Fossum: October Vital for Raiders Super Bowl Hopes

Jim Fossum
Las Vegas Raiders Report Oakland Raiders Derek Carr Super Bowl LII

Yes, it’s early in the season but as history shows us, October is the month where Super Bowl contenders separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Truth be told, there’s a belief among many in the NFL that the regular season – and the road to the Super Bowl – begins in October, not September, as advertised.

Come again?

With four preseason games that coaches use more to assess incoming talent and plot and prep for the regular season, most of the best players sit for most of the action. Even the sport’s finest find their step in September, but don’t hit full stride until October. Consider Raiders All-Pro wideout Amari Cooper, who has a league-leading six dropped passes. Anyone expect that to continue?

Amari Cooper Las Vegas Raiders Report

Expect Amari Cooper to hit his stride in October.

A better barometer of a team’s true standing becomes apparent in the few weeks immediately preceding Halloween. For many, the season’s first two or three games have largely become what the preseason was intended to be – a team-unifying,  playbook-learning, situation-building process, even a conditioning program of sorts for some who must adapt to a full 60 minutes of action. That is particularly true of the linemen.

What most distinctly separates pro football from pro baseball, basketball and hockey is the abbreviated schedule – 16 games in the NFL compared to 162 in Major League Baseball and half that many in the NBA and NHL. In short, winning means more week to week over the course of four months than it does day to day over the course of six. Hence, the league’s four-division, four-team format allows all 16 teams in each conference to more reasonably hope to advance to postseason.

Approximately 75 percent of NFL teams that start 3-0 make the playoffs. That number increases to 83 percent if you start 4-0, 91 percent 5-0, 94 percent 6-0, and 100 percent if you can make it to 7-0 by the end of October.

To reach the playoffs, teams must concern themselves only with finishing ahead of the three other teams in their division. In fact, they don’t even have to do that. For instance, it’s conceivable – probable even — that the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos make the playoffs from the AFC West. Six teams (1980 Raiders, 1997 Broncos, 2000 Ravens, 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers) have won Super Bowls as wild-card entrants.

While fast starts are important, success in October is all that more decisive — just another reason the 2-1 Raiders’ game Sunday at 2-1 Denver involves so much import and interest. Even the best of the best need time to separate themselves from the pack. Bring on October.

Would Super Bowl champion New England, for instance, have collapsed defensively in the second half in the Sept. 7 NFL season-opener at home to Kansas City had it had a couple of games under its belt? Or, would the Patriots have more typically rallied behind Tom Brady to pull out yet another improbable win like they did last week in Foxboro against the Texans? History tells us to set aside early season woes. What was it Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers decried to start the 2014 season – R-E-L-A-X. Green Bay, 1-2 at the time, went on to play for the NFC championship.

With October upon us and a mere month into the season, the Chiefs in the AFC and Falcons in the NFC are the NFL’s only remaining unbeaten teams. NFC South leader Atlanta, 3-0, hosts the Bills, who are tied for first in the AFC East at 2-1, on Sunday morning. The Redskins, 2-1 and in a three-way share of first in the NFC East, are at 3-0 AFC West leader Kansas City on Monday night. That’s September for you . . .

Approximately 75 percent of NFL teams that start 3-0 make the playoffs. That number increases to 83 percent if you start 4-0, 91 percent 5-0, 94 percent 6-0, and 100 percent if you can make it to 7-0 by the end of October. This season, despite the start of bye weeks next Sunday, most teams will have played eight games, or half the season, before the kids go trick or treating.

Super Bowl LII Super Bowl 52 Las Vegas Raiders Report

The road to Super Bowl LII begins in October.

Because of a shorter season mandated by the physical nature of the game, teams that start 0-2 reach the postseason just 12 percent of the time. Since the Super Bowl era, only five teams, or roughly 3 percent, have made the playoffs after starting 0-3, with the last being Buffalo nearly two decades ago. The 1998 Bills needed five straight wins to advance. Only 1 percent of 0-4 teams suit up for postseason. No team has moved on after starting 0-5.

…it’s conceivable – probable even — that the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos make the playoffs from the AFC West. Six teams (1980 Raiders, 1997 Broncos, 2000 Ravens, 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers) have won Super Bowls as wild-card entrants.

With the arrival of October, the 49ers, Giants, Chargers, Bengals and Browns are 0-3. In other words, remaining winless is far more prevalent in the NFL than staying unbeaten. Barring a tie, either the Bengals or Browns will break into the win column after they meet Sunday in Cleveland.

Of the previous 51 Super Bowl winners, all but 10 started 1-0 (the ‘67 Packers opened with a tie), but just three began the season with a losing streak — the 1993 Cowboys, 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants.

Teams intent on making it to Super Bowl Sunday understand that superiority in the telltale games of October is essential in reaching proverbial – and literal – “midseason form.” The defending world champion Patriots went 4-1 last October, the 2015 Broncos 3-0, 2014 Patriots 4-0, 2013 Seahawks 3-1, 2012 Giants 3-1 . . .

You get the point.