Running Back Marshawn Lynch
From starting 2-0, to losing four straight, to being .500 again, the Oakland Raiders have experienced a roller coaster of emotions this season, but after all that, they find themselves tied for first place in the AFC West entering Week 14.
When the team was preparing for its Week 9 showdown with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday Night Football, Head Coach Jack Del Rio stressed that the group needed to get its "mojo" back, and after finishing the third quarter of the 2017 campaign 3-1, I think it's fair to say they've done that to a certain extent.
Over their last four games, the Silver and Black are averaging 368 total yards per game, while limiting opponents to 324.3 yards per game; however, since Assistant Head Coach – Defense John Pagano took over defensive play calling in Week 11, the defense hasn't allowed a team to surpass 300 total yards.
After stringing a few wins together the Raiders have crept back into the playoff picture, and sit at the top of the division next to the Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers – all three teams have a record of 6-6.
"We control our own destiny at this point," said guard Gabe Jackson following Sunday's win over the New York Giants. "So we just have to keep winning and keep doing the small things right, to get in position to win."
According to the rules of the tiebreaker, the Raiders technically lead the Chiefs because of their 31-30 victory over them on Thursday Night Football back in Week 7, but the Chargers defeated the Silver and Black back in October 17-16, so they technically own the tiebreaker over Derek Carr and Co.
Between the three, the title of AFC West champion is truly up for grabs, and the next month of football won't be lacking any storylines.
This Sunday, the Raiders will travel to Kansas City for their final regular season battle with their division rival, and the outcome could pay huge dividends towards clarifying the playoff picture. It's crazy to think about how far the Chiefs have dropped after starting the season 5-0. Since then, they've lost six of their last seven and have given up a commanding lead over the division. The exact opposite has occurred for the Bolts, as they've risen to the top after starting the year 0-4.
The reason why winning the division is so important – aside from holding bragging rights over your rivals – is that whoever wins is a lock for the postseason, and it affords you the right to host a playoff game. If you're unable to win the division getting into the playoffs is a lot harder, but can be done – reference the 2016 Raiders.
Yes, it's exciting to think the Silver and Black are still very much in the hunt, but as Del Rio pointed out during his postgame press conference Sunday, there's a lot of work to be done still.
"Just one at time," said Del Rio. "Just like we've been doing. We've been purposeful in our work. We understand the scenario of where we are and what we need to get done. And what we need to get done is one week at a time. Keep improving as a football team. Need to stay together no matter what the noise is outside."
If the Raiders can knock off the Chiefs again this Sunday, it would obviously bode well for their playoff aspirations, and would be a big win on the road.
Kickoff is at 10:00 a.m. PST.