Which team is currently 10th in total defense?
Which team is currently fifth in rushing yards per game?
Which team came closer to beating the Colts in Indianapolis than the Denver Broncos did?
Which team has done those things without an offensive line, with a first-year starter at quarterback, and while in the midst of a massive salary purge?
That would be the Oakland Raiders. No, really, the Raiders. Despite all logic, the Raiders are somehow currently 3-4, and they’ve played both Indianapolis and Kansas City extremely well on the road (though the Chiefs won by 17, it was a single touchdown game headed into the fourth quarter). They even kept up with the Broncos as well as anyone besides the Dallas Cowboys and the Colts, staying within 16 points on Monday Night Football in Denver.
And this isn’t going away. Oakland’s next six games? Home for the Philadelphia Eagles, trips to New York to play the Giants and Houston to play the Texans, home for the Tennessee Titans and trips to Dallas and back to New York for the Jets.
Seems easy enough, right? Now, look at it just through the quarterbacks. Matt Barkley, Eli Manning, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick (there’s no way Locker’s making it another month), Tony Romo, and Geno Smith. Oakland could absolutely win four of those six and head into their brutal home-stretch against Kansas City, the San Diego Chargers, and Denver as a fringe playoff team.
So, we know the Raiders have played well, but that’s not the real question. Really, we want to know if they’re good. It’s kind of a loaded question. Did you consider the 2-8 2009 East Dillion Lions from the Friday Night Lights T.V. show good? Because that’s essentially who these Raiders are, albeit with a worse coach, an easier schedule, and no Tinker (unless Khalif Barnes puts on 80 pounds. Let’s hope this happens).
Let’s break this down for the few unfortunate souls out there who didn’t watch Friday Night Lights. Terrelle Pryor is sophomore-year Vince Howard. Vince, an incredible athlete brought to the football field only because the police thought Coach Taylor would be a good influence, was only inserted as quarterback because there was no better option. He was initially a running back, which seemed like a better position for him until the Lions unleashed their deadly Wildcat offense led by Howard and Luke Cafferty.
Howard struggled with the mental side of the game early in his career, but he was such a physical talent that he was able to tread water until he picked it up, eventually becoming such a hot college prospect that his dad tried to auction him off Cam Newton-style. Any of this sounding familiar to you Pryor fans out there?
This one’s more of a stretch, but Luke Cafferty is Darren McFadden. A very talented running back who spends the season fighting through injuries, Cafferty is the only notable skill position player on the ’09 Lions. Vince gets most of the credit, but Cafferty is the glue to the team. Without McFadden’s running, the Raiders wouldn’t be the not terrible team they are today.
The 49ers are the West Dillon Panthers. West Dillon has all of the best players, better resources, far more fans, and a richer tradition of winning. Everyone in Dillon roots for the Panthers and the Lions don’t catch on until they start winning. If you want to consider Charles Woodson the true coach of the Raiders, or at least their leader, you could even make the connection that he almost signed with the 49ers in the offseason but they chose Nnamdi Asomugha over him, just like West Dillon chose Wade Aikman over Coach Taylor.
The entire East Dillon defense is Oakland’s defense. Despite having very little actual talent (Cafferty is the only main or even recurring player to play defense), they manage to keep far better teams at bay just enough for the offense to compete. Besides Lamarr Houston, there isn’t really a difference maker on the Raiders defense, but they’ve played very well throughout the season.
Hell, the town of Dillon was essentially what the city of Oakland has become to the Raiders. Despite past championships, the area gives the Lions very little support. Just as the Raiders can’t get a stadium in Oakland, budgetary concerns in the town eventually strip East Dillon of their team forcing a merger with the Panthers to create one super team.
Now once again, here’s the question: Were the 2009 East Dillon Lions good? Well, it depends on how you define good. The Lions went 2-8. They didn’t even come close to the playoffs. They played an extraordinarily hard schedule (which tends to happen in Texas 5A football) and lost their first two games by a combined score of 72-6.
But the Lions slowly started turning things around midway through the season. A Week 4 game against top-ranked McNulty ended 14-7, with the Lions coming very close to an upset. The Lions wouldn’t lose by more than a touchdown all season, eventually beating Campbell for their first win and stunning J.D McCoy (a.k.a the 5’8" Peyton Manning) and the Dillon Panthers in the season’s final game. The Lions would go on to win the state championship the next season behind Howard, Cafferty and new receiver Hastings Ruckle.
So, do you think the 2009 Lions were good? No, probably not. The right word is closer to promising. That’s what the Raiders are. They might end up with six or seven wins this year despite all logic leading to the contrary. This season is something the Raiders can build on. Slowly and steadily they’re figuring out who they are as a team.
Maybe Terrelle Pryor never turns into Vince Howard, but he’ll at least improve mentally to match that insane athleticism. Maybe McFadden just gets hurt and doesn’t stay on as Cafferty, but if he’s on the field he’s the most dangerous weapon the Raiders have.
Are they going to win the Super Bowl this year? No, but they’re putting the pieces together to win one in a few years. And for now, that’s enough.