Some have emphasized the similarities of Oakland Raiders legendary owner Al Davis to Monty Burns, Ebenezer Scrooge or any other character who has an unquenchable thirst to increase his own wealth and power.
Davis was despised by many and loved by even more around the NFL for his tenacious approach to building a winner with the Raiders. Whether it was in Los Angeles or the current headquarters in Oakland, Davis did what he deemed best for the team and more often than not he was right. Though his candle burned out in October, his legend will live forever with the Silver and Black.
This is not a eulogy for the man who coined the phrase, "Just win, baby!" It's more of a pep talk to a Raiders team that can reach the playoffs with a win this Sunday and a little help from its dearest friends in Kansas City. Oakland can sew up the AFC West by prevailing against San Diego and the Denver Broncos losing to the Chiefs.
Davis disliked all three of the other inhabitants of the division and will surely be peering down from above, probably donning a white track suit and those stylish glasses.
The three-time Super Bowl champion Raiders can also sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card with a win coupled with losses by Cincinnati and Tennessee, or a Bengals loss and a New York Jets win. Even if the Raiders win this weekend, they would miss the playoffs if Denver defeats Kansas City and Cincinnati hands Baltimore a loss. The Broncos also hold all the tiebreakers for a division crown.
There's plenty of motivation for Oakland to win in its own backyard against the underachieving Chargers, since the club hasn't even reached the postseason since losing to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII to conclude the 2002 season. Quarterback Carson Palmer was then the BMOC for the University of Southern California before Cincinnati drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003.
Palmer was dealt to the Raiders earlier this season and still has to prove that move was worth the risk. He must have his best day as a Raider this week and was asked if he's feeling the pressure leading up to Sunday.
"No, pressure is part of the position and I've been playing it for a long time and understand and know that that doesn't need to be said to me by the coach, I understand that," Palmer said. "I'm not going to worry about who's playing who, where we might end up, who might come to us if we win and somebody else loses, you just can't focus on all that. You got to focus on the Chargers and that's our sole focus and my sole focus."
Oakland's philosophy hasn't changed too much since the passing of Davis, who have always loved the vertical game made famous by former players such as Cliff Branch and Tim Brown, and now youngsters Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. Palmer has to keep passes in the arms of his receivers and has been intercepted 15 times in nine games this season, including a trio of contests in which he's thrown three or more picks. The Raiders also can't count on the Chargers laying down in this one, as San Diego could be out for blood after being eliminated from postseason contention last week.
Palmer had two touchdown passes and an interception in a win at San Diego on Nov. 10. That game led to three straight victories for Oakland before the club dropped three straight before getting back on track with last Saturday's overtime triumph at Kansas City.
Running back Darren McFadden could use some help from above this week, as he hasn't played since Oct. 23 versus Kansas City because of a nagging foot sprain. McFadden was having an impressive campaign before the injury and could have made Oakland's chances of punching their playoff ticket even easier had he stayed healthy.
Head coach Hue Jackson weighed in on his injured star running back after practice this week.
"I mean I see Darren and I talk to Darren quite a bit, but I just again, I think it's very important that we get healthy players out here," Jackson said. "He's just not ready yet, and he's getting closer, I keep telling you guys, he's getting much closer. But at the end of the day, to do what he does and as fast as Darren runs, and as violent as Darren runs, you've got to make sure you're healthy. You can't just go out there and wobble and run around and jog through it. You have got to be able to run through it and he's not ready yet, and that's okay."
Michael Bush has done a fine job in McFadden's place and leads the team with 911 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He has appeared in every game this season and had his best day against the Chargers back in Week 10, when he ran for 157 yards and a score on 30 carries. The Raiders will surely hitch their wagon to Bush this weekend, especially if the vertical game isn't working under Palmer.
Davis wasn't as big on running backs during his storied tenure even though he had greats such as Clarence Davis, Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson. He won't be rolling over in his grave Sunday when Bush totes the football about 20 times, but some may believe he'll have a say in the weather to make it a ground-and- pound kind of afternoon.
LAST CHANCE FOR TEBOW TO SAVE FACE?
Tebow says all the right things to the point where football fans love him or can't stand him. Either way, the Broncos are counting on the lefty to lead them into the playoffs for the first time since 2005. As unorthodox as he may play, Tebow was the talk of the town after leading Denver on a six-game winning streak and producing fourth-quarter magic LeBron James would be envious of on the hardwood.
But this is not a game between Tebow and Orton. It is a matchup of two AFC West rivals with a playoff spot on the line for the Broncos, who can clinch their first division title since 2005 with a win and an Oakland loss to San Diego. The Broncos own the tiebreakers if they finish with an identical record to the Raiders, but sweeping the season series with Kansas City is a must.
"It's always tough to beat a team twice," Elway said on Denver's official site. "We've got to be ready to play one of our best football games."
Tebow said it's exciting to have all of the hype surrounding Sunday's game and believes the team will leave everything on the field. That's easy to believe if you have ever watched him play at the collegiate level or as a professional. Though Tebow has lost back-to-back games against New England and Buffalo since willing his team back into the playoff mix with wins in seven of his first eight starts after replacing Orton, he is not known as one to succumb to pressure (see two National Championships and a Heisman Trophy at Florida).
Lost in all of the Tebow hype was a stellar Denver defense that has since been ravaged over the past two weeks, allowing 40-plus points in consecutive defeats. The Chiefs' offense doesn't strike fear into many teams, but Denver has to set the tone early with high pressure on Orton, who surely wants to knock his former team out of the playoff picture. Rookie linebacker and Pro Bowl selection Von Miller is the ideal candidate to make life hard on Orton for 60 minutes and hopes to add to his team-leading sack total of 12 on Sunday.
"I enjoy big games," Miller said. "Every game that we've played was a big game to get us to this point. But obviously, this is our next game so it's our biggest game. We're excited about it. Ultimately it's why you play the game -- to get in big situations with an awesome fan base behind you, which we will have on Sunday. It will be a rocking atmosphere, and we'll be very excited as well."
The Mile High City will be jubilant too if the beloved Broncos can give it something it hasn't had in years: A playoff berth.
BUCS' MORRIS PREPS FOR POSSIBLY HIS LAST STAND
Losing nine in a row after a 4-2 start wouldn't settle with any football head coach or executive. Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris is experiencing that right now as the Buccaneers try to rally for their sideline leader's job Sunday at Atlanta.
It's been speculated that Morris will receive his walking papers regardless of the outcome of the Bucs' showdown with the NFC South-rival Falcons, and frankly he doesn't deserve to go. Point the finger to injuries, an erratic Josh Freeman under center or players just not executing, but don't pin all the blame on Morris, who would like to see his club sweep the Falcons in a season for the first time since 2007.
"It will be a good way to end the season," Morris said. "It will get the guys' attention. We'll get a chance to go out there and play against a very tough team that is playoff-ready, playoff-bound. We need to get a win for this football team. This football team's primed. We want to get one of our division opponents, go out there and have fun, play the game the way we want to play it. We need to be just going to go out there and get a win for this football team."
The Buccaneers haven't dropped 10 in a row in a season since opening the 1977 campaign under John McKay with 12 consecutive defeats. Guaranteed a few weeks ago to miss the postseason for a fourth straight year, the Tampa Bay players have only themselves to feel sorry for after gaining much hype following a 10-6 record in 2010. The Buccaneers have a solid nucleus of players to work with, and it just didn't come together for some reason this season.
Freeman's numbers (14 TD, 19 INT) have been atrocious, second-year receiver Mike Williams dropped off tremendously since breaking into the league with 11 touchdown catches and sophomore running back LeGarette Blount will most likely miss out on gaining 1,000 yards rushing for a second straight year. He has 769 yards with one more game left and is facing an Atlanta run defense that is eighth in the NFL (101.1 ypg).
Tampa Bay's defense struggled mightily in 2011, as evidenced by its No. 24 ranking in pass defense and sitting 31st in run defense. It is also 30th in total yards surrendered and dead last in points allowed (29.2 ppg). It has given up 30-plus points seven times this season, and it could get even worse Sunday.
At least the Bucs' poor finish will solidify a good draft pick that could be spent on an offensive lineman or a defensive stalwart.