Where they stand: The Oakland Raiders are legitimate playoff contenders. Thus, they stand taller than they have at any point since 2002. Oakland is 5-4. It hasn’t won more than five games in each of the past seven seasons, which is an NFL record for futility. Oakland won a huge AFC West game in Week 9 against Kansas City. The Raiders came back in the second half and won 23-20 in overtime. The Raiders, who have won three straight games, now trail Kansas City by a half game in the division.
Falling: Too many penalties: Oakland beat Kansas City despite being called for 15 penalties for 140 yards. Oakland has committed 36 penalties in the past three games. Sure, some of those penalties were questionable, but the bottom line is Oakland is committing too many penalties. The Raiders have to correct those issues if they expect to be a difference-maker in January.
Rising: Jason Campbell and Jacoby Ford: These J’s are flying. Campbell has quarterbacked Oakland to three straight wins and Oakland coach Tom Cable said this week that Campbell will probably be the Raiders’ starter when they return from a bye Nov. 21 at Pittsburgh. Campbell was replaced by Bruce Gradkowski in Week 2. But Gradkowski has missed the past four games with a shoulder injury. Campbell has been far from perfect, but he has made some big plays when needed. In the win over Kansas City, Ford, a fourth-round draft pick, had a kickoff return for a touchdown and six catches for 148 yards. We should see much more of this speedster down the stretch.
Midseason MVP: Running back Darren McFadden. McFadden has had a monster breakout season. He is fourth in the NFL in rushing with 757 yards, despite missing two games with a hamstring injury.
Outlook: The Raiders should be in the division race for the rest of the season. Oakland has improved greatly in the past three weeks. It has won in both blowouts and in overtime. This is a resilient, timely bunch that has come up with the big play on both sides of the ball when needed the most. This is far from a flawless team. But it is one that is still growing. It wouldn’t be a shock at all if this team’s season ends in the postseason.