Just how good are the Las Vegas Raiders? It’s difficult to tell in 2020.
The Las Vegas Raiders host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday for a game that feels ridiculously important for an AFC West matchup. Perhaps because it’s been quite some time since the Raiders had anything real to play for.
In Week 5, the Raiders put up 40 points on the Chiefs defense and went home as victors in a shocking loss for K.C. that serves as the only blemish on the team’s 8-1 schedule. While the phrase about “any given Sunday” exists for a reason—namely that any team on any Sunday can win any game—the reality is that the AFC West has been ordered just as Andy Reid likes it for the last half-decade or more.
Since the 2015 season, the Chiefs are 28-4 against the AFC West. That’s four losses in 5.5 years. It’s akin the sort of record a big D1 football program would have against small school opponents who they face to warm up every season. It’s the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals. In other words, it’s embarrassing for the Raiders, Denver Broncos, and L.A. Chargers.
That’s why the Raiders took a victory lap in their team bus around Arrowhead Stadium after the Week 5 win. It’s also why this coming game looms so large.
On Sunday evening, the Raiders will host the Chiefs for the chance to sweep the series for the first time since 2012, the season before Andy Reid arrived in K.C. A win would also pull them within a single game of the division lead, making the rest of the season quite interesting rather than a foregone conclusion that K.C. would walk away with their fifth consecutive AFC West title.
This all sounds a bit ridiculous to discuss the Raiders in this context, since it seems K.C. is very motivated to win this particular game. They’re coming off the bye and saying all the right things. They must win to not only stave off the Raiders’ recent win streak but to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers in order to keep any hopes of a first-round postseason bye alive.
But the Raiders deserve credit for their Week 5 win and the overall season they’re enjoying in 2020. The Raiders are currently 6-3 and second in the West. They’re also eyeing a playoff spot for the first time since David Amerson was a good cornerback and Michael Crabtree was catching passes.
The Raiders have defeated the Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Cleveland Browns—all teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. They’re also on a three-game win streak after rolling over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Yet these same Raiders have also lost to the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Each of those teams are worthy opponents to be sure, but that means it’s hard to read just how good the Raiders really are (or are not).
The Raiders schedule so far reads like a team able to beat anyone, including the most favored teams to win it all in both conferences, yet they also lose to solid teams. They’re capable of rising to the occasion or slinking in the face of opportunity. At the very least, they are winning the games they are supposed to (Broncos, Chargers, Panthers), but they’re also a .500 team when facing quality opponents.
Just how good are these Raiders? It’s impossible to tell. But Sunday night will go a long way toward cementing the Raiders in one direction or another.