There are teams that are deeper, more complete, less flawed and more experienced than the Oakland Raiders. But the black flag was hoisted again today after a 38-24 win they had absolutely no business securing—and every other team in the NFL should be quaking in fear.
In a league where 42 percent of a team's win-loss record is determined by randomness—per ESPN's Brian Burke—it's incredibly hard to win (or lose!) with any consistency. Even a terrible NFL team can upset a great one. So winning when you don't play your best is exactly what separates good teams from great ones, and great teams from dynasties.
Midway through the third quarter of their game against the Buffalo Bills, the Raiders weren't playing anywhere near their best: They were down 24-9, well on their way to losing their one-game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs and the AFC West.
That's when they remembered their commitment to excellence:
Quarterback Derek Carr bolstered his MVP resume by leading the Raiders on four touchdown drives in the last 21 minutes of the game, all while Khalil Mack and company held the Bills completely scoreless. Mack explained how they were able to bottle up LeSean McCoy, one of the league's most dangerous weapons:
But of course, November's Defensive Player of the Month did a hell of a lot more than stuff the run:
The Raiders can score on the ground or through the air, shut down the run or disrupt the pass. They can win a slugfest or a shootout, at home or on the road, come from behind or lead wire to wire. Like the Raiders of old, this season's team plays with a bottomless well of swaggering confidence and nasty attitude.
Run down the list of AFC contenders, and there isn't a single one the Raiders wouldn't beat right now. Their rivals, the Chiefs and Broncos, the inconstant Steelers, the Gronk-less Patriots. They aren't just headed for a division title in the NFL's toughest division, they're under full sail towards the AFC Championship Game—and their first Super Bowl berth since 2002.
The Raiders know they can stick it to any team in the NFL—and that's why, right now, they're sticking it to every team they play.