(CBSNY) — The Oakland Raiders must certainly be tempted to look past this Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets. The Raiders have won three in a row over the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Chargers and Detroit Lions, dating back to the start of November. Good teams beat inferior teams, and these were all games they should have won. When they visit New York (New Jersey, technically) to play the Jets Sunday, they’ll be expecting to keep that streak going.
But the Jets are a little better than their 3-7 record indicates. They just thumped the lowly Washington Redskins for their second win in a row. Sam Darnold threw for 293 yards and four touchdown passes in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 34-17 score would indicate. Le’Veon Bell remains one of the NFL’s most dangerous backs, even if his stats have slid this season.
NFL On CBS analyst London Fletcher also sees improvement at the quarterback spot as integral to the Jets’ recent success. “You start with the play of Sam Darnold. The last couple of ball games he has really been able to make some plays and throw for some touchdowns. There was a 3-4 game stretch where he wasn’t playing good football. And it got to the point where people were wondering if Darnold took a step back under Adam Gase. The way that he has played, especially the four touchdown passes he threw last week against Washington, that is encouraging for the Jets and their offense.”
On the other side of the ball, the Jets defense allows a league-low 79.1 rushing yards per game. The unit, under Gregg Williams, has adapted of late, after early and mid-season struggles. Still strong at stopping the run, they’re now making progress in defending the pass. As Fletcher points out, “you look at what they have been able to do lately in terms of getting after the quarterback and sacking quarterbacks a lot, utilizing safety Jamal Adams as a blitzer close to the line of scrimmage. That is the matchup that I am watching.”
The Jets’ progress notwithstanding, the Raiders remain three-point favorites on the road. Derek Carr continues his strong and somewhat unsung 2019 campaign, in which he’s completed 72.3% of his passes for a healthy eight yards per reception. Rookie Josh Jacobs has averaged 4.8 yards per carry en route to 923 yards on the season so far.
The Raiders’ remaining stretch of games sets up nicely for a playoff run, with only one above-.500 team in the bunch. That’s the Kansas City Chiefs, the team one win ahead of them in the AFC West race. The Chiefs beat the Raiders soundly in Week 2. But this is a different Raiders team now. A win next week could put Oakland in the division lead. For that scenario to play out, they have to beat the Jets in Week 12.
So how can the Raiders stay on track for the playoffs in these last remaining weeks, especially with the upcoming trap game against the improved Jets? According to Fletcher, the key is “continuing to stay focused and not get too far ahead of themselves and looking far ahead down the road.”
The team is in good hands. “Jon Gruden, you have a veteran head coach leading that group,” as Fletcher notes. “But Jon Gruden has to keep his young football team focused and know that you focus on the task at hand and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Just take it one game at a time, and that is the mindset they have to have.”
The Jets play the Raiders Sunday @ 1 p.m. on CBS.