Aside from fans in New England and the millions of fantasy owners around the country who own him, Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending third surgery to repair yet another herniated disk has been met with relative optimism as a whole. An AFC that just a day ago had been solidly in New England’s favor suddenly seemed to shift out of that place. Now teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and even the Pittsburgh Steelers feel that they have a greater chance to make a run at a Super Bowl. One of these teams, the Raiders, are especially fortunate in this instance, because this injury news just made them the favorite in the AFC.
The Oakland Raiders currently sit at 9-2 and first place in the AFC West with just five games left to go. Kansas City lurks right behind them at 8-3, and Denver behind them at 7-4. Oakland can and will outlast all of these teams to win the division and get the top seed in the AFC because of their remaining schedule. The remaining teams on Oakland’s schedule are, in order, Buffalo, Kansas City, San Diego, Indianapolis and Denver. Right off the bat, give them wins against San Diego and Indianapolis. Both teams are under .500 yet still have playoff aspirations. That means that the Raiders AT WORST could finish the season at 11-5, not likely good enough for the top seed. However, if they squeak out a win against Buffalo they’d be 12-4, and because they beat Denver once already, give them that game and they’re 13-3. That’s a top seed record, especially considering what the Patriots have to deal with in their last five games. A Baltimore Ravens team tied for first in the AFC North at 6-5, a Denver Broncos team whose defense got the best of Tom Brady last year, the Jets, who always play New England tough and almost beat them last Sunday, and the Miami Dolphins who, at 7-4, look like a potential wild card team. The Rams this week seem like the only lock for them. New England may win three of those five games, but that would put them at 12-4 and in the second spot in the AFC, which is significant.
Home field advantage matters in the NFL, and having the road to a championship go through Oakland is something the Raiders wouldn’t mind in the least bit. They’d get a nice first-round bye and then would have to host the winner of the four versus five seed matchup, giving them great odds to advance to play New England in the AFC Championship Game. Oakland has the best chance to unseat New England, and at home, and without Rob Gronkowski on the field, they can beat them. The AFC playoff picture just got a bit blurrier for a terrible reason, but that’s football, and the Raiders now plan on playing it into February.