Raiders Stats and Storylines: Week 17 Edition

The NFL phrase du jour: controlling one’s destiny. In Week 17, it’s what every team hopes for and what the Raiders, via back-to-back wins, have accomplished.

In Greek mythology, however, destiny was controlled not by a person or team, but by three sisters known as the Moirai: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. Together, these sisters ensured that all beings lived out their destiny as it was assigned to them by the laws of the universe.

Whether controlled by the team or the NFL’s laws of the universe — officiating — we’ll have to wait two weeks to find out the Raiders’ destiny. But that won’t stop this column from taking a look at the trends that could very well influence that outcome.

1. Playoff Odds Continue to Tick Up

A mere two weeks ago the Raiders had a 5% chance of making the playoffs. Two wins later and those odds have almost quadrupled, now clocking in at 19%, per The Upshot. A win against the Colts this week would more than double them:

Unfortunately, the prognosticators and betting markets believe a win is unlikely, with FiveThirtyEight pegging those odds at 20%, while the implied odds on Draft Kings are 27.7%. Of course, the last two wins were also unlikely, so this is familiar terrain for the underdog Raiders.

2. AFC’s Crowded Playoff Picture

The bad news: Even after last week’s win, the Raiders are on the periphery of the AFC playoff race, which per, now looks like this:

The good news: The Raiders have a chance to deal losses to the Colts and Chargers in successive weeks, which would be enough to propel them into the playoffs. And possibly the best news is that the Raiders can sneak into the playoffs with just one win… if they get the right combination of help.

3. What to Root for — Other than the Raiders — in Week 17

The easiest path to the playoffs is wins against the Colts and Chargers. But if the easy path were the Raiders M.O., they would have beaten the lowly New York Giants and Washington Football Team.

Therefore, it’s worth keeping an eye on the rest of the conference’s games. And these are this week’s AFC games that can most help the Raiders playoff odds, according to The Upshot:




Chiefs (-4) at BengalsBengals37%Increase 1% with Bengals win
Rams (-5) at RavensRams69%Increase 2% with Rams win
Falcons at Bills (-14)Falcons16%Increase 1% with Falcons win
Jaguars at Patriots (-16)Jaguars8%Increase 4% with Jaguars win
Dolphins at Titans (-3.5)Titans55%Increase 1% with Titans win
Broncos at Chargers (-6.5)Broncos34%Increase 4% with Broncos win
Browns (-3.5) at SteelersBrowns47%Increase 1% with Browns win
*Win Probability via FiveThirtyEight.

If the Raiders lose to the Colts, but beat the Chargers, they would have a 20% chance of making the playoffs. Those odds only increase if they get some help in the above games.

4. Fortune Favors the Team Playing Backup Quarterbacks

As mentioned above, it was only two weeks ago that the Raiders had a 95% chance of not making the playoffs. What happened to so drastically improve the team’s playoff hopes?

You could point to an improved run game, better third-down plays or a stingy defense. But the easiest answer is that they’ve gotten a little lucky, as Warren Sharp notes below, by playing back-up quarterbacks:

Warren Sharp on Twitter: “Raiders planned schedule, sitting at 6-7 with virtually no playoff life:+5 @ Browns w Baker Mayfield+1 vs Broncos w Teddy Bridgewater+7.5 @ Colts w Carson Wentzactual schedule:-2.5 vs Nick Mullens (won by 2)pk vs Drew Lock (won by 4)?? vs Sam Ehlinger?? TBD / Twitter”

Raiders planned schedule, sitting at 6-7 with virtually no playoff life:+5 @ Browns w Baker Mayfield+1 vs Broncos w Teddy Bridgewater+7.5 @ Colts w Carson Wentzactual schedule:-2.5 vs Nick Mullens (won by 2)pk vs Drew Lock (won by 4)?? vs Sam Ehlinger?? TBD

That luck could run out, however, against the Colts. Per Zak Keefer, if Carson Wentz is asymptomatic, he can be cleared to play on Sunday morning.

5. Winning Record, Negative Point Differential

Just how lucky are the Raiders to be in the playoff hunt? That’s hard to quantify, but point differential can give us an idea of who the best teams are. For example, per CBS Sports, a top-five point differential has been a common theme among the teams that make the NFL’s final four:

  • The last five Super Bowl winners finished in the top five in point differential
  • 16 of the last 20 conference title participants finished in the top five in point differential
  • 31 of the last 40 conference title participants finished in the top five in point differential

A top-five point differential describes one team in the AFC West, but it’s not the Raiders. Per Ben Baldwin, the Raiders have a bottom-ten point differential in the NFL:

Since the merger, 45 teams have made the postseason with a negative point differential. If the Raiders can win their last two games, they can make that number 46. And, who knows, if they get hot, they could join the 2011 Giants as the only one to win a Super Bowl. Stranger things have happened, but the Raiders would need to shore up several deficiencies first.

6. Mid-Play Penalties Killing Raiders

One such deficiency is one that has plagued the franchise across multiple cities and decades: Penalties. Per Anthony Reinhard, no team has lost more EPA this season due to mid-play penalties:

This stat should be unsurprising for anyone who watches the team. Take the offensive line, where the Raiders have three of the thirteen most penalized lineman in Alex Leatherwood, John Simpson and Brandon Parker. And on the other the side of the ball, they have two of the ten most penalized defenders in Maxx Crosby and Brandon Facyson.

Suffice to say, eliminating these self-inflicted wounds would be hugely beneficial to the team and its playoff aspirations.

7. Raiders Coming up Short on Third-Down

Another noteable deficiency: Third down. Let’s make three a theme and look at three ways this is a defeciency:

  1. Conversion Rate: The gold standard in third-down conversion rate is the Chiefs with a league-leading 51.67%. The median rate is the Steelers at 40.2%. The Raiders, meanwhile, rank 26th with a conversion rate of 36%. Much like with point differential, this is a stat that screams “non-playoff team,” as no team in the bottom-ten is currently in the postseason.
  2. Throwing Short of the Sticks: Per Ryan McCrystal, 52% of the Raiders third-down pass attempts are short of the marker, which ranks fifth worst in the NFL. For comparison, the league average is 44.5%.
  3. Conservative Playcalls on Second Down: Since Greg Olson took over as playcaller, one of his worst habits is to run more than expected on second and medium:

When a team is struggling on third down, I’m not sure setting up more of them is the best choice for a playcaller. Or as Peyton Manning once said “I’ve always thought third downs are converted, if you will, on first and second down.” The implication being the best way to convert on third down is to avoid them.

8. Raiders Fourth-Down Decision-Making Even Worse

All too often a second-and-medium run begets a failed third down, which begets a fourth-down decision. And as any regular reader of this column knows, fourth down is not where interim coach Rich Bisaccia shines.

In fact, per Ben Baldwin, the Raiders have lots over 3 points per game of Win Probability from fourth-down decisions alone:

Contrast that to the Colts position on the chart and it’s clear that an opponent can have a significant in-game advantage over the Raiders simply from better game-management decisions.

9. Run Game Exacerbates Third and Fourth Down Issues

The Raiders anemic run game makes it difficult to not only convert in short-yardage, but also to have sustained drives. Let’s dig in to two reasons why:

1. The offensive line is a bottom-five run-blocking unit. Per Ben Baldwin, the Raiders have ESPN’s second-worst run-blocking win rate and PFF’s fourth-worst run-blocking grade:

2. Josh Jacobs is unable to create on his own. Per Tej Seth, Jacobs has a negative Rushing Yards Over Expected and his EPA per rush is the worst of any running back with at least 151 carries:

Fixing the run-blocking would be the ideal fix. Throwing more — especially on second and medium — would be the pragmatic one.

10. Coaching Search Update

The Raiders are in a unique spot: One of thirteen teams still alive in the AFC playoff hunt and one of only two teams allowed to interview potential head-coaching candidates. The team appears more focused on the former than the latter, but per Aaron Wilson, an initial list of rumored candidates looks like this:


Current Title

Gus BradleyRaiders Defensive Coordinator14-48.226%
Todd BowlesBuccaneers Defensive Coordinator26-41.388%
Leslie FrazierBills Defensive Coordinator21-32-1.398%
Rich BisacciaRaiders Interim Head Coach5-5.500%

The common thread among the non-Bisaccia candidates: Defensive-minded with NFL head-coaching experience and, unfortunately, a losing record. Hopefully young, offensive-minded candidates will soon be added to that list, but first the team must find out its postseason destiny.

Twitter: @TravisGilkeson


1 thought on “Raiders Stats and Storylines: Week 17 Edition

  1. How can the Raiders lead the NFL in penalties every year when they’ve had thousands of different coaches and thousands of different players it just ain’t possible! We need to let the NFL know that this is BS.

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