Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: Oakland Raiders
|12.31.11 at 1:03 am ET|
With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is part of a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’ve already profiled the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets. Now, we have a look at the Oakland Raiders:
The skinny: It’s a long shot, but during a season where they lost their leader in Al Davis, it would certainly be a nice way for the Raiders to end the year with a playoff berth. The Raiders are tied with the Broncos for the top spot in the AFC West at 8-7, but Denver has the tiebreaker, so Oakland needs some help, namely a win over the Chargers and a loss by Denver to Kansas City. (The Raiders do have a shot at a wild card spot if both they and Denver win, as long as Cincinnati and Tennessee both lose on Sunday. A Bengals’ loss to Baltimore and a victory by the Jets over Miami will also work out in Oakland’s favor.) Compared to what they went through over the last decade, it’s been a good year for the Raiders, as they posted wins over Houston, Denver and Chicago. Really, if you’re an Oakland fan, all you were hoping for this season was to play important games after Thanksgiving, and that’s what you got this season with this Raiders team.
Offense: When healthy, Darren McFadden (113 carries, 614 rushing yards, an astounding 5.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns) has run the ball as well as anyone in the NFL, but a right foot injury has left him on the shelf since October. In his place, the Raiders have turned to Michael Bush (237 carries, 911 rushing yards, seven touchdowns), who has run relatively well, but hasn’t given them the sort of production they got from McFadden. In the passing game, Carson Palmer has had his rocky points, but is at 171-for-285 for 2,336 yards with 11 touchdowns and 15 picks on the season. When he’s looked to pass, he’s usually targeted Darrius Heyward-Bey (55 catches, 845 yards, three touchdowns) and Bush (35 catches, 405 yards, one touchdown). Overall, they’re one of the better offensive teams in the league — Oakland is 13th in the league in passing (236.3 yards per game), sixth in the league in rushing (133.8 yards per game) and 17th in scoring (22.2 points per game).
Defense: The Raiders have struggled pretty much across the board when it comes to defense. They haven’t stopped anyone in the passing game (they’re 25th, allowing 247.5 yards per game) or the running game (27th, 135 yards per game), and they allow an average of 26,3 points per game, 29th in the league. When the Patriots met Oakland back on Oct. 2, New England moved the ball with ease on the Raiders, winning the game 31-19 and piling up 183 yards on the ground and 409 total yards of offense. (Of course, the Patriots allowed 504 total yards, but much of that came in the second half when New England held a double-digit lead.)
Why the Patriots should be afraid: If there’s one area where the Raiders hold an advantage on New England, it’s on special teams. Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler are both going to the Pro Bowl. In addition, the Raiders’ kick and punt return games are just dangerous enough to be concerned about.
Why the Patriots shouldn’t be afraid: While the Raiders aren’t the same team that lost to New England back in October (the biggest changes were the move from Jason Campbell to Palmer and the inclusion of McFadden as part of the offense), they aren’t all that different. Oakland struggles to defend anything, and they are the least disciplined team in the league when it comes to penalties (the Raiders are tops in the NFL in penalties and penalty yards assessed).
One guy to look out for: Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley is probably Oakland’s most complete defender. He’s second on the team with seven sacks, but leads the team in quarterback hits (16) and quarterback pressures (39). The 28-year-old out of Florida State also got an interception for good measure.
Potential playoff villain: Richard Seymour. The former Patriot defensive lineman would likely love to get the chance to knock his old team out of the postseason. (He was clearly jacked up to play New England earlier this season, and was flagged for unnecessary roughness and a facemask penalty on the Patriots’ first drive of the game.) He’s taken his share of bad penalties over the course of the season, but when he’s right, he’s still as disruptive a presence as any defensive lineman in the game.
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