No sense in downplaying it. Sunday’s game between the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs is a big one.
Both teams are fighting for a wild-card spot, though the Raiders face an uphill climb sitting at 5-6 with a tough quintet remaining. The Raiders have little margin for error, probably too little to consider the postseason a realistic end. If they are to get in the thick of this race, they’ve got to beat the Chiefs on Sunday.
Must-win is an overused term in sports, but this is as close to one as possible without math making it a real do-or-die. It’s also the biggest game played in Oakland in years. The Raiders haven’t been in the hunt during the season’s final month since 2011, when they started 7-4 and ended up 8-8.
They’d like to do better this time around. It will take a late surge to get there, an accomplishment that would put the Raider ahead of schedule in the first year of head coach Jack Del Rio’s reclamation project.
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Despite those facts, the Raiders aren’t playing this one up.
“It has a next-game feel,” running back Latavius Murray said. “It’s a big game because it’s the next game. We really have to win them all. We’re locked in on this week. That’s pretty much how we look at it.”
Del Rio and team captain Charles Woodson have encouraged the team to think big and embrace lofty expectations, yet channel energy into a present task.
“It’s a matter of compartmentalizing things,” right tackle Austin Howard said. “Making the playoffs was always the end goal, but we can’t get there unless we take care of this game. The postseason is in the back of your head, but your focus is in the present. If we don’t handle Sunday, nothing else matters.”
There are enough veterans with experience in the clutch to handle these late games of relevance.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself,” said defensive tackle Dan Williams, involved in a few pennant races with the Arizona Cardinals. “The goal is to go 1-0 this week and keep repeating that over and over. Coach Del Rio does a good job of not letting us look past any detail. All of our focus is where it should be, on this game.