The Oakland Raiders are headed back to the postseason, but with two games still ahead of them, the Silver and Black are still looking to secure their first division title since 2002.
The next opponent on the schedule for Head Coach Jack Del Rio's group is the Indianapolis Colts, so before kickoff, you understandably had some questions. Now, we have answers.
Travis B: How can we can we capture the division title this weekend?
EP:Remember that fancy tweet we embedded in last week's mailbag that laid out the myriad scenarios which would result in a Raiders playoff berth? With all the ifs, ands, and possible tiebreaking scenarios, the chart read like a complicated math formula, but thankfully for all of us that are not so mathematically inclined, the scenario for how the Silver and Black can capture their first division title since 2002 is quite simple. First, the Raiders need to take care of business and beat the Indianapolis Colts Saturday afternoon at home. If they're able to take down Andrew Luck and Co., then the waiting game will begin, and they'll be keyed in on the result of the Sunday Night Football clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos. If the Broncos beat the Chiefs, then the top of the division will be officially be painted Silver and Black. However, no need to panic if the Chiefs win, the Raiders still control their own destiny, and can claim the division if they handle business and just win their final two games.
**Guillermo L: We have seven Pro Bowlers…do you think we could have had more?
EP:No question. While the Raiders are sending a league-high seven players to the 2017 Pro Bowl, there's a legitimate argument that they could have had even more. The two players – who to be fair are listed as alternates – that in my opinion had a strong case to be selected to the All-Star game in Orlando, Fla. are fullback Jamize Olawale and Marquette King. The Silver and Black aren't lacking for playmakers on the offensive side of the football, but offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has done a tremendous job of getting the versatile fullback involved when the opportunity presents itself. As far as King is concerned, while it's easy to get caught up in the KickSquad President's antics – and I must admit, I greatly enjoy them – don't look past the fact that No. 7 has delivered yet another impressive campaign for the Silver and Black, with numbers that are more than Pro Bowl-worthy. There's a case to be made that each of the Raiders seven Pro Bowl alternates deserve a spot in the game, but hopefully the Silver and Black will be preparing for another game, and they'll have plans that week.
Linda T: The Slash Bros have been rolling. Name a more iconic duo.
EP: I'll wait…. But seriously, the Slash Brothers have been on a tear this season, and you'd be hard pressed to find another duo that's performing at a higher level than they are.
Over the past month especially, Mack and Irvin have been firing on all cylinders, and really making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. I have a feeling that the Slash Brothers will keep their hot streak rolling Saturday, and feast against a Colts offensive line that has already allowed 40 sacks on the season. Just to put that in perspective, the Silver and Black have allowed just 15 over the same span. To get back to your point though, Mack and Irvin are feeling it, and their play is a big reason for why the Raiders defense has shown a marked improvement as of late.
Steven C: Which rookies have had the biggest impact so far this season?
EP: **Love the question, Steven, and my answer to your query might not have been what you expected it to be heading into the season. While the Raiders have once again gotten a good amount of production from their seven-man draft class, I'm going to have to go with undrafted running back Jalen Richard. The former Southern Miss Golden Eagle has spring boarded an impressive Training Camp 2016 into the regular season, and through 14 games, Richard ranks second on the team with 422 rushing yards, and has also proven to be a valuable asset catching the ball out of the backfield, hauling in 25 passes for 186 yards. Oh, and how could I forget, Richard also handles a majority of both the kick and punt return duties as well. Simply put, Richard has proven to be a quality tool for Head Coach Del Rio's squad, and his performance becomes even more impressive when you realize that this is a player who signed with the Raiders after going undrafted, and then being invited to Rookie Minicamp.
Bill J: How do the Raiders improve their red zone efficiency?
EP:As simple as it sounds, it all comes down to execution. There have been times this season where the Raiders offense has been near perfect in the red zone, but as of late, that tune has changed a little bit. Derek Carr brought up a good point earlier this week when he said that the Raiders have been pitted against some quality defenses as of late, and while he is correct, the Silver and Black know that once the postseason gets underway, they'll have to improve their stats inside the 20-yard line. Now, I know that just being more efficient – especially with so many players in the mix – in the red zone a lot easier said than done, but sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. Carr and the offense certainly have the pedigree to improve their red zone efficiency, and I think it's just a matter of them buckling down and taking care of business, because like Carr said, three points are good, but seven points are even better.
**Julius R: Do you think Michael Crabtree will play with an extra chip on his shoulder due to his Pro Bowl snub?
EP:To be honest, I think that Crabtree always plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I don't think his recent Pro Bowl snub will change the way he approaches a game, Saturday's in particular. Since joining the Silver and Black, the veteran wide out has approached everything in the same, even keel manner, and I really don't see much changing that. To a man, the Raiders coaches and players have all praised 'King Crab' for being a great teammate, and for his team-first mentality, and to be honest, that's a big reason why I think he's found so much success since donning the Silver and Black. In essence, every NFL player plays with a chip on their shoulders, and Crabtree is no different, but do I expect to see any lingering effects from Crabtree not making the Pro Bowl? Nope, not at all.
Vikram W: So we clinched a playoff spot…any way we can get the No. 1 seed in the AFC?
EP:Yes, but the Raiders will need a little bit of help along the way. If the Raiders indeed want the AFC Championship to go through Oakland, they will need to win their final two games, and hope that the New England Patriots slip up at some point over the next two weeks. The Patriots finish up their 2016 regular season with matchups against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins respectively, so if you're a Raiders fan you'll be rooting hard for those teams in the coming weeks. That being said, Head Coach Del Rio continually preaches the importance of controlling what you can control, and right now, the Raiders can only control their effort Saturday afternoon against the Colts. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. PT.