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Raiders remain in thick of playoff race in AFC

The Raiders woke up Monday morning in a pleasantly surprising space.

In spite of the off-field drama over the last month-and-a-half, the three-game losing streak coming off their bye week and a knee injury to tight end Darren Waller that sidelined him for the majority of Thursday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys, they remain in contention for an AFC playoff berth.

“We’re right in the middle of it,” said Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia.

Six games remain, including Sunday against the Washington Football Team at Allegiant Stadium, and the 6-5 Raiders are in a virtual tie with the 6-5 Los Angeles Chargers for the last wild-card playoff spot.

They are also within 1½ game of first place in their division and two games off the top spot in the AFC.

“The fact that we are right there – not where we want to be – but right there with a chance and an opportunity to get some really good football teams coming up, some very capable football teams coming up, we know what’s at stake,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “We know what we have to do. Hopefully we can go on a run and get hot.”

Said Bisaccia: “We’ve talked about it over and over. It’s a week-to-week league. Fortunately for us, we’ve played well enough at times to be right in the thick of it.”

Getting Waller back as quickly as possible is of utmost concern, although it might be a challenge to get him on the field in time for Sunday’s game.

Bisaccia said on Monday the sprained knee Waller suffered in the first half of the Cowboys game left his star tight end “week-to-week,” although he did leave open the possibility of him playing against the WFT.

“We’ll see where he is,” Bisaccia said. “I know he improved the first day, which happens a lot of the time, now we’ll wait and see how the rest of the week goes.”

The same is the case for reserve defensive end Carl Nassib, who is also week-to-week with a knee injury he suffered against the Cowboys.

On the other hand, cornerback Trayvon Mullen appears on track to return in time to lend a hand over the last month of the season. Mullen has been on the injured reserve list since October 9th with a toe injury. There is a possibility he could be designated to return to practice this week.

If so, the Raiders will have up to 21 days to activate him.

“He wants to be in position where he feels like he’s ready to go,” Bisaccia said. “We’d like that from him as well, to come back where he knows he’s ready to compete and play against the really good players we’re fixing to face.”

The importance of the Raiders being as physically fit as possible to navigate the last six weeks of the season cannot be understated. Aside from their game this week against the WFT, every game is against teams in the playoff race.

That includes three games within their division against the 6-5 Denver Broncos, 7-4 Kansas City Chiefs and Chargers, and games against the 6-6 Cleveland Browns and 6-6 Indianapolis Colts.

In many ways, the remaining schedule is fortuitous for the Raiders, who are seeking their second playoff spot in 19 years.

“To some degree, we’re in control of making our decisions in how we’re going to practice and how we’re going to play,” said Bisaccia. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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