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Raiders playoff picture: How Las Vegas can make the NFL playoffs as AFC wild card

If the Raiders want to end their first season in Las Vegas with a playoff berth, they should know their work is cut out for them. At 7-6 going into Week 15’s home game vs the Chargers, the Raiders are in the current No. 9 position in the AFC, a game behind the No. 7 Dolphins (8-5) and No. 8 Ravens (8-5).

Last season, the Raiders were still alive in the AFC wild-card race until Week 17, but their 7-9 final record wasn’t good enough to get the second wild card. Now that the NFL has expanded to a seventh team in each conference, they have extra life.

With only three games left, here’s a look at the Raiders’ three different, narrow paths to the playoffs behind the AFC West champion Chiefs:

MORE: NFL’s expanded playoffs, explained

Raiders go 3-0 to finish 10-6

Jon Gruden’s team needs to do this to feel just OK about its chances. The Raiders are favored against the Chargers and will be slight favorites in the final division game at the Broncos in Week 17. In between is a home date with the Dolphins.

Beating Miami would certainly take care of one team ahead of Las Vegas. But Las Vegas is two games behind No. 5 Indianapolis (9-4), to whom it lost in Week 14.

The teams to think about jumping here, beyond Miami, would be Cleveland and Baltimore. The No. 4 Browns (9-4) are also two games ahead of the Raiders, but the Raiders beat them. The team just ahead of them, the Ravens, is favored to win out against the Jaguars, Giants and Bengals.

The most reasonable scenario is the Ravens winning out to get to 11-5 and Raiders winning out to isolate themselves in a head-to-head tie with the Browns at 10-6. The Browns are favored against the Giants and Jets the next two weeks but play at the Steelers in Week 17.

If the Browns go 1-2 while both the Raiders and Ravens win out — while assuming no free fall from either the Colts or AFC South-leading Titans (9-4) — the Raiders would get in as the No. 7 ahead of the Browns and 10-6 because of beating both teams.

Say the Browns go 2-1 to finish 11-5, however. Then the Raiders, winning out, would focus on the Ravens. They didn’t play each other. The Raiders at 10-6 would need the Ravens to go 2-1 to also be 10-6. That would give the Raiders 8-4 conference record vs. either a 7-5 or 6-6 mark for the Ravens. The Dolphins, if they go 2-1 and lose to the Raiders to also finish 10-6, would max out with a 7-5 conference record, too.

Jumping one team is tough enough. The Raiders needing to jump two gives them almost no margin for error and they would still need outside help to get in.

Raiders go 2-1 to finish 9-7

The key here is making sure one of those wins is the Dolphins. So similar to going 3-0, the Raiders would hope for a three-way tie with the Ravens and Dolphins at 9-7, meaning the Raiders would still have the conference-record tiebreaker over both teams to take No. 7. With the Jets on the schedule, the Browns won’t be finishing lower than 10-6. Neither the Colts nor the Titans will lose out, either.

Raiders go 1-2 to finish 8-8

Even if that one win is over Miami, this won’t help unless the Ravens somehow go 0-3 with their easy schedule and the Dolphins still lose their other two games, too. However you slice it, the odds are heavily stacked against the Raiders making the playoffs even in the best-case scenario. Anything less than winning out makes it more of a miracle to work than a long shot.

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