The Oakland Raiders pack their bags and fly south this afternoon in advance of their Week 15 matchup with Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.
A win for the Silver and Black Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium will result in the team's first playoff berth since 2002, so before kickoff, you understandably had some questions.
Steven V: Aside from members of the Kick Squad, which special teamers have been shining so far this season?
EP:Steven, a great question. While the offense and defensive understandably get a lot of the fanfare, we can't forget about our guys on the special teams units. While they are tasked with doing a lot of the dirty work on kickoff and punt returns, the third phase of the game is a vital one, particularly for the Silver and Black. Under the guidance of special teams coordinator Brad Seely, the group has enjoyed a strong 2016, and you're right, while Marquette King and Sebastian Janikowski do get a lot of notoriety, there are other players who have primarily made their impact on special teams this season. Let's start with Brynden Trawick. The veteran safety currently leads the team with 12 special teams tackles, and seems to have a nose for the football, particularly on kickoff returns. Behind him, rookie wide receiver Johnny Holton has 11 special teams tackles, and let's remember wide receiver Andre Holmes and his seven special teams tackles too. The special teams unit has been just that in 2016, a unit, and from top to bottom, they deserve a lot of credit for what they've been able to accomplish this season. Also, in my humble opinion, they have the coolest unofficial theme song in the NFL.
James P: What exactly are all of the clinching scenarios for the Raiders?
EP:Well, there's a lot of them, so let's take a gander shall we.
I'll make it really simple; win, and the Raiders are in.
If Derek Carr and the boys can take care of business and take down the San Diego Chargers on the road, they'll find themselves headed to the postseason for the first since 2002. It really is that simple, so only time will tell if the Raiders punch their ticket to the postseason tournament.
**Pham L: Should we expect another Raider Nation invasion at Qualcomm Stadium?
EP:Oh yeah, Pham. We all know how well Raider Nation travels, and it seems like each year the team's annual trip to Qualcomm Stadium turns into another home game for the Silver and Black. I remember last season, after the Raiders had dispatched the Chargers 37-29, hearing the RAI-DERS chant echoing through the beautiful, San Diego sunshine, and truth be told, it really did feel like a home game. I've talked to a few players this week about how well Raider Nation travels, and they've all been pretty consistent in saying that they're not even really surprised anymore by how strong Raider Nation's presence is on the road, particularly in San Diego. I even read one story this week, saying that the Chargers were piping in crowd noise during practice to help simulate what it's going to be like Sunday afternoon, and that's pretty wild to think about an opposing team having such a strong presence on the road, but hey, that's what Raider Nation does best. Regardless of where this team plays, from coast to coast, you'll certainly see a ton of folks rocking the Silver and Black, and I expect to see the same thing Sunday afternoon at Qulacomm Stadium. So, to answer your question, yes, I fully expect to see a Raider Nation invasion this weekend, so once the game kicks off, do your thing and make some noise.
Sam B: James Cowser has been making plays in limited playing time. Will we see an increased role from him moving forward?
EP:I don't know if we'll see an increased role for Mr. Cowser this weekend, but if he keeps making plays at the rate he is now, I'm sure the coaching staff will find a way to get him on the field even more. The undrafted rookie from Southern Utah has no doubt made the most of his opportunities since being placed on the active roster in late-November, registering a sack and two tackles, not to mention his work on special teams, and being a disruptive force along the defensive line. Cowser made his hay in college by getting after the quarterback, and in his limited run as a Raider, he's shown that's what his skillset is best suited to do, but we have to remember is this team is full of players who can do just that. From Khalil Mack to Bruce Irvin, and even some of the guys on the interior of the defensive line, there certainly aren't a lack of pass rushers on the roster, and at some point, there just aren't enough reps to go around. No. 47 is just another player the Raiders have at their disposal to make life difficult for the opposing quarterback, so if he just keeps up his production, at some point down the road, we should be seeing more of the dynamic rusher.
Jeremiah K: Khalil Mack's first career sack was on Philip Rivers over two years ago…he hasn't sacked him since. Will he see another Mack Attack on Mr. Rivers on Sunday?**
EP:I sure hope so, and if Mack is indeed able to take down Rivers behind the line of scrimmage at some point Sunday afternoon, he'll make a little history in the process. Heading into the Week 15 matchup with the Chargers, the Raiders All-Pro defensive end has recorded a sack in eight-consecutive games, and if he is able to make it nine it would be an NFL record. The NFL record for sacks in consecutive games is 10, but both times that feat was accomplished it spanned two seasons, so if Mack is indeed able to register a sack, it would be the first time that any player was able to secure a sack in nine straight games in one season. No. 52 is certainly more than capable of doing just that, as he's been playing at a Pro Bowl level once again this season, and looks to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year recognition as well. Do I expect him to take down Rivers tomorrow afternoon? You can never say for certain, but it wouldn't shock me in the least if we watched NFL history come to fruition at Qualcomm Stadium.
**Geno T: Besides Marquette King, who is the funniest guy in the locker room?
EP:Well, I think there are a lot of ways you could go with this question, but I'll throw two guys out there – Taiwan Jones and Justin "Jelly" Ellis. While Marquette and his antics have certainly thrust No. 7 into the national consciousness, he isn't the only Raider that can crack a joke. Both Jones and Ellis are lively, charismatic guys, and their teammates seem to really feed off their energy. Another guy who's sneakily pretty funny? Veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski. You wouldn't think that Seabass is a humorous fella, but he is, and hearing him crack jokes in that thick, Polish accent is pretty entertaining. All in all though, the 2016 Raiders have a great locker room filled with a good mix of guys who can keep it light, but also know to buckle it down when it's time to get to work.
*Wahaj T: Will Derek Carr bounce back from last week's performance? *
EP:Everyone at some point in their life has had a bad day at work; it just so happens that for Derek Carr, that bad day at work was nationally televised, and seen by millions of people. Give Carr credit though, he hasn't shied away from taking ownership of his performance, and he knows that going forward, he has to be better, simple as that. And to be honest, I foresee No. 4 having a big day Sunday, not only because so much is on the line for the Raiders, but also because the Chargers secondary has been suspect this season. One bad day doesn't change the fact that Carr is rapidly approaching the coveted "elite" status, and he's a legitimate MVP candidate too, so I expect him to respond in a big way in the team's Week 15 matchup. Don't worry about Derek Carr, he'll be just fine.