Unlike past seasons, the Oakland Raiders' 2002 drive to the AFC playoffs has not featured a fade pattern.
The Raiders, who won their third AFC West championship in as many seasons by defeating Denver 28-16, are 10-5 entering Saturday's home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Oakland can clinch the AFC's No. 1 seed with a win. The Raiders, who had gone 9-19 in December since relocating to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995, are 3-1 so far in December to mark the first time they've posted a winning record in the final month of the calender year since 1994.
Oakland will need to beat a Kansas City club that is one of six 8-7 teams scrapping for the last playoff spot in the AFC. The Chiefs need to win Saturday plus get help. If Oakland loses, it can still clinch a first-round bye but would need help.
This week of preparation presents a different from the norm scenario. For starters, it's a Saturday game coupled with Christmas Eve and Day being in the middle of the week.
"It's a strange week for everyone," Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon said. "But our preparation and focus has been great all year."
Pittsburgh's 17-7 win at Tampa Bay, led by former Oakland head coach Jon Gruden, Monday night added to the meaning of Oakland needing to beat Kansas City. The Steelers are 9-5-1 and clinched the AFC North but can still surpass the Raiders for a first-round bye.
"It's like I said a couple weeks ago," Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown said. "You play one important game and then here comes another. We were hoping Gruden could help us out but he chose not to do that."
Oakland's strong performance in December can be attributed to head coach Bill Callahan having fewer practices with pads along with shorter workouts during training camp to preserve the veterans.
In addition, the fact that Oakland has had to play in meaningful games all season because of the competitive nature of the AFC is a bonus.
"It's exciting for NFL players," Oakland tight end Roland Williams said. "We're playing with the same intensity now as we were in Week 1."