Sorry New England, Oakland Needs This More Than You

The Oakland Raiders are enjoying their greatest season in recent memory. Sitting atop the ultra-competitive AFC West with a 9-2 record, the Silver and Black have arguably the best young roster in the league and are proving to be one of the NFL’s most entertaining teams.

In his third year, Derek Carr has been fantastic at the quarterback position, developing magnificent chemistry with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, throwing 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions. After a promising first two years in the league, Carr was expected to have a breakout season, but his consistency and resilience have surpassed most estimations.

On the other side of the ball, Khalil Mack is enjoying another fantastic season with nine sacks despite regularly facing double-teams and defences that have schemed specifically to stop him. While there are issues in the secondary, Mack, Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith give the defensive line versatility that has helped to hide flaws elsewhere.

While all looks rosy on the surface, away from the field, the beloved franchise is in disarray. Owner Mark Davis seems insistent on a move to Las Vegas and is not engaging with plans for the team to remain in Oakland, despite the team’s fervent following.

Could we soon be talking about the Vegas Raiders?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he wants the team to stay where they are, but he also said words to that effect before about the former St Louis Rams. Fans are more than aware of Goodell’s desire to make the NFL as profitable as possible and there’s no doubt that Vegas has more commercial potential than a market that already has the San Francisco 49ers. The NFL and its team owners ruthlessly go to wherever the money is and it’s hard to trust their statements.

Oakland have unveiled plans for a new stadium (despite a lack of involvement from their owner). According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the new stadium would cost around $1 billion, though the plan is in its infancy and negotiations still need to be completed. On the other hand, Mark Davis and the state of Nevada have already approved a tax hike to support the prospective Vegas venue and the franchise’s future could be decided as soon as January.

No one is sure where the Raiders will end up, but Oakland fans have reason to be extremely concerned about the fate of their franchise. Despite regional investment from tech companies and the lure of nearby tourist hotspot San Francisco, Oakland largely remains a working-class city and has a proud community united behind a Raiders team entering a bright new era. While the NFL is constantly looking for dollar signs, they’re ignoring somewhere that has something far more valuable: heart.

How will it end?

At 9-2, Oakland are the number two seed in the AFC and look like genuine contenders. Unfortunately for their fans, to reach the Super Bowl, they may need to beat the New England Patriots in the ultimate David vs Goliath AFC Championship game.

Since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick began their time together in New England, the Patriots have been perennial contenders and people resent them for it. If they were a fairytale character, they would be Prince Charming. Success is not expected at Gillette Stadium; it’s demanded.

Few coaches in NFL history have the aura of Bill Belichick. It seems that many teams lose to the Patriots before they even walk onto the field. Time and time again, Belichick has proven he has a plan even when his team appear most vulnerable.

While Oakland have been mightily impressive this season, they’re far from perfect, especially in their secondary. The Patriots would surely find ways to expose their weaknesses, but picking a winner for a hypothetical match would be both challenging and stupid at this point when so many others are in the mix.

However, if the Patriots get to the Super Bowl. it would be business as usual. If the Raiders get there, it could be a huge factor in plans to keep them in the city that loves them. Will the Raiders stay where they belong, or will the familiar tale of corporate greed and fan anguish continue? Only time will tell.