Las Vegas Raiders: 10 wins – 7 losses, fifth in the AFC
The off-pitch could (should) have taken them out of their season and made them sink. But the Raiders showed a resilience no one suspected. They raised their heads and went to seek their qualification after extra time in the last game of the season.
If they are far from the favorite, their fighting spirit and their strength of character could help them turn heads.
How did they get there?
A great start, a perfect end, that’s the Raiders’ recipe for qualification. It must be said that the workforce has known everything in 2021. The resignation of the head coach after the publication of emails containing racist and homophobic remarks, the cut of number 1 receiver Henry Ruggs after a terrible fatal accident in which he suffered is blamed, firing cornerback Damon Arnette for an accumulation of slip-ups. The team could have collapsed. But despite a slump between weeks 9 and 14, they were able to unite and raise their heads at the best time to end the season with a knife between their teeth.
In a division that is always competitive, the battle has been tough. With 4 wins in overtime and 6 wins obtained by 4 points or less, Las Vegas has never walked on water this season and has always fought to win matches and get the sesame for the playoffs. Only a second appearance since 2002.
The key player: Hunter Renfrow (WR)
Propelled number 1 receiver by force of circumstance, the one who is perhaps the least physically impressive receiver in the league has done more than help. With over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns, Hunter Renfrow has become Derek Carr’s trusted valve.
Excellent on these roads and endowed with extremely reliable hands, he will be the man to count on to overcome defensive obstacles. Giving himself without counting and not being afraid of contacts despite a flagrant lack of corpulence, Renfrow is this type of player who can become unplayable in the playoffs and carry Vegas to the heights.
Why are they going to go all the way?
Great teams have big character, and these Raiders have proven this season that they have plenty of that. They never wavered under pressure or in crucial moments.
At the head of the 6th air attack, Derek Carr comes out of the most productive season of his career in terms of yards. Field and locker room leader, he has all the qualities to be the quarterback who catches fire in the playoffs and becomes unplayable. Accompanied by Renfrow and with the return of Darren Waller, absent in recent weeks, the attack could pose big problems for opposing defenses and upset the odds.
Why won’t they go?
The workforce suffers from too many holes to fight over 4 matches against the best. The racing game lacks production and consistency. Only 28th in the field, Las Vegas will struggle to keep the leather and to run the clock, two fundamental elements in the knockout matches.
A playoff game can switch to a big defensive game, if the Raiders have a serious defense, it is too ineffective to steal the balls. 29th overall, last in interceptions, this lack of opportunism does not often enough put the attack in a favorable position.
Young and inexperienced, the vast majority of the workforce will play their first playoff game. The construction of victory in the NFL is often acquired by learning from defeat and the experience gained.
In addition to the players who left during the season for non-sporting reasons, the Raiders left several holders in the infirmary over the matches. The defensive backfield was particularly affected with the loss of the two main starters, Trayvon Mullen and Jonathan Abram. Despite his absences, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has been able to adapt and his squad has conceded few points in recent weeks. Faced with the quarterbacks artillery of the AFC, their absence could nevertheless weigh.
On the other side of the ball, the absence of versatile running back Kenyan Drake limits options out of backfield. The line also lost its most experienced player to Richie Incognito early in the season.
Opposed to the Bengals who have not won a playoff game for 30 years and who have no more experience than them at this level, the Raiders will have everything to gain from the wild card round. Carried by the momentum of a season which has united them more than any other workforce, they can invite themselves to the next round.
But the relative limits on both sides of the ball may well be prohibitive to bring down the armadas that are the Bills and Chiefs.