So, Are Jon Gruden and the Raiders Actually Going to Make the Playoffs?

Before the start of the season, many people had written off Oakland as true contenders, but Gruden and the team are proving the doubters wrong.
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Holy hell, the Raiders are going to make the playoffs, aren’t they?

After surviving the ultimate stumbling block on Sunday against the winless Bengals, Oakland is 6-4, looking out at the horizon Monday morning with a smile on its collective faces. FiveThirtyEight gives the Raiders a 42% chance of reaching the postseason at the moment, though that kicks above 50% with a win over the hollow Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 12.

Their remaining schedule is as follows:

• Jets (3-7)
• Chiefs (6-4)*
• Titans (5-5)
• Jaguars (4-6)
• Chargers (4-6)*
• Broncos (3-7)

*The Chiefs and Chargers play on Monday Night Football.

For those who regularly read The Morning Huddle, you might be familiar with how I thought this season in Oakland would go. Jon Gruden spent most of this offseason being a rambling, destructive ham, and yet, the team has weathered not only his chaotic roster building strategy but one of the most difficult logistical schedules in the NFL this season. The 2019 Raiders are the equivalent of a contractor hurling a bunch of nail-infested scrap lumber into a woodchipper and watching a sensible colonial come out the other side.

Somehow, he’s convinced the rest of the team that most of the adversity they’ve faced this season has nothing to do with the people running the Raiders. And it’s working.

Offensively, they’re a middle-of-the-road team statistically (and rising) but Gruden is helping them find ways to win games. It’s far more of a blend than expected, especially when talking to some of his old players in Tampa who felt the scheme was never maximized because of Gruden’s playcalling. They truly are an amalgam of staple running plays, like this iso that freed running back Josh Jacobs for a touchdown, or some of the personnel swapping he’s been doing in the backfield which creates some interesting mismatches downfield on passing plays.

Derek Carr is sixth in passer rating and second in completion percentage and Next Gen Stats’ expected completion percentage (he’s actually out-throwing his expected completion percentage by three points, which speaks both to Carr’s decision making and the availability of open receivers). Jacobs is a top-five rusher, and, again, to Gruden’s credit, the scheme is versatile enough that he’s seeing a stacked box about 21% of the time. Compare that to other elite rushers like Leonard Fournette (35.16) and Derrick Henry (32.09). Frank Gore is seeing eight-plus defenders in the box on more than 40% of his snaps.

Defensively, while I would still rather have Khalil Mack and the matchup problems he can create, the lay Raiders fan can successfully argue at the most basic, stripped-down, freed of context, box-score-statistical level that Oakland went into the Sunday night games with two players—Maxx Crosby and Benson Mayowa—with more sacks than Mack. Again, it’s not an argument I would make in a room full of smart football people, but would probably have you beat when debating a large man in kiss facepaint and spiked shoulder pads.

There are plenty of teams every week in the NFL that beg for our attention. The now 7-3 Buffalo Bills throttling toward a playoff spot. The Cardinals, despite a 3-7-1 record, seem to be remaking their adrift team into something that will be formidable down the road. But neither started the season as a burning building with a near-impossible schedule.

Now, Oakland is emerging on the other side, demanding our consideration.

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MUST-READS AT SI.COM: After Colin Kaepernick’s workout, what next? ... Speaking of Kaepernick’s workout, would it have mattered to you either way, or is your mind made up? ... Gary Gramling freaks out about the good, the bad and the ugly of Week 11. … Does Tua Tagovailoa’s extremely serious injury affect his draft status?

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THE BEST OF AROUND THE INTERNET: Richard Sherman casually throwing around a wild NFL conspiracy. … A stunning column from a measured, tenured writer in D.C.: The Washington football team has lost Washington. … The Patriots will use anything, even an opponent’s tears, in their scouting reports. … Speaking of Bill Belichick, he may be an epic thrower of shade. … Lamar Jackson remains the king.

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THE KICKER: Ever want to see David Harbour’s airy, tastefully decorated NYC loft? Now is your chance.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.