Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 12:03 PM
The Oakland Raiders are currently in the 2-seed for the AFC playoffs. It’s possible they could clinch that spot as early as Christmas night, with a win at home over Indianapolis on Saturday and a Kansas City loss to Denver. Yet, in spite of this favorable position, the Raiders are still a relatively healthy 14-1 to win the Super Bowl. To put that in perspective, it’s lower than Pittsburgh (10-1) and comparable to Atlanta, Green Bay and the New York Giants. None of those four teams have as clear a path to a first-round bye (or any path at all) like Oakland does.
What gives? Is this a case of the market being ahead of the standings? It wouldn’t be the first time and won’t be the last. Or is this a case of the Raiders being a Christmas bargain that we should snap up?
If you want to be optimistic about Oakland, there’s some very good reasons in your corner. To wit…
*How about we start with Khalil Mack? He’s more than capable of taking over a postseason the way Von Miller did last year for Denver. Mack is a one-man wrecking crew rushing the passer and alters the offensive gameplans of anyone he faces.
*Related to that we have Bruce Irvin rushing the passer on the other side. Irvin isn’t good enough to be the lead star, but in a supporting role to Mack? Now you’re talking. If he gets one-and-one blocking throughout the playoffs, and he almost surely will, then Irvin becomes capable of turning into that impact player who alters games.
*The secondary isn’t spectacular, but there are no real weaknesses. David Amerson and Sean Smith are good corners. Reggie Nelson and Nate Allen are functionable at the safety spots. In a lot of situations the lack of star talent would be a problem in the playoffs. But taken in conjunction with the heavy pass rush Oakland can get from Mack and Irvin, a play-it-safe secondary that just makes sure plays can work well too.
*If you want someone on the offensive side of the ball who can change a game, how about Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree on the outside? Both can stretch defenses, open up passing lanes underneath and make a play that can decide a game at a moment’s notice.
*We hear a lot about the offensive line in Dallas, as we should, but the group here in Oakland isn’t far behind. The left side in particular is outstanding, with Kelechi Osemele at guard and Donald Penn at tackle. Center Rodney Hudson is similarly excellent—in fact, it’s not too much to say that the Chiefs letting Hudson get away and go to a division rival may be what ends up deciding this year’s AFC West title.
There’s a common theme here and it can be summed up in the word “playmaker.” Over the course of a long season, consistency matters the most. In the playoffs, games are won and lost by elite talent. Oakland has enough of that elite talent to win three in a row and take home a Super Bowl trophy.
This is not a blanket endorsement of the Raiders. I’m well aware of the problems—a soft defensive interior that makes them vulnerable to the run. Derek Carr is still unproven and still more of a game manager. How I ultimately come down on the question of betting Oakland at 14-1, and how I’ll wager them game-to-game, is a decision I have to reserve for clients. What I’ll tell you for certain is that if you haven’t really dove into the details on the Raiders, you better start now. If they clinch the AFC West this week, the price may start to drop. Decision time, at least on the futures market, is now.