By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
They can't lose on the road. They're on top of the AFC West. And they just drilled the defending Super Bowl champs.
Not only are the Oakland Raiders legit, but, barring a second-half collapse, they're going to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. You heard me: Playoffs. Raiders and playoffs ... two words that haven't gone together since they were quarterbacked by 2002 league MVP Rich Gannon.
But you have to like what's happening here. Every bottom feeder making a comeback needs a signature victory, and the Raiders found one in the season-opening comeback in New Orleans. Then it was a last-gasp victory in Baltimore. Now, it's a domination of Denver, a team that not only won the last five AFC West titles but won its last five in Oakland and was in two of the past three Super Bowls.
Bottom line: There is no underselling Sunday's defeat of the Broncos. Oh, and this just in: If there were a mid-season MVP this year, it would be Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, who just dissected one of the league's best defenses and was serenaded by chants of "MVP, MVP, MVP" at the game's conclusion.
OK, so the Broncos were short of key players -- including cornerback Aqib Talib -- but that doesn't diminish the significance of this victory. Once upon a time, the Raiders would have found a way to lose a game like this. Not any more. They can run. They can pass. And they can win -- surging to the top of what has become the toughest division in the AFC and the NFL.
Book it: There will be two playoff teams from the AFC West. Mayybe three. And the Raiders will be one of them.
(Derek Carr photos courtesy of Oakland Raiders)
THE TEAM TO BEAT IN THE NFC NORTH? NOBODY
Minnesota isn’t the team to beat in the NFC North. Not now. Not anymore. But this just in, Vikings' fans: Nobody is.
Nowhere was that more apparent than Sunday when the Vikings, who won their first five starts, dropped their third straight; when the Packers lost again and when Detroit … yes, Detroit … won its fourth game in five weeks -- overcoming Minnesota in OT.
OK, so the Lions are 5-4. But that’s good enough for second place in this division, a half-game out of first. Better yet, the Lions are the hottest team in the division.
So what about Minnesota? Can't score enough, and its vaunted defense couldn’t hold a last-minute lead Sunday. Green Bay? At 4-4, the Packers are off to their worst start since 2009. Worse, their next three games are on the road where they're 1-2.
So that leaves Detroit, and, no, I don’t trust the Lions, either. All five of their wins have been come-from-behind fourth-quarter victories, and you have to like that. When games are on the line, they respond. And let's not forget: They just won in Minnesota, the Vikings' first home loss.
So what's the problem? They lost to Tennessee. They lost to Green Bay. They lost to the Bears. Yes, the Bears.
But the Bears are the one team I do trust in this division. They're the only dead-bolt cinch not to win it.
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
WAITING FOR GOFF-MAN
Enough is enough. What's the deal with Jared Goff?
Eleven months ago he was the first pick of the NFL draft, with the Rams mortgaging the future for him. That showed a conviction. What has happened since doesn’t.
Goff not only doesn’t start. He doesn’t get a sniff, and I could buy that if the Rams played like the Patriots or Cowboys. But they're not. They're playing like the Rams, and isn’t that the reason they made Goff their first choice?
So what gives? Case Keenum lost his last four starts, and he produced just one touchdown Sunday.Yeah, I saw that Lance Kendricks drop. So what? You know what you have in Keenum, and there is no upside – with Keenum throwing for five TDs and eight interceptions the past four games and the Rams scoring 20 points the last two ... or 11 fewer than New Orleans had in the first half Sunday.
It’s the perfect time to make the move to Goff … except I don’t see anyone moving. So what's the deal? If the Rams aren’t budging, Angelinos need to know why.
Bad enough to stink. Worse to do nothing about it.
- Once upon a time, the AFC North was the best division in the league. But now? Now there isn’t one team there over .500. Honest.
- Second best team in the NFL? Easy. Dallas.
- No, I don’t know if we can believe in Carolina again. What I do know is that you'll have your answer in a month. The Panthers' next four games are, in order, Kansas City, New Orleans, at the Raiders and at Seattle.
- Biggest winner in that Giants-Eagles game? New York GM Jerry Reese. He's the guy who spent a gazillion bucks to retool a leaking defense, and that defense held fast when it counted – and I'm not talking just about that last-minute stop. How about those two fourth-and-shorts that cost the Eagles points? A year ago, the Giants would have blown this game.
- Now I see why Norv Turner walked. "Nothing was working," he said. Nothing still is.
- Adios, Gang Green. With that loss, the Jets are 3-6 … and they still have two games with New England. Check, please.
- I feel a Bryce Petty start approaching. Ryan Fitzpatrick just makes too many mistakes, and the Jets are going nowhere. So find out what Petty can do.
- Golden Tate didn’t win that game for Detroit. Matt Prater did. It was his 58-yard field goal – his second 50-yarder of the afternoon – that sent that contest into OT.
- The Browns' Chris Kirksey guarantees his team won't go 0-16. Now there's something to look forward to, Cleveland.
- Dean Blandino, head of NFL officiating, says there's a chance the league could add an eighth official. Swell. More officials means more flags, and that's the last thing anyone needs.
- There are no excuses for what passes as defense in Cleveland. There are more holes in that unit than empty seats at 49ers' games.
- If that was a "defining moment," as Colts' coach Chuck Pagano predicted of the Green Bay game, then the Colts can't be counted out in the AFC South.
- Don’t recall the last time one team had the two leading candidates for a mid-season Offensive Rookie of the Year, but welcome to Dallas.
- I wouldn’t read too much into that Colin Kaepernick performance. Reason: The opponent. The Saints are one of the worst defenses anywhere.
- Travis Kelce just found out what throwing in the towel means. He threw one at an official and was ejected.
- I'll say it again: The team to beat in the AFC West is Kansas City. Remember, the Chiefs hung one of the two losses on the Raiders, and they just won without Alex Smith. But beware a three-game swing late this month and early into December that includes road games at Atlanta and Denver and a home date with Oakland.
- Normally, I love patient owners. But not when your head coach is 14-42. Shahid Khan, time to admit the obvious: Gus Bradley must go.
- There is no way that stadium referendum passes in San Diego Tuesday – not when it needs two-thirds of the vote. So then what? Well, then the Bolts stay … with the mayor and city council coming around on a downtown stadium.
- Congratulations, Chip Kelly. Since shutting out the Rams In Week One, the 49ers have surrendered 260 points – or an average of 37.1 per game -- and are on schedule to allow 520 points this season, second only to the 1981 Baltimore Colts for most ever.
- Yeah, I like those four touchdown passes by Eli Manning. But that interception with just under two minutes left – a pick that gave Philadelphia late life – is what drives you crazy. He's a quarterback who can keep both teams in the game.
WHAT WE LEARNED …
Scratch Philadelphia from the NFC East race. The Eagles are on the escalator going down.
Mind your manners when referee Jeff Triplette officiates. His crew tossed five players this year, including two Sunday. All other crews tossed a total of four prior to this weekend.
Cleveland can't cover tight ends. Jason Witten was the third to put 100 yards in catches on the Browns this year.
That’s not a run defense in San Francisco. Its an open window, with seven straight 100-yard rushers blowing through.
The Chargers got it right when they moved up to draft Melvin Gordon.
Oakland's offensive line is vastly underrated. We knew the Raiders could pass block, but they opened gaping holes for a run game that overwhelmed Denver.
(Jason Witten photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
… AND WHAT WE DIDN’T
What's wrong with Blair Walsh. The Blair Walsh Project is truly a nightmare, with the guy not the same since blowing a gimme field-goal to lose a 2015 playoff game. He had a field goal blocked Sunday and blew an extra point in a game the Vikes lost in OT.
When Cleveland wins a game.
Who can squeeze Dallas in the NFC East.
Why anyone would go to a 49ers' game.
Why the Jets benched Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson in the first quarter.
How legit the Broncos are. That was their third loss in the past five games.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
(Dak Prescott photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
Dallas QB Dak Prescott. Seldom has the rookie looked better than he did Sunday. Granted, it was Cleveland, but so what? They all count, and Prescott rarely missed -- completing 21 of 27 passes, throwing for three touchdowns and putting up a season-best 141.8 passer rating. Oh, yeah, he also won his seventh consecutive start, just another reason why there is no quarterback controversy in Dallas.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. He not only looked rusty in his first start back from injury; he wasn’t very good … and the envelope, please. Through three quarters the Steelers had two first downs … yes, two … and more penalty yards than yards, period (69). No, it's not all that unusual for Pittsburgh to lose with Ben back. The Steelers are 2-6 in games where Roethlisberger first returns from injury. But this one was rock bottom. Seldom have he … and the Steelers … looked worse.