The month of December is perceived as the last portion of the route to the playoffs but the Oakland Raiders have recently been running fade patterns in that stretch of time.
They have a record of 9-19 in December since relocating to Oakland in 1995 from Los Angeles. The Raiders last winning record in December came in 1994, posting a 3-1 mark that month and 9-7 that season. Oakland's last five regular season games will be played in December.
Oakland is 7-4 and in a dead heat with Denver and San Diego in the AFC West entering Monday night's home game against the 6-5 New York Jets. The Raiders are guaranteed to gain ground if they win because Denver and San Diego play each other Sunday.
Raiders first-year head coach Bill Callahan, however, is making a few subtle changes to help avoid a December disaster. On Wednesdays, for example, Oakland usually practices without pads. In addition, Callahan frequently had shorter practices in training camp in an effort to preserve his veterans.
"Basically, it's meant to keep the guys fresh," Rice said. "The pads might be off but we're still going at a high intensity. We had a great approach in San Francisco and I think we have a great approach here."
The Raiders December fades are numerous. In 1995, Oakland entered December 8-4 and appeared to be a lock for the playoffs but lost its last four to finish 8-8. The Raiders were 1-3 in both December of 1998 and 2001. Oakland finished the former season 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
In 2001, the Raiders won the AFC West but their late season fade meant having to play a wild card game followed by the AFC Division playoff game on the road in snowy New England. Well, no need to go into detail on what happened there.
In 1999 and 2000, Oakland went 2-2 in December. The Raiders won the AFC West in 2000 but went from having the division title virtually locked up to needing a 20-7 Kansas City win over Denver in order to control their own fate to win the division. The Raiders accomplished that feat by defeating Carolina 52-9 one week later.
Another late season collapse would be very costly because Oakland's last three games are against division opponents.