The Oakland Raiders are the darkhorse of the AFC for 2016, not just for the West but the entire conference. If you’re not a Raiders fan, then this may seem laughable to you, but when considering how far this team has come, this is no laughing matter. Over the last two seasons, they have improved, as they have gone from a 3-13 laughingstock to a 7-9 team on the rise.
It did happen overnight due to making the correct Draft Day decision with QB David Carr. Carr was the missing piece in 2015 as he helped lead a passing attack that ranked 16th in yards and 6th in TDs. Carr was teamed with weapons, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper and All-World LB Khalil Mack led the stout defense of the Raiders, but there was still a piece missing that would have put the Raiders in the playoffs last season.
The NFL is a passing league, but even the great ones have a fallback option in their ground game. The Raiders must find a way to get Latavius Murray more running lanes. The NFL had only 7 RBs eclipses 1,000 yards and Murray was one of them, but out of those 7, only 1 made the playoffs, and that was Adrian Peterson. Is it good to have a league-leading rusher or not?
Yes, it is, and the Raiders should do everything in their power just to see how true that statement is. Murray has the skills to be one of the best backs in the league with his speed and power, but the Raiders play in a division that is built on stopping the run. Murray faces the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs twice a year, and both are ranked in the top 10 against the run. In 4 games against both teams, he rushed for 183 yards on 60 attempts. But here is another factor that has held Murray back, their passing game is the main focus of their offense.
If the Raiders were to attack the line of scrimmage with Murray imagine the opportunities Carr, Crabtree and Cooper would have with single coverage on the outsides. While many will look at the Raiders and say the growth of Carr and Coopers are instrumental to the playoff chances in 2016, I will look at the success of Murray and say they won’t get anywhere near the playoffs if he doesn’t get 1,500 yards.
There’s only one other team that can offer such a dominant offensive performance on a weekly basis. That’s the Pittsburgh Steelers with their balance of ground and air attack. If the Raiders can manage to blend the two together, making the playoffs will just be the beginning.