losing. So when you say a game is “must-win,” there’s a level of semantics involved.
However, make no mistake, if the Oakland Raiders want to be taken seriously this season, tonight’s game against the
San Diego London Los Angeles Chargers is one they simply must win. And here’s why.
Tonight’s Game Is a Must-Win for the Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders are a better team than anyone thought they would be coming into the 2019 season. Even though my preseason predictions were pretty spot on (the only game I was wrong about was the Colts, and I wrote my predictions when Andrew Luck was still their starting quarterback), I didn’t anticipate the team being this competitive in their losses.
And trust me, they were competitive. Even though many of the final scores aren’t flattering, the Oakland Raiders are so much better than anyone thinks they are this season, based purely on the strength of schedule and how they’ve carried themselves. The four teams that have beaten the Raiders are a combined 25-11 this season, and only one of the losses was really ugly. Let’s take a closer look.
vs. Kansas City
Against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders played three really strong quarters of football. Sure, that second quarter was atrocious, giving up 28 unanswered points, but the team still managed to slow down arguably the NFL’s best offense for 45 minutes. But that doesn’t win games.
Oakland’s trip to Minnesota was easily the ugliest loss of the year, no doubt. They never got the run game going, Derek Carr had an ugly interception (which I predicted perfectly), and Dalvin Cook ate the Raiders alive. There weren’t a ton of positive takeaways from this bout.
@ Green Bay
The Raiders ended up losing to the Packers by 18 points, but it’s not hard to find out where the points went. Derek Carr fumbled out of the endzone to end the first half, and then moments later, the Packers scored on a long pass. That’s 14 points. At the start of the fourth quarter, they were stood up on fourth down at the Green Bay one yard line. That’s another seven points. And then of course, Carr threw the interception in the endzone. That’s 21 points they left on the table, with a touchdown they could’ve prevented.
@ Houston Texans
Depending on how you look at it, the three point loss to the Houston Texans was either the most encouraging or disappointing loss of the season. Deshaun Watson is a bonafide MVP candidate, and he had to pull off a miracle just to win this game, but there were so many points where the Silver and Black should’ve been able to put this one away. The offense didn’t play 60 minutes, but the defense was just putrid in the fourth quarter. This is a game the Raiders easily could’ve, and some argue, should’ve won.
But really, with the exception of the Vikings loss, the Raiders have held their own against teams that will all probably make the playoffs. The Raiders haven’t really been outmatched by anyone with this season, and have gotten in their own way in three of four losses. Now that they’re starting to put things together, the schedule gets a lot easier, and there’s a chance the Raiders could make a real run at the post-season… but tonight is a must-win.
The Schedule Moving Forward
So tonight, the Raiders host the Los Angeles Chargers in a game that has massive post-season implications as far as the AFC West and AFC wild-card pictures are concerned, but let’s look a little farther ahead.
After the Raiders play the Chargers, they play the Cincinnati Bengals (0-8), the New York Jets (1-7), the Kansas City Chiefs (6-3), the Tennessee Titans (4-5), the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5), the Chargers again, and then the Denver Broncos (3-6). Those teams are a combined 22-39. That’s right, even though there are seven of them, they have fewer combined wins than the four teams Oakland lost to, with games against the Jets, Bengals, Broncos, and Titans looking like games where Oakland will be the favorite.
But that would only put the Raiders at eight wins, and even though the AFC isn’t as competitive as it has been in year’s past, eight wins will not be enough for a playoff spot. You’ll need at least nine, if not ten to break into the post-season. The Buffalo Bills currently have the fifth seed locked up, and have an even easier schedule than the Raiders, so it’s either AFC West or the sixth seed, for which there is a lot of competition.
That means if the Raiders want to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to beat decent teams. The Los Angeles Chargers might have a losing record, but they’re a talented squad that can beat anyone on any given Sunday. The Jacksonville Jaguars look like pushovers on paper, but they’ll have Nick Foles back at this point, and their running game should be respected. As for the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes will be back by then, and Derek Carr has never won a game in Arrowhead, so it’s best not to bet on that.
Tonight’s game is almost definitely the last primetime game that will ever be played in the Oakland Coliseum, and I fully expect the Black Hole to be rocking. Oakland’s banged up, and their defense is just terrible. If the Raiders are going to win, they’re going to have to play lights out football. Here’s how they can do it.
Keys to Victory
JJ All Day
The Los Angeles Chargers have the 20th ranked rush defense in the NFL, and the Raiders have a top six rushing attack. Josh Jacobs is averaging just under 100 yards per game, and over the last month, the Chargers have been giving up a little more than that. The Raiders need to feed the man many believe has already locked up Offensive Rookie of the Year, control the clock, and end drives with six, not three.
Like I said, the defense isn’t going to be good for much. I expect big days from Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon. So if the Raiders are going to win this game, it’s probably going to be via some last-second Derek Carr heroics. Which is fine, if there’s one thing we know about Derek Carr, it’s that he can come through in the clutch when it counts. 17 of Derek Carr’s 36 career wins have been a result of a fourth quarter/overtime comebacks. There’s a good chance they’ll need Carr to add another one.
I know it’s not Oakland’s strong suit, and the loss of Arden Key doesn’t help, but the Raiders have to get to Philip Rivers. Whether it’s Benson Mayowa (who, incidentally, has just as many sacks as Khalil Mack this year), Maurice Hurst, Maxx Crosby, or even Clelin Ferrell, someone’s gotta get to Philip Rivers. The Raiders are giving up an average of almost 300 passing yards a game, and against a good quarterback like Rivers, that’s gonna get you in serious trouble.
If the Raiders can win tonight, they’re 5-4 entering the easiest stretch of their schedule. If they win tonight, they’re probably traveling to Kansas City with four straight wins, a 7-4 record, and a real shot at making some noise in the AFC. But if they don’t, they’ll be struggling to keep their heads above water in a crowded AFC playoff picture.