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."
This week'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 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."
Both coaches grew up with a healthy hatred of the opposing team. Cable was a longtime Raiders fan who always pointed to the games against Denver and Kansas City as the most important of the season.
Haley is a former water boy and errand-runner for Pittsburgh when his father worked as an executive for the Steelers and Oakland and Pittsburgh were at the top of the AFC.
"Some things don't change," Haley said. "I've never liked the Raiders very much. It goes back to my growing-up days. Feeling connected to the Steelers and having those ties, I didn't like the Raiders. It didn't matter who the people were in the uniforms, who the coaches are on the sidelines. That feeling's probably not going to change for me unless I work for the Raiders one day, and then it has to change."
Both teams have built their success in similar fashion, relying on a potent running game with many options. Kansas City leads the NFL in rushing behind a pair of backs on pace for 1,000-yard seasons in Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.
The Raiders are second in rushing behind a breakthrough season from Darren McFadden, who leads the league with 111.3 yards per game on the ground.
McFadden is a big reason why the Raiders have topped 500 yards of offense in each of the past two games for the first time in franchise history. Oakland outscored Denver and Seattle 92-17 -- the most lopsided stretch in 43 years.
"It's a big confidence boost," McFadden said. "That's something we've been talking about doing, just going out there and putting games together back-to-back, and we've been able to do it. Now we want to just keep going week after week."
This is probably the most meaningful game for the Raiders since losing the Super Bowl in January 2003 to Tampa Bay. They followed that by becoming the only team in NFL history to lose at least 11 games in seven straight seasons.
Right tackle Langston Walker, punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are the only players left from that 2002 team so most of these Raiders have never experienced a game like this in Oakland.
"This is huge," defensive end Trevor Scott said. "Where we are right now, a lot of us, we haven't been in uncharted waters like this before. Just the fact that we're 4-4, and it's been a long time since we've been .500 here. We're very excited about that. We're just going to keep the foot on the gas pedal."