The Raiders not only go into their game against the Minnesota Vikings with extra rest and a chance to get some injured players back, but in sole possession of first place.
Things are breaking right for Oakland, which beat San Diego 24-17 in the first Thursday night game of the season, then took the weekend off while the Denver Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs 17-10.
When the dust cleared, the Raiders were 5-4 and alone at the top of the AFC West, while Kansas City, San Diego and Denver were all 4-5.
The Raiders haven't been in first place this late in the season since 2002, the year they won their last of three straight division titles en route to an AFC championship and a berth in Super Bowl XXXVII.
"I haven't been in this situation since college, plain and simple," cornerback Stanford Routt said. "Trying to maintain staying in the lead is going to cause you to focus, because the only way you can stay in the lead is to win. I know that's the mindset right now."
The schedule would appear to be on Oakland's side. They are 3-1 on the road and taking on a Minnesota team that was shellacked 45-7 by the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
The Vikings are one of four teams the Raiders play in their final seven games that currently has a losing record. Denver plays three teams with losing records, and the going is considerably tougher for Kansas City and San Diego, with both having a single game against a team with a losing record to finish out the season.
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has been with the Raiders longer than any offensive or defensive player (kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler arrived in 2000), signing as an undrafted free agent in 2004.
Kelly endured six straight seasons of 11 or more losses until last season's breakthrough to .500. To be in first place in mid-November is rarified air.
"It makes me feel good, because I have never been in first this late in the season," Kelly said. "At the same time, we can't sneak up on anybody any more. We're the hunted now. We've just got to make sure we dot all our I's and cross our T's.
"Like Coach said at practice, we have to keep building until the end of the season, get better every (game) and take advantage of our opportunities."
Through their first five wins, the Raiders have yet to play a complete game, with the closest thing probably coming in 34-24 Week 3 win over the New York Jets during which the Raiders gave up 369 yards passing to Mark Sanchez.
Coach Hue Jackson said he hasn't come away from a game thinking the Raiders had been anywhere close to their full capability.
"I have a high expectation for this team, the staff, for everybody connected with the organization," Jackson said. "We're not close yet. We know that. We're chasing it. That's the beautiful part, that it's out there somewhere.
"We've just got to get in and do it."
Not that Jackson isn't somewhat pleased with the progress.
"I think we're playing a little bit more consistently, at least in the last game against San Diego. But that was one game," Jackson said. "We've got to now start stacking those games together to become a consistent football team. As we go down the stretch we've got to get better in some areas, and we're poised to do that."
Kelly is awaiting the kind of game he thinks the Raiders can play if they have all three phases working together.
"We definitely have not played a totally dominant game as far as defense, offense and special teams," Kelly said. "I think it's coming. Guys are coming in to work, and even though we have guys hurt, the next man is stepping up and making plays. It's going to happen at some point, we're going to play that A-1 game."
To be in first place, without playing that game, is a good sign, Kelly said.
"It's encouraging," Kelly said. "You don't want to have a lot of valleys in your season, up and down. We were a little up and down at the beginning of the season, but we're starting to smooth out."
Right tackle Khalif Barnes is waving off all talk of the division lead or any thought of the Raiders being set up for good things to happen the rest of the season.
"We're just past the halfway point of the season," Barnes said. "There's a lot of football left to be played. It's a good checkpoint to see where we are. It's nice to see us up there, but we really haven't done anything.
"I've been on both sides of this. You can be in first place, then something can happen, you lose a couple of games and then ... this is a week-to-week league. You can't get hung up on what you did. I know we play a Minnesota team with a very good defensive front and I'm not looking forward any farther than that."
Raiders focused and in first
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