Week 14 – Pride and Prospects

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(Photo courtesy of planetc1)
Janikowski and the kicking game has been a roller coaster ride this season

by Jim Turvey

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Throughout the year, I have written weekly Raiders’ previews from the lens of what was needed for the club to win. With last week’s loss, however, the Raiders have all but been eliminated from the playoff picture, and the team may shift its focus now.

At the beginning of the week, I covered what the Raiders and their fans might be looking for in the final few weeks, highlighting getting healthy, keeping a winning attitude, and watching for position battles heading into next year.

This week’s game with the Jets offers all of these opportunities, along with playing spoiler to Rex Ryan, and the Jets. Personally, I will be paying more attention to some of the individual Raiders than the team itself, with an eye towards next season in particular. With that being said, let’s take a look at the ten Raiders’ players that Raiders’ fans should be watching on Sunday:

 

10) Rashad Jennings

Rashad Jennings is still questionable for this week, coming off of a concussion last week, but if he plays, it will allow Raiders’ fans to get a feel for if he could be the running back of the future. The Raiders seem likely to be cutting ties with the oft-injured Darren McFadden, and Jennings will look to prove that he can be their running back next year with these final few weeks.

9) Jared Veldheer

Veldheer is one of the many Raiders returning back to full health in these final few weeks. He had a huge test in his first week back against DeMarcus Ware, and this week it doesn’t get much easier, as the Jets’ defensive line has been one of the best units in football this season. Veldheer performed well against Ware, and his health will be a major factor in the Raiders’ success next year.

8) Sio Moore

Moore has an opportunity in these final few weeks to try to make the leap from promising rookie to legitimate NFL linebacker. His ceiling seems to be very high, and he has two great mentors in Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett. We have been profiling the Raiders’ linebackers a lot lately at Three Bridge Sports, and with good reason, this unit could be a building block for the future of the franchise.

7) Charles Woodson

If you’re a Raiders’ fan, and NFL fan, or just a human being, your eyes should be on Charles Woodson during any Raiders’ game. He is quite possibly the best ball-hawking, playmaking defender the NFL has ever seen, and even this year, in his sixteenth season in the league, he is making incredible plays on a weekly basis. Hopefully he can stay around a couple more seasons, and see the Raiders through to the playoffs once again.

6) Mychal Rivera

Rivera doesn’t seem to have the talent to be a number one tight end on a playoff team, but these final four weeks will certainly offer him an opportunity to establish himself as a legit redzone threat, which I believe he could be.

5) Sebastian Janikowski

The struggles of the kicking game have been one of this season’s biggest storylines, and have arguably cost the Raiders a few wins. There were questions on the holding of Marquette King at the beginning of the season, and later in the season Janikowski said he watched the tape and his plant foot was the problem. Whatever the issues were, hopefully they are out of the picture, and although Sebastian only hit one field goal last week, it was from 45 yards, and hopefully this is a sign of the kicking game turning around. Better late than never.

4) Tyvon Branch

Tyvon Branch has been out since Week 2, but he is expected to play this weekend. His name hasn’t come up much since his injury, but the secondary seems to not have been the same since he went down to injury. Brandian Ross has been acceptable at times, but his consistency has been lacking, and Branch brings a far superior presence in the Raiders’ secondary. The Raiders rank 23rd in the NFL in opponent passing yards, and Branch’s return should help to slow down opponent’s passing attacks down the stretch. He gets to start with the pathetic Jets’ pass offense, which could certainly help to build his confidence coming off an injury.

3) Menelik Watson

If Watson can stay healthy and produce like a second rounder, it could very well mean that the Raiders don’t need any offensive lineman in the draft, and can focus elsewhere. This would be a huge benefit to the squad, as the team undoubtedly has holes that need to be addressed in the draft. Having to spend back-to-back drafts addressing the same position is never a good sign, so hopefully last year’s second-round pick can play at an acceptable level, while, maybe more importantly, staying healthy.

2) Andre Holmes

One of the biggest questions this weekend this weekend will be, was last week a one game mirage, or could Holmes emerge as a serious threat in the passing game? If he’s able to become a legitimate playmaker, he will join a surprisingly decent three-headed receiving trio along with Denarius Moore and Rod Streater. There has been a lot of talk that receiver is a position that the Raiders will look to address in either the draft or free agency this offseason, but Holmes could make the Raiders’ job a lot easier if he can establish himself on the team.

1) Matt McGloin

Until further notice, the battle for next year’s quarterback spot will definitely be the biggest part of Raiders’ games to watch. McGloin has been excellent in his 3+ games at quarterback, but remember Terrelle Pryor, through his first four starts, looked incredible as well. As good as the Jets’ running defense has been, they have been susceptible against the pass at times this year (they rank 18th in DVOA against the pass), which means that McGloin should be able have a chance to continue proving that he can be the franchise quarterback this week. He’ll have to start winning some games, to go along with his solid passing numbers if he wants to prove himself the starter going into next year.

Author: Jim Turvey

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