Written by Jeff Weisinger
If there was a perfect Christmas gift for the Oakland Raiders, Raider Nation and the fans. It would be a win against the Indianapolis Colts this Christmas Eve, this Saturday will be the Raiders home finale.
The importance of a this victory against the Colts means Oakland is that much closer to a possible bye in the playoffs. The Raiders (11-3) have lost the last four matches against Indy with their last win in October of the 2001 season, at Indianapolis.
Things will be different this time, a revitalized Raiders team that’s won four of their last five games, including their playoff-clinching 19-16 comeback win at San Diego last Sunday. Oakland wants a win for the fans.
“We had a good week of practice and we’re excited to go,” said Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio after Thursday’s practice. “We look forward to playing in front of our fans against a really good team and we’re ready to go.”
The turnaround of the franchise has been a story in itself: going from a 3-13 record just two years ago to 11-3 so far this season. Oakland is also making a return back to the postseason after 14 years. Not to mention the fourth quarter comebacks have been pretty entertaining.
Despite the wins, the Raiders offense has struggled to find consistency early in the last few games, leaving Oakland’s defense to step up to the challenge. Last week at San Diego, linebacker Bruce Irvin rattled quarterback Philip Rivers, forcing him to throw an interception to end the game.
With help from the defense, the Raiders offense has been able to find their groove late in games. They’ve outscored opponents 42-0 in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter of games, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
To add some perspective to that stat, the last team to not allow a single point in the final three minutes of any game in a season was the 2006 New England Patriots.
“Everybody’s cutting their own grass, trusting the man next to them and doing the small things right,” Safety Reggie Nelson said. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on: making sure everybody keeps doing the little things right and focusing.”
Oakland’s defense is third in the league with 26 takeaways and a +15 turnover differential. Although they’ve made plays when and where it’s mattered, they’re currently ranked 30th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 24 points per game and just over 375 yards per game offensively.
Clinching a win and a playoff spot isn’t enough for the Raiders. This team wants home field advantage and, of course, a Super Bowl.
“There’s a lot of goals that we still need to achieve,” said Nelson. “Clinching a playoff berth is all good, but we’re still fighting for home field advantage and it’s good to play in front of your home crowd.
“We just got to do our job, execute our defense, cut our own grass.”