At the end of the day on Sept. 22, the Raiders’ situation looked bleak.
Oakland had just been wiped out by the Minnesota Vikings, 34-14 to fall to 1-2 on the season. The previous week, the Raiders suffered a 28-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The offense wasn't clicking and the defense was being picked apart.
Up next was a road trip to Indianapolis and London for games against the Colts and Bears. It was easy to imagine the Raiders falling to 1-4 and having their season slip away.
Yet as the Raiders prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, the situation has turned.
Oakland is 5-4, having beaten those Colts and Bears and with consecutive wins in its past two games, over the Lions and Chargers.
With seven games remaining, in fact, the Raiders actually are sitting in playoff position, as the No. 6 team in the AFC, following Thursday night’s loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Cleveland Browns.
That’s a tenuous spot, of course. Nothing’s guaranteed, and the Raiders could backslide. But after winning just six games in 2018, Oakland could equal that victory total Sunday with a strong game against the Bengals, who come in as the conference’s only winless team at 0-9. NFL oddsmakers have made Oakland an 11-point favorite.
Plus, the week after this, the Raiders will travel to the East Coast to play the New York Jets, who are just 2-7. So, if Oakland can win this Sunday and next, they’d go into their Dec. 1 game at Kansas City at 7-4 and still very much in contention for the AFC West title. The Raiders sit just a half-game behind the first-place Chiefs, who are 6-4.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden knows it would be easy to overlook the Bengals or Jets, and they can’t afford that. This week, in talking about playing a winless team, Gruden invoked this week’s upset in college basketball in which unheralded Evansville beat No. 1 Kentucky. He says he and his team respect Cincinnati, despite its record.
"This is pro sports," said Gruden. "This is the National Football League. I don’t really care about anybody’s record. We’ve got a lot to prove. We’ve got to keep getting better and keep working hard. … Hopefully, we can find a way to win another game."
Sunday’s game in Oakland is set for kickoff at 1:25 p.m.