Hard Knocks was a dark comedy with a cast of characters seemingly created in a charmless casting room for maximum entertainment. The Oakland Raiders were, in so many eyes, a slow-moving train wreck destined for even further derailment down the line. But Jon Gruden, the energetic and cartoonish conductor, has managed to do the near-impossible. He's kept this thing on the tracks, shedding dead weight along the way, and emerging on the other side of a dark tunnel with bright playoff hopes on the horizon.
Antonio Brown's psychological meltdown is sad on a human level. It also completely rewrote the script for this Raiders team. In a good way, which hardly seemed plausible at the time. Dealing Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper will also go down long-term as perplexing, yet not necessary disastrous to this season's goal.
Pretty shocking stuff. Stuff a normal person wouldn't have imagined.
Gruden has found an elite weapon in Josh Jacobs, who sealed Thursday night's victory over the Chargers with a grown-man touchdown scamper. Derek Carr is enjoying a fever of productivity, completing nearly 71 percent of his passes and carrying a 14-4 TD: Int ratio. The silver-and-black defense has come up large when needed in consecutive weeks. There was the do-or-die fourth down stop against Detroit before the three-interception attack against a hapless Philip Rivers.
At 5-4, Oakland is now a game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West and very much a contender for a Wild Card spot. An extremely favorable schedule down the stretch should buoy their chances. Home dates with the Bengals, Titans, and Jaguars present a real chance to go 3-0. Road games at the Jets, Chargers, and Broncos are winnable too. At the Chiefs will be much tougher.
It is extremely within reason that the Raiders finish the year 10-6, which will be enough in the AFC.
If that happens, it will be Gruden who gets the last laugh. We'll be forced to concede that maybe, just maybe, there was a method to his training camp madness. That the combination of he and Mike Mayock works in the real world, not just on reality television.
That'll be a bit tough to stomach. Knock if you're with me.