The Oakland Raiders have actually been one of the most interesting stories in the NFL this season. Heck, they have even been a feel-good story.
The Raiders were getting set to enter the 2019 campaign with what was supposed to be a dynamic offense centered around Antonio Brown, but, of course, Brown ended doing Antonio Brown things, which ultimately led to his release just before the season began.
After Oakland lost Brown, the roster did not even resemble that of a playoff contender, but here the Raiders are, 10 weeks into the season, and they are 5-4 and are very much alive in the AFC playoff picture.
In fact, Oakland sits a half-game behind the Kansas City Chiefs for first place in the AFC West.
Still, in spite of how well the Raiders have been playing, it’s hard to imagine them making the playoffs.
Here are four reasons why.
4. Injuries on Defense
Oakland’s defense has been ravaged by injuries this season, particularly in the secondary.
In Week 1, rookie safety Johnathan Abram went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. Then, last week in a pivotal win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders lost safety Karl Joseph to a serious foot injury, and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner also got banged up.
Oakland doesn’t have a ton of defensive talent as it is, so for three key players in its secondary to be hurting and/or out of the lineup, that stings, especially when the Raiders have a crucial game in Kansas City coming up in a few weeks (Patrick Mahomes is already licking his chops).
Fortunately, Oakland doesn’t play a whole lot of good offensive teams over its final seven games, as it will face the Bengals, Jets, Chiefs, Titans, Jaguars, Chargers and Broncos between now and Week 17. Of those clubs, only Kansas City is truly threatening.
But still, having numerous defensive backs injured is a major problem.
3. Four Road Games
The Raiders are just 1-3 on the road thus far this season, which doesn’t bode well for their final seven games.
Four of Oakland’s last seven contests are on the road, including its last two games of the season, which will come against AFC West division rivals in Los Angeles and Denver.
The Raiders will also have to play the Jets and the Chiefs away from the friendly confines of RingCentral Coliseum.
The good news is that aside from Kansas City, none of those clubs represent significant challenges. The bad news is that the Raiders are a largely young team that has to prove it can consistently win on the road, especially in high-pressure situations like a playoff hunt.
You have to figure that Oakland will need 10 wins to get into the playoffs, which means it will have to go 5-2 down the stretch. I’m not sure Jon Gruden’s squad is capable of doing that with such a road-heavy schedule.
2. Lack of Elite Offensive Weapons
If the Raiders still had Brown, this would be a different story, but they don’t, and as a result, they are fairly far behind in the arms race.
Yes, rookie running back Josh Jacobs has been brilliant, and tight end Darren Waller has had a breakout year, but Derek Carr doesn’t have a ton of reliable weapons in the aerial attack, as it’s basically Waller, Tyrell Williams and not much else.
Oakland has been able to get by thus far, but its offense has been very average, as it is registering an unimpressive 23.1 points per game.
Don’t get me wrong: the Raiders aren’t terrible offensively, but it’s debatable as to whether or not this team actually has enough juice to maintain a postseason push, regardless of how well Carr has been playing.
1. They Can’t Stop Teams
The Raiders rank just 26th in the NFL in both yards allowed and scoring defense, meaning they have one of the worst defensive units in the league.
I already mentioned earlier that Oakland has a litany of injuries in its secondary, but that is far from the Raiders’ only problem defensively.
They don’t rush the passer (they have only 20 sacks on the season), they allow a lot of big plays (they are letting up 283.2 passing yards per game) and they don’t have any real elite talent on the defensive side of the ball.
As mediocre as the Raiders are offensively, they are much worse defensively, which is absolutely something that can (and probably will) derail their chase for their second playoff appearance in the last 17 years.
Again, Oakland is not going to face a murderer’s row of offenses over the stretch run, but these are NFL teams. If they are playing a weak defense, they will exploit it.