There is no sadder team in the NFL than the Oakland Raiders. For them, November cannot end soon enough, while I shudder to think what December might bring. Even in this year of extreme mediocrity in a sport defined by parity, these Raiders are standing out for all the wrong reasons.
Sunday's 34-10 beatdown at Cincinnati, was, sadly for first-year general manager Reggie McKenzie and first-year head coach Dennis Allen, nothing new. It's become all too familiar, because lately when the Raiders lose, they lose big. This was their fourth straight defeat, all by at least 10 points -- they have lost three in row by 21 points or more, and have been utterly inept on both sides of the ball in doing so.
They are falling woefully behind in these games awfully quickly, and a season that began with at least some promise is devolving into another Oakland debacle. That 4-2 start from 2011 seems like eons ago, and watching this team play this month, it's hard to imagine they came out of October at 3-4, riding consecutive victories and staying on the periphery of the playoff scene. They are now cooked at 3-8 and facing some uncomfortable decisions with their leaders on both sides of the ball -- quarterback Carson Palmer and defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
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But before we get to the future, we'd be remiss to gloss over what's transpired this month, right up to the ugly scene at the end of Sunday's blowout defeat, with Tommy Kelly racing off the sidelines to enter a fracas and the Raiders looking every bit their stereotypical worst with the undisciplined play and wild antics. Here's a closer look at the last four weeks of Raider football:
• Lost 42-32 to Tampa Bay (trailing 28-10 after three quarters): Allow 515 total yards; 278 rushing yards.
• Lost 55-20 to Baltimore (trailing 48-17 after three quarters): Allow 419 yards; 78 rushing yards.
• Lost 38-17 to New Orleans (trailing 35-10 after three quarters): Allow 380 yards; 151 rushing yards.
• Lost 34-10 to Cincinnati (trailing 24-0 at half); Allow 415 yards; 221 rushing yards.
So in those four losses, they have allowed 169 points and scored 79, with the bulk of those 79 coming well after the result was decided. They are allowing 432 yards per game and 182 rushing yards per game. Let that sink in for a minute. Their own run game was been absent, with the personnel not seeming to fit the scheme and Darren McFadden again sidelined with injuries.
And while Palmer's overall numbers don't look horrible, consider that the Raiders are throwing the ball more than 68 percent of the time in the second half of games, and much of their yardage is compiled in garbage time.
Allen, with a strong defensive background, is being looked at closely by owner Mark Davis, himself just in his first full season running the club after his father's passing. And while patience must at some point be the rule with this perpetually changing franchise, Davis has voiced his displeasure and everyone there has to be on notice. McKenzie knew he was inheriting a contractual and salary cap mess when he left Green Bay for this challenge, but he's been saddled by the Palmer trade -- losing all those picks -- and will need to continue shedding big contracts, trying to get younger, and finding bargains in the draft.
At some point Terrelle Pryor needs to be active, so he can at least play in a mop-up role to get a look at him. Using a third-round pick on him in the supplemental draft is something McKenzie wouldn't have done, either. But because quarterback is such an important position, you might as well take a look. Palmer, at $13 million doesn't seem to make sense for this rebuilding team, and unless Palmer accepts a greatly reduced deal I'd move on from him.
Seymour has made $15 million a year as a Raider, but he's an older free agent that they need to let go. You have to wonder if McFadden is going to be a Raider beyond his rookie contract (he's set to make about $6 million in the final year of that deal in 2013). And for Allen, I would expect some staff changes are coming with both sides of the ball in disarray.
Steelers' O-line woesThe Steelers' offensive line was supposed to be new and improved this season, and had they ever been able to get their best five guys on the field at once since Week 1, I truly believe it would have been. I love everything they did on paper, but the injuries have been relentless and they could be forced to audition replacements this week.
All of their offensive struggles with Charlie Batch under center in Sunday's loss at Cleveland may have best been summed up by a third-and-32 play, with the Steelers pinned deep in their own territory. Cleveland generated pressure with only a three-man rush, and Batch was forced to meekly check the ball down. After having guard Willie Colon as a late scratch (knee), then losing replacement right tackle Mike Adams (ankle) injury, this was as bleak as it gets for this M*A*S*H unit of linemen (Colon was active as an emergency sixth guy, and only extreme circumstances would have pushed him to the field; he could miss a few weeks with the knee injury and more will be known Monday. Adams has an MRI on Monday, too).
The good news is that first-round pick David DeCastro is coming along and he badly wants to salvage something of this season and get off the IR-Designated to Return list. He will work out this week to better determine those odds. And tackle Marcus Golbert, who has been out a while, will try to get back as well, although that may not be feasible just yet (in which case the Steelers will be working out tackles Tuesday).
Everyone I talk to around the team still seems pretty certain Ben Roethlisberger will return to face the Ravens in a huge game Sunday and it looks good for Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu to be back as well. Of course, with the Steelers there is always a cloud this season, and potent outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley may miss some time because of an ankle injury Sunday. None of the injuries is season-threatening though, so consider that a bonus.
I still like this group to overcome adversity and hold off the Bengals for a wild-card spot, should the Ravens prove to be too far ahead to catch for the division title. Either way, the next four weeks will dictate this season, as the Steelers travel to Baltimore, host the Chargers, go to Dallas and host the Bengals in a Week 16 game that certainly looks like a playoff tiebreaker to me.
Extra points• If nothing else, look for the Titans to hire new coordinators next season. This will be a very big month for Jake Locker, who continues to look inaccurate and turnover-prone. Coming out of college, many scouts said that would be no easy fix. As he enters 2013, I expect it to be in a new system as his third season could end up being a make-or-break type year for him and that franchise.
• Hard to believe the Buccaneers couldn't sell out that game against Atlanta, which may have been the best-played game by both teams Sunday. Those who were in the stands seemed to be fired up and into it. Meanwhile, the lack of crowd support for all three Florida-based teams is difficult not to notice on a weekly basis.
• Huge win for the Colts on Sunday. Could have been a letdown against the Bills, but the defense stepped up big-time on a day in which Andrew Luck struggled early. Bills coach Chan Gailey made sure he helped the Colts out plenty -- as usual -- failing to get the ball into C.J. Spiller's hands in key sequences and for long stretches. And Ryan Fitzpatrick came through with an interception with the game in the balance as well, which always helps. Indianapolis at home would be a tricky postseason proposition, but that's probably a year away. Merely getting in would be a hallmark accomplishment in 2012 and the Colts are well on their way.
• Peyton Manning shared that slow start with Luck, as he too was off in the first half and uncharacteristically put balls up for grabs. And he shook it off for the most part. A little adversity in a win over a lesser foe might be just what the Broncos needed to ensure they don't totally go into cruise control with their cupcake schedule to close out the season.
• Seattle's defense has definitely slipped some in the past month and the run game has not been as dominant either. Russell Wilson played his best road game yet and the Seahawks still found a way to drop another one away from home, and this to an opponent that seemed on the cusp of waiving the white flag on its season. This might have been the most potentially troubling loss of the weekend for a team that was on the road to controlling its own fate in terms of playoff eligibility. Especially considering the Seahawks were coming off the bye.
• In fact, of the four teams that held the Week 11 bye -- the last one of the season -- three were caught sleepwalking: the Seahawks, Vikings and Titans. Only the Giants, who awoke from their normal home slumber to go up early on the Packers on Sunday night, reversed the trend.
• In what has been a lost season for the Chargers, special teams ace Darrell Stuckey has been a standout. Seems like he is in on every special teams tackle and is having a Pro Bowl type season in that department. He deserves recognition.
• 49ers defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga is another unsung hero. He does so much dirty work for that star-studded defense and gets little recognition, you would have to think the 49ers explore locking him up for a few more years, otherwise he could be a nice commodity on the open market in a year in which there appears to be very few options for tackles.