Oakland, Calif. For the past seven seasons, when the calendar turned to November, the Oakland Raiders were thinking more about draft position, the head coach’s status and offseason plans than the playoffs.
Two straight blowouts have made the Raiders (4-4) much more relevant as they head into the second half of the season without a losing record for the first time since 2002.
“It’s a totally different atmosphere in here,” said linebacker Sam Williams, who has been with the team through seven years of losing. “It’s a great feeling because we know we have something to play for, we know we’re a good team, and the sky’s the limit.”
Today’s game against Kansas City (5-2) is the biggest for the Raiders since losing the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. What makes it even juicier is that the Chiefs sit atop the AFC West, adding fire to a rivalry that turned lackluster in recent years.
This marks the first time since 2002 that neither team heads into the game with a losing record as the rebuilding processes that coach Tom Cable started in Oakland in 2008 and Todd Haley began last season in Kansas City are coming to fruition.
“It’s exciting. That’s the term I used,” Cable said. “It’s an exciting time for the organization, the community, the fans, but you’ve got to keep it in perspective. It’s about our team continuing to get better, and that’s what we’ve been able to do lately, and as long as we stick to that, we’ll be fine.”
The two teams head into the game as the top two in the AFC West, a turnaround from the previous three seasons when they occupied the bottom two positions.
They haven’t finished 1-2 since 1993 and have done it just twice since 1972 — the last of a seven-year run when Oakland and Kansas City finished 1-2 in the division in some order.
“When you look back at the ’60s and ’70s and the AFL days when both teams were fighting for championships, and they had to go through one another to get to the championship, it’s kind of hard to compare to those days,” Chiefs offensive lineman Brian Waters said. “A lot of great names came out of those days. There were some lean years for both teams and so to say over the course of my time here (the rivalry) has not been as memorable as those decades, I don’t think it has been as memorable. But no matter where we are in the rankings, it’s always been close.”