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Can the Raiders make the playoffs? Breaking down their final 6 games

Updated November 24, 2023 - 3:08 pm

The Raiders are still very much in the AFC playoff chase with their 5-6 record.

The tightrope they walk, though, leaves little room for error. Realistically, they need to win four or five of their final six games to have a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason.

The good news for them is four of those games are at Allegiant Stadium, where they are 4-1. That includes Sunday’s game against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs, their longtime AFC West nemesis, whom they play twice in their next four games.

If the Raiders can split those two matchups, they can really help themselves, as the four other games are against teams they match up well against.

Here’s a look at the Raiders’ final six games and the potential path they can clear to the playoffs:

Sunday, vs. Chiefs

The skinny: The Raiders have lost 10 of their past 11 meetings against the Chiefs dating to 2017, including five straight since beating them in Kansas City in 2020.

A couple of things have changed this season, though, beginning with a Raiders defense that is playing better than it has in years.

Also, the Chiefs offense isn’t the juggernaut it has been over the years after losing key receiver weapons the past two seasons. At 22.5 points per game, the Chiefs are ranked 14th in scoring. They are particularly bad in the second half, averaging 5.3 points.

The lowdown: Anytime Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones are on the field, it’s a dicey situation for opponents. But the Chiefs (7-3) are the most vulnerable they have been since Mahomes took over at quarterback, and this is a home matchup the Raiders have a chance to take advantage of.

Dec. 10, vs. Vikings

The skinny: The Raiders have played the Vikings just three times in the past 13 years and haven’t beaten them since 2011. The last meeting was in 2017.

The Vikings (6-5) are in second place in the NFC North and have won five out of their past six despite losing quarterback Kirk Cousins for the season to an Achilles injury four weeks ago. Of those wins, two have come with Josh Dobbs taking the majority of snaps at quarterback.

Dobbs has been an inspiring story since being dealt to Minnesota from Arizona three weeks ago at the trade deadline, only to immediately be inserted into the lineup after Jaren Hall, who replaced Cousins, suffered an in-game concussion.

The Vikings should have dominating receiver Justin Jefferson back for this game. He suffered a hamstring injury in Week 5 and hasn’t played since.

The lowdown: Dobbs has been a revelation, but the two wins he’s led have come against the Falcons and Saints, neither of whom are particularly good. Talentwise, the Raiders stack up well against the Vikings and should have an edge at home.

Dec. 14, vs. Chargers

The skinny: The teams met in Week 4, with the Chargers winning 24-17 at SoFi Stadium. Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell was making his first start in place of Jimmy Garoppolo, who was out with a concussion. O’Connell struggled while getting sacked seven times, but he drove the Raiders to the Chargers’ 3-yard line in the closing minutes, only to throw an interception in the end zone.

The Chargers (4-6) are in last place in the AFC West after dropping two straight games. They rank 23rd in scoring defense, surrendering 23.8 points per game, and are again underachieving relative to their talent. That includes quarterback Justin Herbert, one of the best in the game.

The lowdown: After sweeping the Chargers in 2019, the Raiders split their matchups in 2021 and 2022. If recent history holds, they could be in line to force another push this season. If so, it would result in a must-win for the Raiders.

Dec. 25, at Chiefs

The skinny: The importance of the Raiders stealing a win against the Chiefs on Sunday is paramount, given the challenge they will face in the rematch on Christmas Day.

The Chiefs are extremely dangerous at home, where it will be loud, festive and most likely cold.

The lowdown: If the Raiders defense shows up, it could make this game interesting. That said, it’s essential that the Raiders take care of business before this game.

Dec. 31, at Colts

The skinny: The Colts have played admirably under first-year coach Shane Steichen, especially after losing rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson to a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-October.

Veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew is now the full-time starter.

The Colts are 5-5 after snapping a three-game losing streak with wins over the Panthers and Patriots. But when playing teams with winning records in the past five games, they are 0-3.

The lowdown: In 2021, when the Raiders made their improbable run to the playoffs, they went to Indianapolis on Jan. 2 and shocked the Colts 23-20. Can history repeat itself?

Jan. 7, vs. Broncos

The skinny: Give the Broncos (5-5) credit for fighting back to .500 after winning four straight games. The win streak includes victories over the Bills and Chiefs, so there is no questioning the legitimacy of the turnaround.

Aside from the 24-9 win over the Chiefs, though, the three others were by a combined five points, and the Broncos cracked the 20-point threshold just once.

Their struggling defense has made huge strides since surrendering 35, 70 and 28 points in a miserable three-week stretch from Week 2 to Week 4, and if their recent play holds up, the Raiders can expect a formidable defensive effort.

The Raiders won the first matchup, 17-16, in the season opener and catch a break in the rematch at home rather than the frigid cold of Denver. Nevertheless, it’s Russell Wilson, coached by Sean Payton, which presents a challenge.

The lowdown: The Raiders have won the past seven matchups against their AFC West rivals. What’s at stake when they host them in the season finale remains to be seen, but if their playoff hopes depend on them winning, expect Allegiant Stadium to respond.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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