KANSAS CITY, Mo. -– The Raiders get one more shot at the 2015 season. Sunday’s game against Kansas City doesn’t hold weight they hoped it would, without the playoff posturing that comes with a truly successful season.
A win won’t prevent a season’s end, and there’s no playing spoiler to a Chiefs team already in the playoffs. Revenge is on the table. The Chiefs essentially knocked the Raiders out of playoff contention during a three-interception fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. Players and coaches are set on finishing the season strong, as well as any Raiders team in a decade. Fans will finish that game wondering if the Raiders are ever truly coming home.
Let’s take a look at five storylines heading into Sunday’s season finale:
1. Is this it? While Raiders fans haven’t been as angry as St. Louis faithful or as downtrodden as their San Diego brethren, a reality is starting to sink in that this could be the team’s last season in Oakland. Every aforementioned home market could realistically lose a team to Los Angeles this winter. While many consider Raider Nation a country without borders, there is a passionate contingent in the East Bay that identifies with the Raiders rogue mystique. It would be a shame to see them leave for Los Angeles a second time, but the Carson project promoted by owner Mark Davis and Chargers chairman Dean Spanos has many fans among voting owners. It could be the next foray into the L.A. market. While Christmas Eve’s final home game pleaded for a stay in Oakland, focus unpleasantly shifts to relocation after this final game.
2. Marching through the division Head coach Jack Del Rio has said all season that NFL success starts within the division. After years of being the AFC West’s doormat, the Raiders have offered stiff resistance this season. They beat the Chargers twice, the Denver Broncos once and blew a late lead against Kansas City. Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium offers a chance to end the season with a win over each rival, tangible proof that the Raiders can compete with any team in the division and should be a contender to win their first crown in a long, long time.
3. Momentum already established: Raiders have four members of the 2015 draft class expected to start or play heavy roles on Sunday against the Chiefs, and that doesn’t count injured defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. The Raiders will get similar count from last year’s draft class, which has combined with this one to form a young foundation. There are clear signs of promise, that won’t be impacted by Sunday’s result.
“We have momentum regardless of the outcome,” linebacker Ben Heeney said. “We have a good young team, and we have a lot of look forward to. There’s a bright future here.”
4. Mack chasing sack title: Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack has 15 sacks on the season, a half sack ahead of Houston’s J.J. Watt and 1.5 more than Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah. A strong performance could give Mack the sack title in 2015, something he could also earn if all remains static. One more and Mack will tie Derrick Burgess’s franchise record of 16 sacks and best it with another. Mack whooped the Kansas City offensive line a few weeks back, with two sacks in that game. A similar performance would vault him into elite pass-rushing status in just his second season.
5. Evaluating young players: The Raiders are out of the playoffs, and have been for a few weeks. That has afforded an opportunity to take a longer look at players like defensive tackle Leon Orr, cornerback Dexter McDonald and right guard Jon Feliciano, players who didn’t see much time early. The Raiders must figure out what they have in terms of next season’s depth to help make wise decisions this offseason. Young players must impress. That’s even true of keepers like inside linebacker Ben Heeney, who plays a position up for grabs in 2016.