An exclusive look at the rivalry between the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs through the years.
Win and you're in. That was the scenario Jan. 1, 2012, as the Oakland Raiders hosted the San Diego Chargers to end the 2011 regular season. The Raiders fell to the Chargers 36-28 as quarterback Philip Rivers led San Diego on a four-play, 99-yard drive to salt the game away and dash the Raiders playoff hopes. The loss dropped the Raiders to 8-8 and gave the 8-8 Denver Broncos the AFC West title. That New Year's Day game was the last meaningful game the Raiders played in the last quarter of the season.
In 2010, the Raiders also finished 8-8 but were eliminated from playoff contention in the second-to-last week of the regular season.
Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio knows what it's like to lead a team into the heart of the playoff chase and take a team deep into the playoffs. His 2007 Jaguars finished 11-5, earned a Wild Card berth and knocked off the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh before falling to New England in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. From 2012-14 he was the defensive coordinator for a Denver Broncos team that went 13-3, 13-3, and 12-4, won the AFC West each year and made a Super Bowl appearance.
Coach Del Rio said all that matters is the next game on the schedule, this Sunday, against the Kansas City Chiefs, in Oakland.
"That's really what you have control over. If there was an opportunity with six opponents on one plate and doing it all at once it would be something, right? Something to talk about," Coach Del Rio said. "For us it's about playing well against the Chiefs this weekend. Finding a way to get that victory this weekend. Nothing else matters at this point."
Safety Charles Woodson has told his teammates in his pregame speeches this past couple of weeks that the playoffs have already begun.
"We're trying to make the playoffs, we're keeping our focus on that," Woodson told me before the Raiders loss to the Detroit Lions. "Every game we play from here on out the rest of the season is a playoff game in my opinion. So, we gotta win."
Second-year quarterback Derek Carr, who got his first win with a come-from-behind fourth-quarter comeback against the Chiefs last season, and engineered a fourth-quarter comeback last week against Tennessee, echoed his head coach's sentiments.
"My mentality stays the same whether I'm trying to beat my brothers in pool basketball or whatever I'm doing. I'm trying to win," Carr deadpanned. "My wife laughs at me all the time, but it doesn't matter what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to compete, and I'm trying to win. You can ask her, I won't let her beat me at anything."
Carr added that his mindset, along with that of the team, is squarely focused on the task at hand.
"I'll do whatever it takes to win. That's my mindset, though, is whatever it takes to win," Carr said. "In my preparation, in the weight room, on the practice field, on game day, that's my mindset and that's everyone's mindset."
Although he hasn't paid much attention to the scenarios, Carr says that any loss at this point in the season hurts the team's chances.
"If we don't win it this week, that always hurts your chances no matter what the week is," Carr said. "That's how we picture it. You have a goal in mind and our course right now is this week. Right now, we've got to go 1-0 this week to make sure we stay on that course."
The last time the Raiders made the playoffs, Rich Gannon was the quarterback leading the team to a third-straight AFC West title as he was winning the NFL MVP award, and the team was under the guidance of a coach in his first year at the helm. Now they have an up-and-coming quarterback and a coach in his first year at the helm. As Charles Woodson so aptly put it, for the Silver and Black, the playoffs have already started.