The Raiders currently hold the #1 seed in the AFC. I know you’re probably really confused, so let me repeat this very slowly. The Oakland Raiders, who haven’t had a winning season since 2002, are 8–2 and as of right now, are the #1 seed in the AFC.
Oakland shares the best record in the conference with the New England Patriots. But the Raiders own the tiebreaker thanks to their strength of schedule. As it stands now, the road to the AFC Championship has to go through Oakland. Even the most optimistic Raider fan, aka me, would have been crazy to think the Raiders would have only two losses heading into Thanksgiving.
The Dallas Cowboys meanwhile, who have long been synonymous with Thanksgiving, hold the #1 seed in the NFC. It’s exciting to think two of the most iconic teams in the history of the league have a very real chance of meeting in the Super Bowl. But their current standings are about the only concrete thing they have in common. A Dallas/Oakland matchup would contrast America’s Team with America’s Dream.
It’s almost fitting that Oakland played a “home” game in Mexico. Oakland is a team that could lose it’s home. For one thing, the Coliseum is beat down and decrepit. A friend of mine once commented “dude…this looks like a prison.” And while the Coliseum definitely makes you feel like you’re in a post-apocalyptic world or the “California Love” video, it’s still the Raider’s house and staying there is preferable to move south, or out of state.
While the Raiders are in housing limbo, the Cowboys have one of the most decadent houses in the league. Colloquially known as “Jerryworld”, AT&T Stadium seats 80,000 people and boasts a retractable roof. As my girlfriend and Dallas native said, “it’s so God can watch the Cowboys play on Sundays.” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spared no expense for the $1B stadium that opened in 2009. It even has an art gallery which was personally commissioned by Jerry himself. Last time I went to a Raider game, someone peed on the seat next to me.
Both Oakland and Dallas have exciting offenses, led by contrasting triplets at key positions. In quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas has a pair of rookies that are making Dallas great again. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing and was the first running back chosen in the 2016 NFL Draft. Elliot is a flashy, confident player who is a throwback to the days of the franchise running back. With his on the field performance coupled with his flashy attire and a lineup that probably came from God’s barber, Elliot can definitely be the face of Dallas and one of the faces of the NFL for the next decade.
Yet for all the glitz and glamour Elliot has brought to Dallas, questions remain about his off field persona. Since preseason, there have been allegations of domestic violence. The USA Today reported that a woman filed a report, alleging that Elliot has pushed her against a wall. Earlier in the year, the same woman claimed that Elliot had assaulted her multiple times. As The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis asked a few weeks ago, “what kind of person is Zeke Elliot?”
The Raiders starting running back, most of the time, is Latavius Murray. He’s far from the graceful runner that Elliot is. He looks like he could fall over at any time. But on the bright side, usually when he does fall, it’s forward for about 4 or 5 yards. Murray came into the league in 2014 s an unheralded 6th Round Draft pick. He worked hard and made the often injured Darren McFadden expendable prior to last year. Ironically, both McFadden, in Dallas and Murray crossed the 1,000 yard mark in 2015.
Murray is the leader of Oakland’s stable of running backs. He has a very modest 400 rushing yards this year and has struggled with injuries. But when he’s not on the mend, he’s dominating and punishing teams, just ask Denver.
The wide receiver position has long been associated with “prima donnas.” Indeed, for better or for worse, some of the NFL’s most colorful personalities have lined up at this position. Dez Bryant, the oldest of the Dallas triplets certainly fit the mold when he entered the league in 2010. It probably didn’t help alleviate attention, and pressure, that he inherited Michael Irvin’s legendary jersey number. Whether it was being sued in 2011 or arrested in 2012, Bryant has faced his fair share of controversy. Couple that with his “loud” personality and you have makings of a divisive player.
Like Bryant, Amari Cooper was a highly touted wide receiver, going to Oakland with the 4th pick in the 2015 draft. Copper has exceeded expectations and in only his second year, has already become one of the best players in the league. It’s a good thing his play is so exciting, because off the field he could not be well, more boring. Cooper has all the makings of not only the next great Oakland receiver but also the next great reddit meme.
Perhaps where both teams have more in common is in their starting quarterbacks. Both Prescott and Carr have played extremely well this season. I’m not sure who’s team’s success has been more surprising. When Romo went out in the preseason, many expected Dallas to struggle through the year. Yet Prescott has played so well, he’s become the unquestioned starter in Dallas and has led to a litany of trade rumors for Tony Romo.
Carr has has improved since coming into the league in 2014. But I don’t think anyone who would have guessed that he’d be in conversations for MVP at the halfway mark of the 2016 season. Most non-Oakland fans do not understand what Carr means to this organization. He’s made this team competitive and he’s made this team consistent. Look, before Dak Prescott took over the starting role in Dallas, Tony Romo was the starter and he’d been the starter since 2006.
Oakland meanwhile, has had 13…THIRTEEN different starting quarterbacks since 2006 and almost 20 since they last made the playoffs in 2002.
If God has a poetic flair, then Oakland and Dallas will meet in the Super Bowl. Both teams are on the precipice of a deep playoff run, comfortably atop their respective conferences. But from their owners (Jerry Jones looks like he could have been Trump’s running mate while Mark Davis looks like he gets to the strip club at noon for their lunch buffet) down, they could not be more different.
The Cowboys have long been known as “America’s Team.” With their coke white uniforms, flashy playmakers and decadent housing, they are indeed a representation of what the world thinks America is.
But the reality is that Oakland is more like what America really is. Much like most of country at the onset of the Great Recession, Oakland made terrible financial decisions. Bad draft choices and overinflated contracts set the franchise back for over a decade. Furthermore, the team is in housing limbo, unsure if they’ll stay in Oakland or relocate to Las Vegas.
Years ago, ESPN writer Mark Kreidler made the case Oakland should be considered “America’s Team.”
“But in almost every way, the Raiders are a living snapshot of America right now. They’re a big, sloppy mess. They don’t always know what they’re doing. They make some lousy choices and some inspired ones, and they often spend futilely. You can question their leadership almost any day you feel like it.
Kreidler case is as compelling today as it was in 2010. But I think Dallas should keep the title of America’s Team. I think Oakland, for all they’ve been through, are deserving of their own cheesy moniker, for they are the embodiment of the American Dream. Kreidler continues,
“…yet they’re forging ahead, reaching for better days. They can even see some of those days within their grasp right now. What could possibly be more emblematic of the country that that?”
Oakland is one win away from their first winning season in over a decade. Last time the Raiders made the playoffs, Myspace wasn’t even a thing yet. It’s been a long time coming. But dreams, especially it seems, American ones, sometimes take a while to manifest.
Eric M. Ruiz is a NYC based writer from Modesto, CA. He helped launch Waze Ads in Latin America and now focuses on exploring and writing about the differences that make us the same. He thinks in English but hugs in Spanish. Sign up for his newsletter here.