NFL week 8: Oakland Raiders resurgence & San Diego Chargers' key battle at Denver

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots
The New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-16 to record a third consecutive victory

It's almost the halfway stage of the season and if it ended now the play-off picture would look as follows.

The New England Patriots, the Oakland Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Houston Texans, the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs would make up the AFC places, while the NFC would be filled with the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, the Seattle Seahawks, the Atlanta Falcons, the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Of course the scenarios will change and other sides bubbling under will try to leapfrog the others in a bid to be playing in January.

I'm going to concentrate on the AFC, as there is only one team that is different to the last post-season - the Raiders.

Understandably, their fans find themselves facing a strange juxtaposition. It's been 13 seasons since Bill Callaghan led them to their last play-off appearance - and the revolving door at the Oakland Coliseum has not stopped turning since.

Eight head coaches have been appointed during this period and this historic franchise, built by Al Davis, has never felt stable.

Traditionally, the Raiders have been a home for misfit players, or those looking to eek out a few more years from their creaking bodies, but the seeds of this season's success were sown with the appointment of general manager Reggie McKenzie in 2012.

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Oakland got rid of high-price experience in favour of building through the draft. Over the past three years they have equipped themselves with a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, weapons for him to target in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree - brought over the bay from the San Francisco 49ers - and stud linebacker Khalil Mack.

They needed a head coach who could bring this talent together - and in 2015 they hired Jack del Rio. He'd had a renaissance in Denver as a defensive coordinator after being let go as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One or two eyebrows were raised, but Del Rio is a character who can galvanise youth, even if veterans may switch off.

A 7-9 season followed, which may not sound like much but the Raiders were entertaining and hard-working, though they needed to learn.

They needed to learn, though - and they have. A year on at 5-2 they lead probably the best division in the NFL.

The marker was laid down in the season opener in New Orleans when Del Rio decided to try to win a high-scoring game in regulation with a two-point conversion rather than kick an extra point and send it into overtime. The conversion was successful and they've not looked back.

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I suggested that fans may be bittersweet about their success. The fact is that Oakland could well have been back in Los Angeles this summer, with owner Mark Davis (son of Al) keen to relocate due to a dilapidated stadium.

St Louis got the gig and it's likely that Las Vegas will be the destination for the Raiders, although a return to Los Angeles or a new stadium in Oakland are not totally off the table yet.

Despite those distractions they're getting it right on the field and the manner in which they're doing it would surely make Al Davis proud.

They go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend with a 4-0 record on the road - and they may well stay unbeaten as they pass the mid-point of the season.

Plenty of key battles as Chargers go to Broncos

Speaking of teams with stadium problems (but more on that another day), our BBC Radio 5 live NFL commentary is the San Diego Chargers, who have a 3-4 record on the road, at the 5-2 Denver Broncos - the second time these sides have met in three weeks.

The Chargers won the first encounter 21-13 and will hope to complete the double over Denver for the first time since 2010. The Broncos got their swagger back defensively last week against the Texans and will be keen to right a few wrongs.

This is a really good match-up with plenty of key battles around the field. Can the Broncos contain the disruptive pass rush of Joey Bosa? Can they run the ball without CJ Anderson who's out for the year? Can the Chargers not beat themselves as they so often do?

Five things to watch this weekend

  • It's the final chance to catch the NFL in London for another season, with the Washington Redskins taking on the Cincinnati Bengals in the Remembrance fixture at Wembley. I was there last year and it gave me chills - brilliantly marked, respectful and patriotic. It should be the most competitive of the three international series games. Bengals need to play catch-up in the AFC North, while Washington need to stay in touch with the Cowboys, Eagles and the New York Giants.
  • The Patriots have lost one game this season - Rex Ryan's Buffalo Bills shut them out at home without Tom Brady. This one could get ugly. It will be physical, there will be plenty of trash talk and don't rule out an ejection or two.
  • The (4-2) Green Bay Packers, who have been a little uninspiring this season, travel to the (4-3) Falcons, who are on a two-game slide. This may well finally bring out the gunslinger in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Expect lots of points.
  • The two hottest property rookie quarterbacks go head to head as Carson Wentz's 4-2 Eagles travel to Dak Prescott's (5-1) Dallas Cowboys. It will simply be fun to see.
  • Arguably two play-off certainties at the start of the season, the 3-3-1 Cardinals go to the 1-5 defending NFC champions the Carolina Panthers with both teams' seasons on the line. I believe whoever loses is done.

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