The AFC playoff picture and the road to Super Bowl 51 in Houston changed in a major way Saturday when Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr suffered a broken fibula in his right leg. The injury will keep him sidelined indefinitely.
The Raiders were able to beat the Indianapolis Colts 33-25 in Week 16 as backup quarterback Matt McGloin converted a key third down late in the fourth quarter to help kill the clock. But the Raiders, at 12-3, still haven’t locked up the AFC West division title.
Oakland needs a Week 17 win or any Kansas City Chiefs loss over the final two weeks of the regular season to clinch the division. The Raiders also have a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the first-round bye that comes with it, but they need to beat the Denver Broncos in Week 17 and have the New England Patriots lose to the Miami Dolphins.
The Raiders have the tiebreaker (record versus common opponents) over the Patriots if both teams are tied for the best record after Week 17.
Carr’s absence, though, could make it difficult for Oakland to beat Denver in the final game of the season. The Broncos have the league’s best pass defense, as well as a great pass rush. A McGloin-led offense isn’t anywhere near as potent as one led by Carr, who’s thrown 25 touchdowns passes with just six interceptions this season.
The Raiders’ hopes of reaching the Super Bowl also take a major hit without Carr. Oakland’s chances of matching the Patriots’ high-scoring offense in a potential AFC Championship Game matchup aren’t very good with McGloin under center, especially if the game is in New England. McGloin has just 11 games of NFL experience with 11 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Oakland already struggled to score against Kansas City when Carr was in the lineup. The Chiefs beat the Carr-led Raiders twice this season and held them to 23 points combined in those games. There’s no reason why KC would have trouble beating Oakland a third time in the playoffs.
The Patriots’ biggest threat in the AFC now is the Chiefs, if they weren’t already. Luckily for the Pats, there’s no way any January game against the Chiefs will be at Arrowhead Stadium, which is nice for Bill Belichick and Co. after how the last game in Kansas City went.
Carr’s injury makes the road to the Super Bowl much easier for the Patriots. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a good quarterback and playoff experience, and the Chiefs have a quality defense, but New England clearly is the cream of the crop in the conference.
In fact, this might be the Patriots’ easiest road to the Super Bowl in a while.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images