Sunday 25 March 2018 / 03:01 AM


The Oakland Raiders were a trendy pick as the league’s breakout team at the start of the season.

Thought by many to be more invested in defense, and with a lights-out offense that could put points on the board, the Raiders had some flair. But no one quite saw what they would actually do coming when the season started.

As the MVP race heats up and the postseason gets more interesting, there’s one name that should come to mind when deciding who the most valuable player in the NFL is: Derek Carr.

The Raiders opened 2016 hot, rattling off a 4-1 record before a loss to the Chiefs. After that, the Raiders would roll through six straight again before meeting the Chiefs again. And during that stretch, that improved defense slowly came along. But without it, the Raiders still thrived behind their offense.

Carr turned Michael Crabtree into a surefire receiver that could pair with Amari Cooper, and the passing attack ignited to the level we expected from before the season. But better than that, Carr’s reads and progressions improved during this newest campaign, opening up the running attack to a level the Raiders had been missing.

With a two-headed attack led by a newly competent and confident quarterback, the Raiders scored 30 points in eight of their first 12 games, and at least 27 in 11 of 12. They ranked seventh in the NFL in scoring on the season, but third going into week 13.

That’s a far cry from the mid-pack offense of last year, and a testament to the progression of Carr.

But doing one better in his case, the Raiders took on the best in the NFL after so long being out of the postseason conversation and won. They took down Denver to take over the top record in the division, and entered their late-season matchup with the Colts as the AFC West leader, the toughest division in football, and the two seed in the AFC.

Carr had seven game-winning drives this season, and an NFL-record five game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter or overtime. He constantly had to make up for the lack of defense around him, with the Raiders sitting at 27th in the NFL in margin of victory at just six points a game. He responded with a 28-touchdown to just six-interception stat line, the second best TD-to-INT ratio in the NFL.

Oh, and he did it against the fifth-toughest schedule in the NFL. And for the first time in 15 years, the Raiders made the playoffs.

But I’m not going to convince you with stats, as there are quarterbacks around the league with better ones (Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, to name a few). No, the best argument for Derek Carr as MVP is what happened to the Raiders when he went down.

After Carr’s ugly injury against the Colts toward the end of the first half, the backups were outscored 34-6 to end the season. That loss to the Broncos to close the season would lose the division for the Raiders, and send them on the road to Houston for a first-round matchup with a solid defense, but one that Carr had carved for 300 yards and three touchdowns just eight weeks prior.

Instead, the Raiders offense would struggle yet again, barely topping 200 total yards as the running game disappeared, and the second-strong Raiders quarterback, Connor Cook, struggled to complete 40% of his passes. And just like that, the Raiders would combine for 524 yards and 20 points in 10 quarters without Carr, good for a game average of eight points and 200 yards.

The Raiders went from Super Bowl favorite to the worst offense in football in just two weeks – and if that doesn’t tell you who the most valuable player in the league is, I don’t know where else you need to look.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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