With just two weeks left to play in the NFL season, there's still one wild card spot up for grabs in the AFC, and although the race for that spot might seem like it's down to the Steelers and the second place team in the AFC South, let's not forget about the Oakland Raiders.
Sure, the Raiders' chances of making the postseason are sitting at roughly 1% right now, and yes, they're likely going to need a Christmas miracle to get in, but the important thing is that they're still alive. If a few things go their way over the next two weeks, they could end up as the second wild card team out of the AFC.
For the Raiders to make the playoffs, they're going to have to win out, which could be tough because they're dealing with a rash of injuries. Coach Jon Gruden announced this week that Josh Jacobs won't be playing on Sunday against the Chargers and right tackle Trent Brown won't be playing for the rest of the season.
Despite those injuries, the Raiders can still crack the AFC playoff field if they win out. But ... they're also going to need eight other things to go their way. Here's everything that needs to happen over the final two weeks for the Raiders to get to the playoffs.
Can all this happen? In the eyes of Vegas oddsmakers, the only game on this list that might not go the Raiders' way actually involves the Raiders. With the team battling so many injuries, they're currently a seven-point underdog to the Chargers. However, if they can pull off the upset in Los Angeles, it wouldn't be crazy to see every other game in Week 16 fall into place for Oakland. The Steelers-Jets game is being played in New York, where the Jets have already beaten the Cowboys, so a win for New York there is somewhat realistic. If you don't want to take my word for it, just look at the Vegas odds: The Steelers are only favored to win by three. As for the other three games, the Ravens, Saints and Colts are all favored to win.
Can all this happen? Although the Raiders will need a lot of things to happen in Week 17, it's not too far-fetched to see all five of these games playing out in the Raiders' favor. As a matter of fact, the Raiders' biggest issue might end up being Baltimore, and that's because if the Ravens beats the Browns in Week 16, they will have clinched the top seed in the AFC, which could mean they end up resting their starters against the Steelers. Also, the Steelers might need to a win in Week 17 to get to the playoffs, so you'd have a playoff-hungry Steelers team against Baltimore's backups, which isn't exactly ideal. It's also possible the Texans could be resting some of their starters if they've clinched the AFC South, so Week 17 could definitely get dicey for the Raiders.
If all this does happen though, here's what the AFC playoff field could look like in our crazy scenario:
If the Raiders, Steelers, Titans and Colts all finish 8-8, the Raiders will get the final spot in the AFC. One key in this scenario is that the Colts have to finish 8-8, and that's because the Raiders don't have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans. To break a tie with four teams, the first thing you do is use divisional tiebreakers. In this instance, the Colts would win the AFC South tiebreaker over the Titans due to a better divisional record (4-2 to 2-4). At that point, the tiebreaker would come down to Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Oakland. In that case, the Colts would be out, because they lost to both the Raiders and Steelers. At that point, the Raiders would get in based on the rarely used "strength of victory" tiebreaker. As things currently stand, the Raiders SOV is .327 and the Steelers are sitting at .308.
Note: In the scenario above, we have the Patriots finishing as the third seed, because that's the way juicier plot line since it would give us Bill Belichick coaching against Jon Gruden in a playoff game for the first time since the "Tuck Rule" fiasco back in January 2002. If the Patriots win out and finish 13-3, then the Raiders would be more likely to face the Chiefs in the wild-card round.