Ratto: The Raiders are, amazingly, your best entertainment value

Gruden’s club is the amusement park ride that the 49ers no longer are

Ray Ratto
November 08, 2019 - 12:42 pm

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No team in the National Football League entered the 2019 season with less reason to feel optimism than the Oakland Raiders — not even the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals or Washington Hot Mess Irregulars.

The Raiders penciled/projected out as a four-win team, and then they went out and vomited all over their training camp by introducing and then being worked by Antonio Brown. General manager Jon Gruden had undone head coach Jon Gruden again, nobody knew what to make of their draft and nobody dared project them as more than five-win team. They were imposed upon and resisted the pernicious blandishments of Hard Knocks, doing as much damage to that brand as vice versa. And then they marched out with their face-swallowing coach and engaged in a lose-two, win-two, lose-two, win-two pattern that as of this morning leaves them...

...well, as the most surprising team in the league. And since their current pattern is  success wins, the most pleasantly surprising team.

Thursday's 26-24 victory over the Los Angeles Vagrants was perfectly Raiders — stink out the first half but stay close because the NFL has more uncertain teams than certain ones, and then own the second half to give their soon-to-be-abandoned fan base something to enthuse over. They are now 5-4, a game behind the Team Mahomes and closer to third place in the AFC than 12th, which where they figured to reside when this season began.

In other words...SURPRISE!!!

They have proven, through barely half of their final season in their preternatural home, that preseason analysis and even in-season analysis is the work of fools. Gruden the general manager threatened the team's foundation by being played so badly by Brown, but running back Josh Jacobs cured all of that, and Gruden the coach has masterminded the reconstruction of the offensive line that kept quarterback Derek Carr safe and upright three seasons ago. The defense is still problematic/untrustworthy but their once-imposing schedule provides two tap-ins the next two weeks (the 1-15 stylings of the Bengals and New York Jets). They could, in short, be 7-4 for only the third time since the Super Bowl season of 2002...

...and still be a fringe playoff team.

That's the best part. Every game matters to them on a visceral level because any screwup could be punished by golf, hunting and family vacations in January. The 49ers, whose own 8-0 record is quite the surprise itself, are still safe and dry by comparison,  and even their game Monday against Seattle is really about positioning rather than survival, which is much less fun for the voyeuristic couch-heap because it lacks the desperate energy a team on the edge can provide. The Raiders are easily the weirdest team with a winning record and therefore offer the strangest fun both in victory and defeat.

In other words, they are the amusement park ride that the 49ers no longer are — not better necessarily, but more exhilarating. And because this is their last stand before they become one of Las Vegas' smallest casinos, it's all the edgier for it. The team itself may not be touched by the upcoming move, but the people they purportedly entertain have a chance to feel all the better for it. They are running out of time to embrace this team at a time when the team is actually embraceable — and that could change for the worse in a month.

And if that isn't gambling, we have all been viciously misled.

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