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In thick of AFC playoff race, Raiders can’t let up

Updated November 18, 2019 - 1:05 pm

Thanks to the backing of the Black Hole and their four-game home winning streak, the Raiders have thrust themselves into the middle of the AFC playoff picture with a 6-4 record after their 17-10 victory over the Bengals on Sunday.

At the moment, Oakland is tied for the AFC West lead with the Chiefs, but are out of the playoffs because Kansas City (division) and Houston (second wild-card spot) own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Raiders.

A Chargers victory over the Chiefs on Monday night would vault the Raiders all the way to the third seed in the AFC because Oakland beat fellow division leader Indianapolis earlier in the season.

There will be much to calculate over the final six weeks of the regular season, but the Raiders will, first and foremost, need to take care of their own business.

So, how manageable is the Raiders’ schedule down the stretch?

Let’s take a look, and predict the outcome:

■ Week 12 at Jets:It’s never easy for a West Coast team to come east and play at 10 a.m. PT, and this will be no exception as the Jets have won two straight and scored 34 points in wins over the porous Giants and Redskins. Another Bengals-like performance might result in a loss. Prediction: Win.

■ Week 13 at Chiefs: This game could determine the season. The Raiders have the perfect ball-control offense to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field, but can the defense get enough stops. Prediction: Loss.

■ Week 14 vs. Titans: This team has won three of four after the QB switch to Ryan Tannehill. It will be a slugfest. Prediction: Win.

■ Week 15 vs. Jaguars: The return of Nick Foles will help the offense, but the defense looks like it has given up with 59 points allowed in the past two losses. Prediction: Win.

■ Week 16 at Chargers: Expect another tight affair, and the Raiders won’t have home field to help them to another 26-24 victory. A gut-check game. Prediction: Loss.

■ Week 17, at Broncos: They’re spunky, but not very good. Prediction: Win.

That would give the Raiders a 10-6 record, and that might not be good enough if the Bills continue to mop up against a weak schedule.

Oakland’s sole playoff hopes may reside in winning the division, which makes the visit to Kansas City hugely important.

Why was Tom Brady so dour after the Patriots beat the Eagles 17-10?

Well, because his offense stinks right now — and he has a right to be upset.

“Up and down,” Brady said when asked how he would describe the New England offense after it mustered one touchdown drive and failed to gain more than 15 yards on seven of 11 drives. “That’s what it looks like to me. We could probably do everything better.”

A year ago, New England had to muster every play they could find in order to win the Super Bowl (the game was tied 3-3 entering the fourth quarter) over the Rams 13-3. From that group, the Patriots are without their All-Pro tight end (Rob Gronkowski, retirement), left tackle (Trent Brown, signed with Oakland), center (David Andrews, injured), third receiver (Chris Hogan, free agent) and right guard Shaq Mason hasn’t come close to his Pro Bowl level. None of them have been adequately replaced yet. And the results have been the worst offense of the Brady era by just about every measure.

There’s some hope Brady’s pass protection will improve when left tackle Isaiah Wynn comes off injured reserve this week, but this is an offense that can’t do much of anything right and relies on the defense to score points and give them great field position.

Why was the Ravens’ victory over the Texans more impressive than the one over the Patriots?

Baltimore embarrassed Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans in a 41-7 victory that wasn’t even that close. Watson, who had been an MVP candidate until Sunday, was held to just 12 yards rushing and a 63.7 passer rating.

“We just couldn’t do much of anything today,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien.

But the reason this Ravens win was more impressive was because their offense ran through the Texans — Baltimore rushed for 263 yards and Lamar Jackson threw four touchdowns with a passer rating of 139.2. It was one thing to do it against the Patriots when the Ravens had the bye week to prepare, and the Patriots were on regular rest and prep.

But this was a Texans team that was coming off the bye and had more than enough time to get ready for what the Ravens threw at the Patriots — and Houston was even worse. That’s the mark of a really good team, and the Ravens have quickly become an excellent one. Baltimore has beaten Seattle, New England and Houston by an average of 21.6 points in the past four weeks.

Why will Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins get fined by the league?

With 5:50 left in the first quarter of what was then a scoreless game, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson made a terrific pass to receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone, where he was one-on-one with Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Hopkins normally wins against anyone in single coverage and he appeared to have a bead on a touchdown when Humphrey tackled him.

There was no pass interference penalty on the play, and coach Bill O’Brien threw the challenge flag when replays showed Hopkins was clearly interfered with. The call was upheld.

Hopkins took to Twitter after the game and took a shot at the league’s vice president of officiating, Al Riveron.

“As a leader in the NFL, we need someone new in New York deciding calls,” Hopkins wrote.

O’Brien didn’t understand the non-call either.

“I have no idea what pass interference is anymore. No idea,” he said.

Hopkins can expect a fine from the league office this week for criticizing the officials. But he and O’Brien are right: how the NFL judges pass interference on review is a bad joke.

Who is the hottest team not named the Ravens?

The … Atlanta Falcons? Yes, the Atlanta Falcons.

Since being left for dead and figuring that coach Dan Quinn’s days were numbered after a sixth straight loss dropped the Falcons to 1-7 on Oct. 26, they have become a different team in beating the Saints and Panthers.

Since their bye week, the Falcons have won by a combined 55-12 against teams that had a combined record of 12-6.

Atlanta hasn’t allowed a touchdown since the second quarter against Seattle in Week 8, and they’ve found a pass rush. The Falcons have 13 sacks, 25 quarterback hits and four interceptions in the past three games.

Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at gbedard@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.

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