After taking care of business and handily beating the Denver Broncos 30-20 on Sunday Night Football, the Oakland Raiders are on a well-deserved bye this week.
Just because the team is on a bye, doesn't mean that we are though, so here is this week's Raiders.com Mailbag presented by BART.
From Matt W: Do you think the bye week comes at a good time in the season for the Raiders, given how hot they are? It seems like a good time to get rest but are you worried it might take away some of their momentum?
EP:Matt, I totally understand where you're coming from, but I think that the bye week is a welcome sight regardless of where it lands on the schedule. Think about it this way; the Raiders have been going non-stop since they reported to training camp in mid-July, and while they are arguably playing their best football of the season, a little rest to get the body back never hurt anybody. Through nine games, the Raiders have been fortunate and avoided any serious injuries for the most part, but the wear and tear of an NFL season takes a toll on any team. I don't think that a week off their feet will hinder any momentum the Raiders have established, but I do think that the rest and relaxation will only help them down the road.
From Harry C: After Latavius Murray's breakout game, is the league on notice that the Raiders can run and pass the ball equally well?
EP:While I think that No. 28's career day against the Broncos definitely gave a national audience a little bit more familiarity with what the Silver and Black do well, but in fairness to the group as a whole, that was just business as usual for the Raiders ground game. It's no aberration that the Raiders boast the No. 4 rushing attack in the NFL this season, averaging 127.8 yards per game on the ground; Murray has been impressive since his return from injury, and the rookie tandem of Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington have provided a nice change of pace from Murray's bruising style of running. Through nine games, the Raiders have shown to have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL, both running and passing the football, and that is why the league should be on notice about the Silver and Black.
From John S: How healthy is the team looking at this point in the year? Can we expect Menelik Watson and Mario Edwards Jr. to contribute soon?
EP:To be honest, I think the team is looking as healthy as you could hope for after playing nine NFL games. The Raiders were dealt a big blow early on losing tight end Lee Smith for the season, but undrafted rookie Denver Kirkland has done an impressive job filling in for big No. 86. Cornerback Sean Smith and defensive tackle Stacy McGee were back at practice Thursday afternoon – the team's last on-field session before the bye officially began – and outside of those two, the only real question mark on the team health-wise is Mario Edwards Jr.
Head Coach Del Rio doesn't like to discuss injuries, so a concrete timeline for Edwards' return is uncertain, but he has been seen around the facility in recent weeks, for whatever that's worth. If and when Edwards is able to return to the lineup, he'll provide another capable pass rusher for the Silver and Black, but as of now, we just don't know when we can expect him to suit up.
From David D: Looking where we are after nine games, what do you see as the biggest changes in the team now from in years past?
EP:Two things jump off the page to me when looking at the 2016 Raiders compared to teams in years past – talent and belief. If you look at the team's roster today compared to how it looked a few years ago, the two teams couldn't be more different. Not only do the Raiders have their franchise quarterback with Derek Carr, General Manager Reggie McKenzie has infused the roster top to bottom with talented players. The other big difference is that this team believes and expects that it will be good. There's an air of confidence around Head Coach Del Rio's group this season, and whether it's the effects of a primetime win over the reigning Super Bowl champions or something else entirely, the 2016 Raiders are a confident group that understands just how good they can be. That's not to say they're a cocky bunch, but make no mistake about it, these Raiders expect to win, and credit for that should go to Del Rio and his staff.
From Greg G: The AFC West is loaded right now -- which team do you expect to fall off first or how do you see the race shaping up?
EP:Greg, to be honest with you, I don't see any of these teams falling off anytime in the near future. It's easy to look at the 4-5 San Diego Chargers and dismiss them at this point in the season, but let's not forget that the Bolts gave the Raiders all they could handle Week 5 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Philip Rivers and Co. aside though, while the Raiders currently sit atop the AFC West, the Chiefs and Broncos are still in hot pursuit, and neither should be taken lightly down the stretch of the regular season. The AFC West is looking like the most competitive division in the NFL this season, so I don't anticipate any of the teams fading, and I think that it'll come down to the final weeks of the season to officially crown one team as king of the division.
From Thomas H: Was Sunday night the loudest you've ever heard the Coliseum?
EP:It was LOUD at the OACC Sunday night, so well done Raider Nation for making your presence felt on a national stage. However, as loud and raucous of an environment as it was for the Week 9 tilt with the Broncos, I think it might have been just a touch louder in the team's Week 16 rumble with the San Diego Chargers last season. Not only was the game against the Chargers the final home game of the season, it was Charles Woodson's final home game as a member of the Silver and Black before retiring after an 18-year, Hall of Fame career. Raider Nation sent "C. Wood" off in the best way imaginable, and hearing his name announced in pre-game introductions for the final time was the absolute loudest I've ever heard a crowd get. That's not to discount the crowd at last week's game against the Broncos, but there was something special in the air that night as the Raiders beat the Chargers in overtime.
From Alex D: Is Derek Carr the frontrunner for MVP? What other awards could the players earn like DPOY, Pro Bowl, etc?
EP: **Frontrunner? I don't know, but Derek Carr has definitely played his way into the MVP conversation after the first nine games of the season. Carr ranks fifth in the NFL in both passing yards (2,505) and touchdowns (17) and with the resurgent Raiders boasting a 7-2 record, and standing alone atop the AFC West, No. 4 looks to have as good a shot as any to come home with some serious hardware when all is said and done. As far as some other Raiders that could be in line for some post-season accolades, Khalil Mack seems to be in the midst of another Pro Bowl campaign, and the Silver and Black's offensive line as a whole has been outstanding. Also, keep an eye on Marquette King, as the Raiders punter has been stellar this season.
Speaking of which, you can vote for deserving members of the team to go to the Pro Bowl, here:
From Jim L: Which games on the schedule worry you the most down the stretch?
EP:Jim, the beauty of the NFL is that you can't take any team lightly, regardless of record or who's on the field. Head Coach Del Rio's group has done a great job of respecting its opponents this season, and I think that's a big reason why the Raiders are 7-2 at the bye week. However, once the team does return to work and embarks on the home stretch of the season, there are two games I have circled on my calendar – Week 14 against the Chiefs, and Week 17 against the Broncos. Both games will be road affairs for the Raiders, and I have a sneaking suspicion that those games will determine the winner of the AFC West in 2016.