This is the best way I have heard the Raiders’ paper-thin playoff chances described: Think of the last few weeks as that betting parlay you never win, a nine-teamer fraught with land mines.
Five of the plays hit in Round 1.
Which means if the original odds of cashing compared to climbing Everest with no training regimen, hitting the last four plays Sunday are still like the recreational runner finishing a first marathon in less than four hours.
Whether the season ends for Oakland in Denver depends on several factors beyond the Raiders’ control, but none of it matters if they don’t walk off Empower Field at Mile High a winner.
This might be the time you remind anyone listening that a 15-teamer recently turned $5 into $100,000.
Or that the actual odds on the bettor’s limit card were 20,000-1.
Those of hitting a four-teamer such as the one facing the Raiders: 22-1.
“It’s all very doable,” said safety Erik Harris.
‘We have to win’
You can be sure the Raiders, while trying to win a road game in which they are a 3½-point underdog, will glance often at the scoreboard for updates from other games, specifically three.
The only way for the Raiders to live for another game this season is to beat the Broncos and have the following occur: Baltimore defeats visiting Pittsburgh, Houston beats visiting Tennessee and Indianapolis wins at Jacksonville.
Here’s what really makes things interesting (and potentially tougher for the Raiders to sneak into the sixth and final AFC playoff spot): Baltimore, which already has secured the No. 1 seed and home field throughout the AFC draw, has announced that several leading players — including quarterback Lamar Jackson — won’t suit up.
Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson and his injured back expect to play against the Titans, but that could change. If the Chiefs defeat the Chargers in an early game, Houston will be locked into the No. 4 seed when kicking off.
In this case, Texans coach Bill O’Brien could (should) follow the lead of John Harbaugh in Baltimore and sit his stars.
“We have to win our game and we know what might be at stake once we take care of that,” said Raiders running back DeAndré Washington. “First things first. Without a doubt, I’d like to see (starters for playoff-bound teams play), but you only get 16 games and those teams have put themselves in a position where they can make that (decision). We just need to take care of our business and hope for the best on the back end.”
He’s correct, of course.
Baltimore and Houston have earned the right. The last thing either should worry about is how their lineup choices might affect others.
The NFL isn’t the NBA, so the topic of load management doesn’t compare. Had he instead grown up to be a star wide receiver instead of one of the world’s best basketball players, Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t miss a third of his season.
It’s just 16 games and not 82. It’s an entirely different world.
Longest of odds
Playoff-bound teams in the NFL should have one goal: Be as healthy as possible when the tournament begins.
This is how you avoid relying on others for help in a final regular-season game: You don’t get beaten down by the Jets. You don’t go scoreless in the second half at home against Jacksonville, or you at least finish one of three first-half drives that resulted in field goals with a touchdown. You don’t blow a 21-13 third-quarter lead at Houston.
The Raiders are facing long odds to play on because of, well, the Raiders.
“Yeah, I mean, it would be nice (for starters to play in other games),” Harris said. “Obviously, those teams are hot when their starters are in there. But who knows what their second strings can do? When you have a great team, that usually means you’ve got a lot of depth.
“All we can do is focus on us and what we can control, and that’s go out there and get a win. We know a lot of things that have to go our way. But we’ve got to take care of this one game. I think we’re focused on that. We owe it to each other to finish strong.”
Closing out a nine-teamer is tough.
Most often, that recreational runner starts feeling it at Mile 15.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
Path to playoffs
For the Raiders to make the AFC playoffs, this needs to happen Sunday:
* Colts beat Jaguars
* Ravens beat Steelers
* Texans beat Titans
* Raiders beat Broncos
That would create a four-way tie at 8-8, and:
* Raiders would win the tiebreaker over the Steelers (strength of victory).
* Raiders would eliminate Colts (victory in Week 4).
* Colts would eliminate Titans (better division record).