The Raiders are making their last stand in Oakland

Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images /

As the Raiders prepare to relocate to Las Vegas, time is ticking on the franchise’s time in Oakland. Can they go out on a high note?

Sometimes, hitting the reset button can do wonders. For the Raiders, that’s the hope after a tumultuous stint in Oakland.

After moving back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995, the team had an eight-year stretch in which it posted two losing seasons, three 8-8 campaigns and then back-to-back-to-back playoff runs. Although the 2000, ’01 and ’02 seasons ended without championship wins, Oakland still seemed like a force to be reckoned with. Since then, though, it’s been extremely tough sledding.

Following the conclusion of the 2002 NFL season, the Raiders would burn through eight coaches en route to 13 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth. Their best record from 2003-15? 8-8. There was optimism ahead of 2016, though, and for good reason.

Jack Del Rio’s squad would win 12 games that year behind a breakthrough campaign from quarterback Derek Carr. Oakland’s offense was a top-10 unit in the league, yet it still lost in the opening round of the playoffs. Cutting its win total in half the following season, the franchise reunited with former head coach Jon Gruden.

The Gruden era has gotten off to a weird start. Taking a step back to 4-12 in year one, Gruden traded stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper in favor of draft compensation. Those moves were met with immense criticism when they happened, but are now making a bit of sense. The Raiders’ 2019 rookie class has been among the best in the league, helping the team get off to a 6-4 start. Unfortunately, things have begun to fall apart since then.

After getting blown out in consecutive losses to the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland is now back to .500 at 6-6. Gruden’s team has been outscored 74-12 in those two games. From getting legitimate buzz as a potential AFC West winner to now being listed under the “outside looking in” section of the playoff picture, the No. 8 seed in the conference is hanging on for dear life.

Allegiant Stadium awaits. The Oakland Raiders will be no more, as after this season the Las Vegas Raiders will look for a fresh start in a new city. With that said, there are still four regular season games left for the Oakland team to right the ship and go out on a high note.

Luckily for Gruden and company, just one of the team’s final four games comes against a team with a winning record. After playing the 7-5 Tennessee Titans, the Raiders close with contests against a trio of teams currently 4-8: Jacksonville, Los Angeles (Chargers) and Denver. There are caveats to that, though.

Tennessee is red-hot and playing its best football in recent memory since Ryan Tannehill has taken control under center. Jacksonville recently switched back to quarterback Gardner Minshew, who has made the team competitive when in the starting lineup.

Focusing back to within the division: The Chargers are better than their 4-8 record shows, as all of their losses have come by a single score. Denver’s rookie quarterback Drew Lock is 1-0 as a starter, so it’s possible the team rallies around him. It looks like an easy road for Oakland peripherally, but it’s far from that.

In movies, a hero’s “last stand” can be what propels them to triumph when all of the smoke clears. The Oakland Raiders don’t control their own destiny in the playoff picture, but they can still put all of their chips on the table and try to give fans something to cheer about before to move to Vegas.

Four games is a lot of time in the NFL. At 6-6, Oakland can go a lot of ways over the next few weeks. The best-case scenario: Gruden ignites a fire under Carr and the offense carries the team to a 10-6 finish and possibly the AFC’s final wild card spot. Worst-case scenario: Oakland continues to struggle on both sides of the ball and finishes the year on a six-game losing streak.

The choice is theirs. Carr may be under contract for the next three seasons, but Oakland can reasonably part ways with him after this one is over. Despite looking crazy at times, Gruden’s mad scientist way of managing the team was paying dividends just two short weeks ago. It’s not too late to get back on track, but the final four games of the season will shape the future of the franchise.

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General manager Mike Mayock and his coaching staff have a huge decision to make in the midst of a relocation. Should they stick with Carr long-term and endorse him as their “guy” as many predict, they’re at risk of getting off on the wrong foot with a new fanbase. If Carr is cut or traded, that could signal a rebuild on the fly.

At any rate, what happens between now and Dec. 29 will be quite telling of how the Las Vegas Raiders kick off their inaugural offseason.