The Oakland Raiders are going to break their 14-year playoff drought this winter. That’s a near certainty at this point.
And not only are the 10-2 Raiders going to make the playoffs, but they’re also probably going to contend for the AFC title in the postseason.
That’s because the Oakland offense is tremendous — quarterback Derek Carr is having an MVP-caliber season behind one of the top two offensive lines in football and with a strong stable of receivers and running backs.
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The Raiders can put up points on anyone.
The defense, on the other hand, is not an elite unit. Oakland doesn’t have the talent on that side of the ball to consistently stop the run and the pass.
It doesn’t matter, though, because the Raiders have Khalil Mack, and he’s so good he’s oftentimes capable of covering up those defensive deficiencies.
Denver pass rusher Von Miller is garnering MVP consideration just as much for his impressive play as Denver’s offensive deficiencies. The question that’s asked in making his case: Where would the Broncos be without Miller?
Well, Denver’s defense would still be good without Miller, and he isn’t helping their offensive much.
So here’s the better question: Where would the Raiders be without Mack?
That offense would still be clicking, one would imagine, but with a Mack-free defense, the Raiders would probably be closer in status to the Saints, not the Patriots.
Mack has arguably been the best defensive player in the league this season, despite league-average (at best) talent around him. He’s been transcendent in 2016, and on Sunday he turned in a virtuoso performance in the Raiders’ win over the Buffalo Bills, which moved Oakland atop the AFC standings.
Mack filled up the stat sheet with seven tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry, a pass deflection, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in Oakland’s 38-24 victory, but that hardly quantified his impact on the game.
The South Florida native was everywhere, often beating double- and triple-teams to wreak havoc in the Buffalo backfield.
Mack beat Bills right tackle Jordan Mills so frequently Sunday — he was manhandled — that you started to feel for the offensive lineman despite the fact that he had a few inches and almost 100 pounds on his opponent.
Despite the lopsided final score, Sunday’s matchup was a close game until the fourth quarter.
This time, he hit Mills with the same bull rush, bounced off the backtracking tackle and pounced on Taylor, stripping the quarterback of the ball from behind and then finding it conveniently in his lap upon falling to the ground.
The Raiders took over with 3:20 remaining and effectively ran down the clock, ensuring the victory.
Mack’s two game-changing plays in the fourth quarter were about as impressive as any you’ll see in the NFL this season, but they’ve become the norm for the University of Buffalo product. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Month has now registered a sack in seven straight games, and it shouldn’t be considered circumstance that the Raiders are currently on a six-game winning streak.
Mack has garnered comparisons to New York Giants’ great Lawrence Taylor over the last year — an apt comparison, as LT was the last non-offensive player to win MVP.
That was 30 years ago, in 1986.
Mark will certainly be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, but if he continues to play at this rate down the stretch, it’s only fair that MVP talk follows.