11 weeks into the NFL season the Oakland Raiders have been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL, as they are tied for the best record in the AFC at 8-2.
With just six weeks remaining in the regular season the Raiders are not only looking to make the postseason for the first time since the 2002-03 season, but they are looking to earn the top seed in the AFC which gives them a bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs.
The next test they will face is in Week 12 as they will host the defending NFC Champions the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers have also been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season, although because of a different reason than the Raiders as after going 15-1 last season and reaching the Super Bowl, the Panthers currently are 4-6 and on the outside looking in to a playoff spot.
Their season is not over though, and they will pose some threats to the Raiders this Sunday as the Panthers offense, led by the reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton, has played better in recent weeks.
Raiders defensing coordinator Ken Norton Jr. recently talked about what makes Newton so special, via Kyle Martin of Raiders.com:
“No question. He’s in such control of what he’s doing. He understands football. He understands his strengths and weaknesses. He’s a really good football player and there’s no question you have to really do your homework. You have to really be disciplined, responsible football to be successful versus this team.”
Newton has struggled a bit this season as he currently has a career-low 56.5 completion percentage to go along with 2,186 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
His rushing numbers are also down as he dealt with a concussion earlier in the season. He is averaging a career-low 4.3 yards per attempt, rushing for 268 yards and four touchdowns on 62 attempts.
Even though he has not played his best football this season, the Raiders much improved defense will still have their hands full with Newton and the Panthers this Sunday as the Panthers need to win out to keep their postseason hopes alive.