Five Raiders Storylines To Watch Once The Team Returns From The Bye Week

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Running Back Latavius Murray and Tackle Austin Howard

The Oakland Raiders are officially on the bye.

After just over four months of going non-stop, the Silver and Black will get a much-deserved break this weekend before returning to work next week to prepare for their Monday Night Football matchup with the Houston Texans.

Owning a 7-2 record, the Raiders currently sit atop the AFC West standings, and with an explosive offense, combined with a much-improved defense, they've become one of the more intriguing teams in the NFL this season.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his squad still have seven games left on the regular season schedule, so here are five storylines you should be watching once the team returns from the bye.

1. Will Derek Carr keep himself in the MVP conversation?

Simply put, the Raiders third-year signal-caller has been outstanding so far this season.

Not only are his 2,505 passing yards good for fifth in the NFL, he also ranks fifth in the league with 17 passing touchdowns, and after a 513-yard explosion against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he now owns the Raiders franchise record for passing yards in a game too.

Carr has no doubt been masterful with the football in 2016. In addition to putting up impressive statistical outings, he's also being careful with the football, as he hasn't thrown an interception since the team's Week 6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Combined with the resurgent Raiders 7-2 record, No. 4 has squarely inserted himself into the 2016 MVP race, and while Carr has said time and again that the personal accolades don't mean much to him, it will be fun to keep an eye on his individual stats as the season wears on.

2. Will Mario Edwards Jr. return to the lineup?

The Silver and Black had high hopes for Mario Edwards Jr. in 2016.

The dynamic defensive end played in 14 games during his rookie campaign, really found his footing over the second half of the season, and provided a much-needed complementary pass rusher to pair with Khalil Mack.

However, a hip injury suffered during the preseason has the kept the Florida State-product sidelined for all of the regular season action to date, but the hope is that he'll be able to return to work at some point this season.

Over the past several weeks, defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s group has shown a marked improvement between the hash marks, but adding another player who can get after the quarterback like Edwards will only help solidify the defensive line as a whole.

As of now we don't have any type of timeline for No. 97's possible return, but his status is definitely something to keep an eye on when the team returns from the bye.

3. Can the ground game keep humming?

Heading into 2016, the Oakland Raiders expected the ground game to be better; they invested heavily into the offensive line and added a pair of impressive, young rookies to pair with Pro Bowl running back Latavius Murray as well.

However, just how good the group has been might come as a bit of a surprise.

Through nine games, the Silver and Black rank fourth in the NFL with 127.8 rushing yards per game, and also just delivered their best performance of the season against the Denver Broncos, rushing for an impressive 218 yards against a stout Denver defense.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been steadfast in his philosophy that the team will be successful if it controls the line of scrimmage and proves able to run the ball at will, and for much of the regular season that has been the case.

Will that remain the norm though as team prepares for a postseason push? Only time will tell.

4. Will the defense keep growing?

Did the Raiders defense start the season the way that it had hoped to? Probably not.

The team's struggles on the defensive side of the football in the early stages of the season have been talked about ad nauseam, so I won't bore you all with the stats detailing the issues.

To make a long story short, there was some trouble coming out of the gate, but over the past month or so, the defense has been better – a lot better.

After a statistically slow start to the regular season, Khalil Mack has really gotten rolling as of late, tallying six sacks in the past four weeks, and the team's coverage has also been much tighter over the past four games as well.

To a man, the members of the defense have said that while they're no doubt playing improved football, they're not quite where they want to be just yet, which is good news considering the Raiders already own a 7-2 record.

It's evident that Ken Norton, Jr.'s group is getting better week after week, and seeing just how good it can get over the second half of the season will be something I'll be closely watching. The Raiders have playoff aspirations in 2016, and if they want to make some noise in the postseason, they know they'll have to rely on a stout defense.

5. Will the Silver and Black take the division?

Look, I know that we're just nine game into the regular season, and that there are still seven very important games to go on the schedule, but as the 7-2 Raiders head into the bye week, they sit alone atop the AFC West.

The 6-2 Kansas City Chiefs are in hot pursuit – by the way, circle the Week 14 clash between the two teams at Arrowhead Stadium on the schedule right now – but for the time being, the Silver and Black are on top of the division.

Since taking the reins in January 2015, Jack Del Rio has said that the goal each year is to win the division, and in his second season as head coach, that goal is now definitely a possibility.

The Raiders haven't been crowned king of the AFC West since 2002 – coincidentally the last time they appeared in the Super Bowl – and while there is still a lot of football to be played this season, including three ever-important divisional matchups, a division title and a postseason appearance are once again within the realm of possibility for Silver and Black.

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